The oldest trick in politics is to spend election year appealing to greed and fear. And that’s how the year has started. Greed for tax cuts, and fear of violent youth. It’s an old recipe.
A few weeks ago I challenged Helen Clark and John Key to campaign on something more substantial, and I challenged the media to frame their coverage around the substance of policy and the ways it affects ordinary New Zealanders, and not simply around the weekly ups and downs of the political game.
Today I challenge the voters to see through this tired old game and look for the vision and the action to bring us together as a nation and make us what we could be – vibrant, prosperous, compassionate, and sustainable.
Instead we are presented with a vision of New Zealand as a society cowering before the tiny minority of its violent youth, while waiting on a tax handout. No plan for how our families, our workplaces and our country will cope with the looming realities of peak oil and climate change, and the income gap between rich and poor. In particular, neither major party has offered New Zealand a vision that sees the best in our young people, and that helps it to flourish.
To bring out the best in young people we need to build stable home environments for those most at risk, and to do that we need to tackle the lack of affordable housing in the communities in which they live. Because it is the unaffordability of rents that leads families to move from flat to flat, taking the kids from school to school in a cycle that fatally disrupts their education - and that leads them to see gangs as the only stable social unit in their lives.
The Prime Minister’s lack of targets in her speech to address the crisis in affordable housing were disappointing. While we welcome the fact that Government is now prepared to do SOMETHING, it is a bit late in the day to be starting a stock take of available public land holdings and reducing the compliance costs of building consents - and then painting such moves as a way of getting ordinary New Zealanders onto the home ownership ladder. By now, the Government should be announcing concrete plans to accelerate the building of the state homes it is pledged to build each year, and saying clearly whether it will be medium density housing close to public transport routes, - or whether, like the National Party, it favours freeing up land at the periphery, with all the roading and energy costs that such ribbon developments always bring in their wake
The lack of affordable housing is one key factor driving the youth crime statistics. A related issue is the low wages that force both mothers and fathers to take up two or more jobs to make ends meet, and that limits the time available for quality parenting. As Cambell Roberts says in the report released today, Working for Families has allowed more 2 parent families the luxury of a parent focussing on child care, but pushed single parents into the workforce, in many cases increasing the stresses on those children. Ever since the early 1990s, New Zealand has pursued a business model based on cutting labour costs and driving down wages – in marked contrast to Australia, which took a far more sensible, constructive and far less ideological approach to centralised wage bargaining. Simultaneously in New Zealand, business avoided making the investments in technology essential for real productivity gains. If John Key and Helen Clark truly wish to tackle the problem of youth crime – they should be willing to renounce the low wage economic model that both major parties have maintained for the past 20 years.
We’ve heard a lot in the last year, and today, about the government’s new vision of sustainability and carbon neutrality.
It’s great that Labour is finally tackling climate change, after presiding for eight years over the fastest increase in greenhouse gases in the western world. The emissions trading scheme will put a price on carbon and create a small incentive to reduce emissions in some sectors of the economy. But direct actions like codes and standards, R & D, better information interventions to support new technology and penalise waste will do more to meet our Kyoto target than trading, which is mainly a new market for speculators, which is why businesses love it.
And while they are fixing their eyes on the far shore of long term sustainability goals their own actions as a government are paddling steadily backwards and already mired in the mudflats.
Last year the Greens asked repeatedly how we could be the first sustainable nation while the Government’s own companies were ripping out forest to establish dairy farming, with massive effect on our greenhouse emissions and our water quality, and ramping up coal mining to sell to China and India while berating them for their increasing emissions.
Then there are the embarrassing BMWs which won’t even meet the efficiency standards government has set for everyone else.
Now let’s look at what is planned for this year.
NZ’s largest and most expensive transport project ever is to be a new motorway tunnel in Auckland. More than $2 billion, so that all the people who were starting to think about using public transport now that it is gradually improving are sent back to their cars. Just think what that money could do to improve public transport services in Auckland – a rail tunnel to link the western and southern lines and a link to the airport so we would see the start of a real electric rail network. Safe cycle routes with intersection priority. A new busway like the northern one, to the south east. That’s what Auckland is going to need to reduce carbon emissions and cope with rising oil prices. But no, the contradiction of this government is a vision of a world first in carbon neutrality and a reality of more coal, more dairy, and more motorways.
