The day before yesterday we argued for a Bluegreen Party – one that could act as a coalition partner to Labour or National. Yesterday we covered a major bluegreen area – climate change. Today we will sketch out three policy areas where National and the Green Party should be able to find common ground and work together right now. These are taken from our recent document Dumb and Dirty Growth.
Why can’t the Green Party and National work together? The fault lies on both sides, and is resulting in a disconnect between political offerings and what people want. On the right, the work of Steven Joyce and Simon Bridges in their last portfolios has most starkly demonstrated a presumed disconnect between well-being and economic prosperity. Their decisions have embodied an ideology that holds economic prosperity can most readily be delivered through environmental degradation. This isn’t necessarily the case and neither is it a form of financial gain consistent with people’s desire for improved well-being. Every additional dollar of income is not the same. A dirty dollar of GDP – where environmental cost is incurred (but certainly not measured as GDP loss) – is increasingly no longer what New Zealanders prefer, especially given there are much smarter, cleaner and sustainable ways to raise prosperity anyway.
On the left, the Green Party has offered some good ideas on the environment, but their pursuit of the moral high ground over Labour means their policies too often strangle businesses. Industrial policy is a good example – instead of leaving that to National and Labour to battle over, the Green Party feels the need to step in and outdo Labour by bidding up the minimum wage. Why? Because this party really is a left of Labour party.
Both these parties need to get over themselves and work together to improve the environment and the economy. This is totally possible with a little creative thinking and by cherry picking the best of policies across National, the Green Party and even Act. Let’s look at how that approach could be applied right now across core bluegreen policy areas – resource management, freshwater and oceans.
When we allow developments to proceed at a cost to our wellbeing overall, this is dumb and dirty growth. The example we gave in our recent publication Dumb and Dirty Growth was when we drain a wetland for dairy farming.
The National Government wants not just to streamline the approval procedures of the Resource Management Act (RMA), it seeks to change its objectives. For example it wishes to roll back existing environmental protections in order to open more land for housing. The RMA exists to protect the environment in the face of the natural tendency of the market to destroy it for the sake of economic gain. Changing the RMA to ‘balance’ the environment and economy, as the Government proposes, would tilt the playing field towards further development at the expense of the environment. Environmental protection would lose what little status it has today.
Why not take this desire for greater flexibility around new development and combine it with stronger protection for the environment? The ideal resource management regime would do what the RMA says it does – maintain or improve the environment. This wouldn’t stop development, just ensure that any impact on the environment gets ‘offset’ (for example the developer causing the damage would invest to improve the environment in other ways). Put simply, regulators should ensure polluters pay for the damage they cause, and that money should be invested to either clean up their mess, or make the environment better in other ways. Everyone wins.
The Government has recently put in place some bottom lines below which the quality of our fresh water cannot fall. We reviewed this policy with a panel of scientists and found that while their policy is a step forward, it doesn’t go far enough to protect our waterways.
Firstly their aspiration is too low. Waterways will only be safe for wading in – so whatever you do don’t fall over! Also we cannot be certain that the measures put in place will prevent ecological collapse in a waterway because the policy limits individual factors, but not their combined effects. We also cannot be certain that the quality of our local river or lake will be maintained and improved from now on.
There is no reason not to have the aspiration of swimmable rivers and lakes as the Green Party suggested – it is simply a question of how long it takes us to get there. National wants to leave the decision up to communities – so they set the bar low and allowed communities to set it higher if they wish. A bluegreen solution would be to have the goal of swimmable rivers as the default, and allow a community to opt out and degrade their local waterway if they choose.
The default should be that all waterways should be maintained or improved from this point on. This can be measured and monitored using the Macroinvertebrate Community Index (MCI) which is the best measure of the life in a river (and so its ecological health). This doesn’t have to come at the expense of our dairy industry. National needn’t worry because dairy conversions could continue, as long as consequent water quality degradation is reduced or at least offset by making improvements elsewhere. For example, a new dairy conversion could contribute to fencing and planting waterways on sheep and beef farms (which currently have no requirement to do so).
How to pay for all this? Labour and the Greens suggested charging irrigators. This is fair enough – water is a public resource – but the charge (we call it a resource rental) should be extended to all commercial water users. For this rental to be really effective we should combine it with an Act Party policy – tradable water use rights so that we recognise the value of water permits and make sure water is used in the most efficient way possible. This could also be used as an opportunity to resolve outstanding Maori Treaty rights over water.
New Zealand has a massive opportunity to lead the world in growing clean, green healthy food, as well as exporting our know-how.
We have many different players using the ocean – commercial fishers, aquaculture, recreational fishers, miners, oil drillers, energy generation, shipping… in some areas, different users are coming into conflict. Usually, the environment is what really loses out. Less than 1% of our EEZ is protected in marine reserves.
As discussed in Hook Line & Blinkers, we need to manage our oceans in the same way we manage our land. National has agreed to look at marine zoning in the Hauraki Gulf, and along with tradable rights such an approach would provide certainty for businesses operating in the ocean, alongside environmental protection. During the election the Green Party and Labour called for more marine reserves – setting aside some areas of the EEZ and with different levels of protection. This should also be part of a marine zoning process.
Finally, we need an independent review of deep-sea oil exploration safety and royalties to ensure there is truly a net benefit to New Zealand. Commercial fishers need to minimise their impact on non-target species (such as endangered birds), and recreational fishing needs to be brought inside the Quota Management System.
Clean and Clever Growth
Clean and clever growth then should be a given no matter who we elect shouldn’t it? A bluegreen government should be our norm and the legacy to our children that results is an environment and an income that makes this a most desirable place – or as Sir Paul Callaghan put it, a place where talent wants to live.
Why then do the politics in New Zealand underwrite dirty growth, with a predilection toward the quick bucks from dirty and dumb extractive industries? It is because there is no party that champions environmental protection, but not at the cost of economic growth. The electorate has emphatically rejected the Green Party’s alternative of green socialism.
Lets not wait 3 years!
If you voted for National and feel uneasy about the environment, share this post. Let your MP know that we want growth, but not at the expense of the environment. If you voted Green, don’t let good environmental policies be stuck in the wilderness for 3 more years. Encourage the Green Party to work with National. If you continue to let your socialist ideals get in the way, you are directly responsible for the continued degradation of the environment.
Without action we’re left with a National government that continues to show a distasteful slide to dumber and dirtier growth policies. That will next be manifest in a watering down of the RMA, presaged by John Key as a “rebalancing” of economic and environmental priorities in that Act.
[Tweet “Hey @NZGreens @NZNationalParty let’s work together for a clean and clever economy”]