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Q+A: Simon Bridges interviewed by Corin Dann

“Tricky trade-offs and balances” on climate change says Simon Bridges.

National’s leader says the party is committed to tackling climate change but it says there are some scientific questions that needed to be answered about carbon dioxide versus methane.

Mr Bridges was speaking on TVNZ 1’s Q+A this morning following an announcement this week his party would offer bipartisan support to the Government on climate change.

“The target we set was 50 percent fewer emissions by 2050,” he said. “Broadly speaking, it is carbon zero on CO2, but it is acknowledging the I think emerging consensus around the science that on methane and the like, they are short-lived gases and that’s holding constant, rather than decreasing.”

“I’ve made clear that I do want to prioritise the environment, but I also understand that these things, there are tricky trade-offs and balances here. The reality is food production is still like number one for us.”

He did not want to see a huge growth in cow numbers.

“I think certainly we wouldn’t want to see significantly more cows. I think the reality is actually what we have got to do … is we’ve got to invest a lot more in science and innovation and technology to get those solutions.”

Q + A
Episode 14
Interviewed by CORIN DANN

CORIN It is been an interesting week for National watching from afar in Singapore.

SIMON Sure has.

CORIN Law and order, climate change. You have made quite an interesting shift on climate change. Why have you done that?

SIMON I think ultimately because it is about demonstrating some leadership, even from opposition and doing what we think is the right and responsible thing and providing certainty, you know, frankly, where there is not a lot of certainty at the moment about of bunch of issues for businesses and New Zealanders. And I look at the now government, the then Opposition and the way they played us round on trade, for example, and TPP. And then they did what I think was inevitably the right thing to do in government around signing the CP-TPP. I don't want to be in that space on climate change.

CORIN So certainty. Is climate change the nuclear-free issue of your generation?

SIMON I would not go that far. Is it the most significant environmental issue? Is it an important long-term issue that we need to deal with and deal with seriously and provide certainty on? Yes.

CORIN I’m just trying to get a handle on that. So what is it that you have actually agreed to here? Where the rubber hits the road is around the Emissions Trading Scheme, the incentives that will get New Zealand to carbon zero. Have you agreed to a toughening up of those types of things?

SIMON I think what we have agreed to is very important, right. It is very important for the government and for the certainty long-term, and it’s this – an enduring, bipartisan, non-political framework for climate change, an independent climate commission that will give advice and provide the advice to every government over the next probably 30, 40 years.

CORIN Similar to the Reserve Bank in the sense that it is removed from government?

SIMON Correct. And I think the reality of that is it did require, read the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment’s report, the Productivity Commission report. It did require a bi-partisan, actually a multi-partisan approach to that. And that required us to step up and say, ‘Yeah, we think this is important.’

CORIN The Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment is an interesting one, Simon Upton. He made it pretty clear that when he looked at this issue – a National Party minister – that there has been ‘a lack of bite over climate change and it cannot continue. We have had a habit of developing sophisticated tools but not being prepared to use them.’ Now, that’s a direct criticism of your government and its tinkering with that again that incentive for people to stop polluting. So why should we trust National in the future?

SIMON Well, I think actually even James Shaw would acknowledge this. If you look at the last eight or nine years, we did a fair bit. And we signed New Zealand up to the Paris Climate Accord. I did, actually, as Associate Climate Minister, with Tim Groser. But really what we’re saying, what I’ve said, last week, is we are stepping up on the framework that’s enduring.

CORIN But not the hard decisions.

SIMON Oh, no, no. What will happen there, wherever it’s a decision, and I’m sure there will be many, is they will go to that climate commission and they will provide advice to the government. Yeah, be really clear. And Simon Upton acknowledges this in the report and in conversations I’ve had with him, on the day-to-day policies and politics, it’s right that there’s legitimate confrontation and dispute on these things.

CORIN Okay. Do you want New Zealand to be carbon zero by 2050?

SIMON Yeah, although even James Shaw would acknowledge just what that means is up for the debate.

CORIN But that’s James Shaw. Do you want New Zealand to be carbon zero by 2050?

SIMON The target we set was 50% fewer emissions by 2050. That’s broadly – I’m answering your question – that is broadly the middle option of the three that James Shaw is…

CORIN I know. But that is not 2050 carbon zero, is it? Are you saying you’re not buying into that?

SIMON Broadly speaking, it is carbon zero on CO2, but it is acknowledging the I think emerging consensus around the science that on methane and the like, they are short-lived gases and that’s holding constant, rather than decreasing.

CORIN But I’m confused. Because what is the point of us having enabling legislation that effectively means that every piece of legislation we have has a lens of climate change, working towards carbon zero by 2050, if you’re saying you don't actually agree to that target?

SIMON No, I am not saying that. I’m saying right now if James Shaw was on the show, he wouldn’t be able to tell you either. We’ll get the advice from the climate commission.

CORIN Well, it’s his aspirational goal. I mean that’s fine. Yes, how you get there might be tricky, but I just want to know if that is your goal?