This is the year the Government hopes to sign a free trade agreement with China. A little incident the other day shows just what that will mean.
Driving through Moerewa I stopped for a drink and selected a little can labelled “mango juice”. Puzzled that it cost only a dollar, I studied the fine print. Without my glasses I could just make out, at the bottom of the label, “fruit juice drink”. Suspicious. On the back, and peering hard even with my glasses, were the ingredients: water, sugar, various additives, and some way down the list, mango juice. It was at least labelled with its country of origin: product of Guangzhou province. I swapped it for a real juice.
As I drove on, I reflected on what is being traded here. Fruit drink may have as little as 5% actual juice in it, in which case we are importing water and sugar from China in an aluminium can. We know they are short of water and it’s often very polluted, and much less desirable than our tap water.
The aluminium can would have been made with coal fired electricity. The bottling plant probably also ran on coal fired power. Marine diesel brought it here.
Mothers in Moerewa presumably buy that drink thinking they are giving their children healthy juice, because it is so misleadingly labelled, when they are actually giving them sugar water.
What are we selling China in return? Mainly dairy products. How does that affect NZ? Firstly, it consumes massive amounts of fresh water; we're currently using 2-3 times more water per person than most other OECD countries. Irrigation of dairy farms is the single largest use of allocated water in NZ. For every litre of milk produced, 1000 litres of water are consumed in the process. Every extra cow increases nutrient and bacterial pollution into our waterways many of which are already not safe to swim in. Every extra cow increases our methane emissions, a potent greenhouse gas. And what benefit do we get from these dairy exports? Cans of water and sugar. We pollute and over-allocate our high quality water here in order to pay for importing doubtful quality water from China. Does that make sense?
Well, you say, it must be profitable or it wouldn’t happen. It’s time we looked at why it is profitable.
Dairying is hugely profitable at present partly because it is heavily subsidised. Farming is subsidised by the taxpayers to the tune of a million dollars per working day which is the cost of greenhouse emissions from farming that will be picked up by the taxpayer while everyone else pays for their own. It is subsidised by our environment, particularly our rivers which are fouled by runoff and reduced to a trickle by irrigation.
On the other side of the equation, how can a can of even water and sugar with a little juice in it imported from so far away cost only a dollar retail? The only explanation is that as in so many other industries, China is employing the equivalent of slave labour in prison camps or special economic zones where people are paid as much in a day as we pay for one can of drink, and often are not free to withdraw their labour.
To sum up, free trade with China means swapping our good quality water and the health of our children and our rivers for their poor quality water, using lots of fossil fuel to arrange the swap and denying the human rights of their workers.
This is what the government wants us to do more of, under a Free Trade Agreement. This is part of their vision of sustainability.
They are also very keen for a free trade agreement with the US.
There have been letters to the papers recently asking what the US would want in return for opening their markets to our dairy products. We don’t need to speculate – the then Secretary of Trade Robert Zoellick told us a few years ago: freedom for US citizens to buy our land; access for their GE foods without labelling and no obstacles to importing their GE seeds for growing; and access for pig meat and poultry that don’t meet our disease control requirements. Great. Surely, a great prize to be sought.
The fact is that sustainability is only a façade for this government. The overarching goal is economic growth and if the economy can be grown bigger by being dirtier and less fair and less sustainable that is what they will back. The game is to push the brand of the clean green image to sell more goods to expand the economy but if actually becoming clean and green gets in the way of expanding GDP it can get lost.
Plainly, there is a lot of work left to do. This Parliament still has a third of its term left to go. It’s too soon to stop the real work and roll out the electioneering slogans.
Today I want to echo a call from journalist Colin James and ask the Prime Minister to give us a firm election date so that we can all stop playing cat and mouse, put the campaigning on hold and get back to work. The Greens would also like to see a binding referendum, to be held with this year’s election on having fixed election dates in the future.
However, fixed election date or no, each of the Green Party MPs is committed to using this year to make as much progress as we can towards our shared goals.
As Government spokesperson on Energy Efficiency I am committed to making sure the new initiatives in the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Strategy actually happen. The bigger programme of home insulation, the bold target for more energy from waste wood, the 25% improvement in fuel efficiency of cars coming into the country, a more cost-effective solar water heating industry, regional goals for public transport, and all the rest.
Sue Bradford is looking forward to a 2008 where more people become aware of the economic and environmental benefits of buying New Zealand Made. Quality products, that create more jobs for Kiwis.