SIMON But he can't even say what exactly that means. My point to you, let me give it straight on, my point to you really is this – there is a difference in politics, there still is today. And it is around, on our side, us thinking we need to be practical, have sensible environmental solutions. We don't want to see the disruptive damage to the economy quickly.

CORIN ‘Lacking bite’ Simon Upton called it.

SIMON No, no. And we don't want to see real costs imposed on hard-working Kiwi households overnight. But what we will do, just like I think this government actually as well, is we’ll take the advice from that climate commission, we’ll be accountable in terms of how we decide on that advice that will be given.

CORIN So you are not committing to this massive target. I mean, it’s a long way in the future, 2050. Because it seems to me that in order to get there, it is very clear from the Parliamentary Commissioner, from the Productivity Commission – again an organisation set up by your government– that there would have to be significant change in the way in which we farm in this country. And you are also telling farmers, ‘Don’t worry. We are not going to do anything that hurts you.’ Aren’t you?

SIMON No, I wouldn’t quite say that. On a target I am not saying that we won’t sign up to one. The government’s consulting on three. Broadly where we were at was the middle one on that. Let’s see where it goes and I’ll evaluate that, and my party will evaluate that against some principles we set out about science, about where we’re placed with our competitors, economic impact and the like. Look, on agriculture, let me be square on on that. We are not saying today it should face additional costs, because of the reasons I said. I think there is some scientific questions about CO2 versus methane that need to be addressed. There’s effective ability to mitigate when we are already the most efficient producers in the world. And it’s a bit like oil and gas, actually. Why do it now when all you will do is send that producing offshore? But we may well sign up to it in the future.

CORIN I tell you what you do it now, because it is about incentives, isn’t it? It’s about incentivising that farming industry to make the change to a more green, efficient energy use and those types of things. Otherwise it won’t make the changes.

SIMON Incentives are important. And I'm not saying to you it won't be in for all time. I certainly don’t think that is true. But I think you go through the science, you go through the various other factors. At the moment, all we would be doing, if we are piling on the costs there, is sending this most efficient production in the world offshore.

CORIN Even if it was 5%? Even if they were subsidised by 95%, which is essentially what this government is saying, you still think that is too much?

SIMON Well, look, let’s see what the climate commission, which will be set up and that National will play an important role on, says about that issue. I mean, I think if you take oil and gas, for example, that is a matter that should have gone to a climate commission to have done the homework, to have done the consultation. We could have actually had a long-range plan. But I think the t government said they don’t want Rogernomics style shock and awe here. And that’s really all I’m saying to you on the various day-to-day issues, whether it’s agriculture or others.

CORIN Okay. A big-picture question here in terms of where National, if you were to be Prime Minister, would you return to the formula used by the last National government of more intensive dairy farming, big irrigation, driving more production. Would you return to that?

SIMON No, I think that’s simplistic. And I don’t think that is actually where we were. Now, I’ve made clear that I do want to prioritise the environment, but I also understand that these things, there are tricky trade-offs and balances here. The reality is food production is still like number one for us.

CORIN James Shaw says– Damien O'Connor says that we have reached peak cow. Have we reached peak cow?

SIMON Yeah, I think certainly we wouldn’t want to see significantly more cows. I think the reality is actually what we have got to do, and I set it out in my speech, is we’ve got to invest a lot more in science and innovation and technology to get those solutions. And then you might start to be able to do some of the things that we were talking about, which is have an ETS that begins to bite.

CORIN Would you bring back the big irrigation? Because that’s what enables areas that weren’t previous dairy to do the intensive dairy farming. That’s their argument.

SIMON Yes, in the right contexts.

CORIN You would?

SIMON Where there’s sensitive use of the land and the local issues are taken care of, I think I would. Because I think the reality about irrigation is it’s both good farming practise and good environmental practice as we see changing effects of climate change, say, on the East Coast of New Zealand.

CORIN But would you–? So this government says there needs to be different land use. There needs to be horticulture, less dairy. Would you be prescriptive or you’d just say, ‘Irrigation – fine. Do whatever’s best’?

SIMON My answer to that is that it’s an ‘and’. You know, I know the value of horticulture. I come from the Bay of Plenty. Kiwifruit is going great guns. It’s phenomenal. I’d love to see more of that. But I don’t think we suddenly get into uncertain frameworks that effectively mean culling of our herds overnight or indeed, over the next small number of years.

CORIN All right. Let’s have a look at justice. The Justice Minister is being reasonable, isn’t he? He’s coming out saying, ‘We need to have a public debate about this issue. The prison system’s clearly not working, gotta build a prison every two or three years,’ and you guys are hammering him. Is that constructive?

SIMON I think the problem with that is he’s already preconceived where he wants to be on this. They’ve got very significant emerging problems that are all of their own making in criminal justice. I mean, bluntly speaking, it’s this – they don’t want to do the more prison beds that they’ll need to on population rises and so on, and so he’s saying, ‘We’re going to soften up the bail, the sentencing.’

CORIN You changed the bail laws. You’re making– You’re the one that left them a system with a prison system that doesn’t look good internationally, that has a large increase in the number of people on remand. You changed the bail laws. You’ve left them that system.