A number of Green bills are set to pass this year.
Nandor’s waste minimisation bill will be a significant step towards reducing the legacy of waste that our current rates of consumption and patterns of packaging will leave to our children. We also applaud the Prime Minister's signalled intention to take seriously the findings of the Green-initiated Select Committee enquiry into Victim's Rights, promising to implement a Charter of Victims' Rights and progress towards a victims' compensation scheme.
My Climate Change (Transport Funding) Bill would alter funding priorities so that we see more public transport, rail and cycle facilities and less wasted on new motorways.
Sue Bradford’s Corrections (Mothers with Babies) Amendment Bill will provide some of our most vulnerable babies with a safe and stable environment within the prison system and reduce offending rates among mothers who are able to bond with their babies.
The Greens will be pushing hard to see the remaining initiatives within our co-operation agreement with the Government fulfilled.
We are yet to see progress on our agreement to ensure that growers of GE free crops will be able to continue to meet the requirements of their markets if approval is ever given to grow GE crops.
For too long student debt has been crippling the options of our young people. When we talk about losing graduates to Australia, tax cuts are too often cited as being the prime solution. Commonly, we fail to acknowledge that many young people are so hobbled with debt that their choices are constrained – they’ll go wherever they need to to pay it off. And much of that debt is the result of Government policy that forces students to borrow just to pay their rent.
New research from the Students Association revealed that there has been a significant reduction in university enrolments from students from poorer backgrounds, down from 15 percent in 2004 to 6 percent in 2007. How can we be a nation of equal opportunity when the cost of education is prohibitive for those less well off?
The Green Party is committed to providing every student with a liveable allowance so that no one has to borrow just to live. While this Government’s commitment falls significantly short of that goal, we were able to negotiate, in our cooperation agreement, a move in the right direction. The Government has promised to increase the number of students eligible for student allowances by increasing parental income thresholds, and Metiria Turei, the Greens spokesperson for Tertiary Education will be working hard to see this happen.
Sue Kedgley will continue her struggle to allow consumers the information they need to make informed choices about the food they buy. The Government seems to so transfixed by its desire to secure a free trade deal with China that it will not see reason on this issue, but the Green Party will be holding the Government’s feet to the fire on country of origin food labelling.
Last year, Green MP Keith Locke’s long and patient campaign for justice for the Algerian refugee Ahmed Zaoui finally ended in success, but the Government appears to have learned nothing from the experience. Widespread use of classified information and the extension of detention powers in the Immigration Bill falls far short of achieving an acceptable balance between individual liberties and national security and the Green Party will be opposing the widened use of classified information, the denial of the basic right of people to know and answer all the evidence against them and the scrapping of tribunals with proven independence and expertise.
The public expect the Greens to be the environmental conscience of Parliament. Just about every environmental advance, and many of the advances in social policy, over the last 8 years have been the result of prodding and goading by the Greens, and just in the last week we’ve seen what an important role that is. Whoever sent us in plain wrapper the censored chapter 13 of the new State of the Environment report knew we would not sit on it but would hold the government to account.
The main report shows that in the ten years after the first State of the Environment the crisis in our biodiversity has not overall improved, although there are some local success stories. In addition, we now face major problems of environmental degradation caused by land use intensification and increased road transport, which in turn are leading to more water quality problems and greenhouse emissions.
The originally unpublished 13th chapter identifies the causes or drivers of the environmental decline. It fingers increased land intensification, with more fertiliser and more stock per hectare; greatly increased use of motor vehicles, and increased consumption.
Chapter 13 explicitly acknowledges the conundrum of trying to grow our economy while reducing our environmental footprint. Economic growth is placing increasing pressure on our environment, and yet the economy is dependent on our environment. Our tourism industry is built on 100% Pure branding, our dairy industry sells itself as clean and green overseas.
In other words, by failing to protect our environment this Government is putting our economy at risk.
Chapter 13 dares to speak of environmental limits and points out that some of those limits have been reached – for example, freshwater in parts of the country. It calls for national level regulation or guidance and for the polluter-pays principle to be adhered to.
The men and women who wrote this chapter were good public servants. Sadly, someone didn’t want us to hear their advice. But that attempt failed. We have the chapter. We can choose to listen. My question to both National and Labour is do they have the courage to act on it?