SIMON This is not, as Andrew Little would tell you, some system where low-level offenders are going to jail for long periods of time. It’s the serious criminals doing serious violence, doing sexual offending, murder and the like.

CORIN Well, hang on, let’s test that. Let’s test that, because Andrew Little says that of those who get in remand, 41% do not get a custodial sentence. So they can’t exactly– That’s of the 3000 or so that are there, so they can’t exactly be doing too serious a crime.

SIMON 98% of people in our prisons have done what they call ‘category three or four offences’. They’re really serious stuff.

CORIN I’m talking about remand here, and that seems to be the acute issue where we’ve got– the bail laws have changed, more people are being held in custody and that he says, ‘41% don’t get a custodial sentence. 9% of the overall figure get acquitted.’ So that suggests a large number of those people going into remand maybe don’t need to.

SIMON As a former Crown prosecutor who’s doing hundreds of these trials, I can tell you bail is the real battle ground in criminal law. If, on a serious P drug-dealing case, the defendant gets bail, the witnesses go missing. They don’t turn up. Our changes, I think, were reasonable and proportionate. And I’m sorry, there are trade-offs here, there are difficult questions. I’m not trying to say that there aren’t. But I side with making sure New Zealanders are safe and there’s fewer victims.

CORIN So what is your solution? Just build more prisons, be done with it.

SIMON No, no. I think it’s much more than that. I mean, ultimately, these guys have got a perfect storm here, because it’s fewer beds than we were doing. It’s more police, actually, which their own advice tells them means more prison beds needed. And it’s a breach of human rights, in terms of those prisoners and the prison guards out there. What would I do? Well, I would build a bigger Waikeria prison, because I think in the short–

CORIN And you just keep building them every two or three years?

SIMON No, and then I think you do have to do the things that Andrew Little is talking about a big game on. We had a social investment plan. I feel very passionate that an education. You know, it’s that Jesuit saying, ‘Give me a child for the first seven years, and I’ll show you the adult.’ We have to do all that, but also, unless you build those prisons, you’re just not going to have the effective rehabilitation and reintegration that Andrew’s talking so much about.

CORIN That’s interesting. So you seem to be saying on the one hand, you agree with Sir Peter Gluckman who says early intervention, get in early, social investment is good, but he also says, ‘Let’s debate the data not the dogma.’ Yet your spokesperson Mark Mitchell has been very tough. You’ve been very quick yourself to really play hard on this, play the politics – law and order. Lock him up.

SIMON No, no. That’s unfair.

CORIN How is that constructive?

SIMON I want to be about the data. I’ve looked carefully at what Sir Peter Gluckman says. I’ve studied these things, can I say, myself, very carefully. Should the evidence– Let’s take three strikes, is that, and I know the minister discounts this, but apples for apples, what’s been and what’s happened, we are seeing fewer graduate to those second and third strikes, because it does work, because it is deterring them from going on and creating great harm in our society.

CORIN But you know the case that’s been bandied about, about the man in prison for aggravated robbery, a couple of strikes. Got a third strike – pinched the bottom of a prison guard. And the judge wanted to give that man one year because he should not have done that and should have been punished, and yet he had to give that person seven years.

SIMON And there are many other cases…

CORIN Okay, but I just want to know – do you think that was fair? Because…

SIMON If you look at the totality of that guy’s offending, he’s a very serious offender. Actually, that was serious offending. I don’t think we should downplay it. And you go through all of the other cases where there’s been second and third strikes–

CORIN Law Society called it barbaric.

SIMON Well, you know, Law Society can say all manner of things. I mean, I’m not pretending any of this is easy, but I do think the first priority of a government should be keeping New Zealanders safe, and I stand on the side of having fewer victims in these areas. Actually, building more prison beds means fewer victims. It means better rehabilitation and reintegration. And actually, I think we’re gonna see real incidents on this government’s watch of prisoners and prison guards being less safe with that, frankly, moving to mattresses.

CORIN All right. Just a quick question as we finish. Where you’re at in terms of this cycle, are we going to see, under your leadership, a significantly changed National Party or is it a National Party that’s going to basically be a re-election of the one that lost?

SIMON No, it’s not going to be a re-election of the one that lost. I mean, I think what it is is our values are the same. If you talk to John Key or Bill English or myself, our values are there. But I do want to modernise it. I think you’ve seen that on this environmental stance that we’ve been talking about today. There’s a stamp on my leadership.

CORIN Housing? Have you modernised– changed your stance on housing?

SIMON Yeah, I don’t think we got all of that perfect. I think there are things that we need to do. I think we’ve got two things to do – hold the government to account on a lot of uncertainty, increased costs on households, these law and order things we’re talking about, but it’s also incumbent on us to develop really exciting, positive plans for 2020. And if we don’t do that, we don’t deserve to be the government.

CORIN Simon Bridges, thank you very much for your time on Q+A.

SIMON Thanks very much.


Please find attached the full transcript and the link to the interview

Q+A, 9-10am Sundays on TVNZ 1 and one hour later on TVNZ 1 + 1.
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