Thank you for the opportunity to speak at this public meeting to discuss the future of our New Zealand environment.
I want to talk about the political context around our environment. This is an election year and in less than 3 months we will be deciding on how we want our country to be led for the next three years. I would like to briefly cover where we are heading under the current National government, the potential impacts on our local region if National wins another term and what a Green alternative would look like.
How will we be if we continue under a National Government?
According to the polls New Zealand now regards politics as a presidential style competition than one based on policy. People would rather have John Key as our Prime Minister although they feel more comfortable with other parties’ policies. However the cost of maintaining a likable guy at the top will be huge environmental degradation.
We have to look behind the rhetoric and do some spending comparisons to see where this government’s priorities really lie. National always talks about how many million they have spent on this and how much more they have spent on that but we need to compare spending on individual projects to see what they really regard as important.
The increased tax cuts to the wealthy has reduced government revenue and we now have our wealthy and big business making an average of 18% profit over the last year. Around $480 million was spent on new Bentleys in 2010 and for the first time New Zealand’s spending on luxury cars is such that it has seen us gain a Roll Royce dealership, which was not regarded as viable before. The money passed on to the rich has not resulted in new jobs or increases in wages. We now have one of the largest disparities between rich and poor in the OECD. It is more important to this government to support the lifestyles of the rich than raise wages or grow jobs.
We have had a cut in funding for environmental organisations and DoC will lose more than 100 staff as they deal with an $8 million dollar shortfall. At the same time the government has paid the International Rugby Board $120 million for the privilege of hosting the World Cup. It is more important for this government to host a successful world cup than manage New Zealand’s conservation estate.
The Waituna Lagoon is at the point of flipping and Nick Smith has told Environment Southland to apply for money from a contestable fund of $15 million set aside for cleaning our country’s polluted waterways and yet they have donated $36 million to the America’s Cup Challenge. It is more important for this Government to support an elite overseas yacht race than clean up our rivers.
The National Government is also averse to regulating business to protect the environment or the safety of people. The estimated $11.5 billion it will cost New Zealand to put right the leaky building catastrophe is a direct result of a past National government changing the building regulations in 1991. The Pike River Mine disaster is being blamed on National lowering mine safety regulations in 1993. Yet they have not learned these lessons of the past as it was revealed that National had no agreement with Petrobras to ensure it would take responsibility for any drilling accident off our coastline and the cost of any major spill would have be absorbed by Maritime New Zealand or in other words, the taxpayer. It is more important for this government to support business growth than consider the safety and wellbeing of our people and environment.
Despite the fact that 90% of our lowland rivers are significantly polluted the Government’s new Water Management Strategy puts the onus on Regional Councils and gives them 30 years to achieve a reasonable level of compliancy. Where is the urgency and the leadership? More has been budgeted for subsidising irrigation (up to $400 million), to encourage dairy expansion, than protecting our water from intensive farming.
This National Government also produced an incredibly backward energy strategy that puts investment in mining fossil fuels at the top. There is support and encouragement to mine lignite out of some of our most fertile farmland with no attempt to tighten environmental regulations. Solid Energy’s Don Elder has publicly claimed that they will only deal with the millions of tonnes of carbon emissions if the New Zealand Public wants them to. He has also criticised Southland’s Draft Energy Strategy for promoting renewable and sustainable energy sources.
We have evidence that this government puts a low priority on protecting our environment and it is telling that many Blue Green members are frustrated that the original green friendly rhetoric has turned into green wash.
So what would the effects at a local level if National continued in power?
We will see a continuation of water degradation as intensive farming is being supported to expand. We will see the Mataura Valley covered in huge opencast lignite mines and the expansion of Fracking. Fracking is the forcing of water and chemicals into coal beds to force out natural gas and the contamination of aquifers and triggering of minor earthquakes are common side effects.
We will probably witness the flipping of the Waituna lagoon and lose our most important and internationally regarded wetland. We will see increased costs to taxpayers as the external, environmental costs of intensive farming will have to be absorbed by local authorities. We will see the loss of habitat of many indigenous species and possibly even the extinction of some.
Swimming in local rivers will be a risk to our health and recreational activities like fishing and whitebaiting will be noticeably affected, even more than they already are.
We will see an on going shortage of clean water for domestic use. In Northern Southland many bores that have been used for generations are contaminated and Gore has suffered water shortages due to the growth of irrigation in Northern Southland.
The jobs gained through the growth in the mining and dairy industries will only offset the jobs lost from government cuts, 63 people from Invercargill’s IRD office alone.
We will also see a loss of sovereignty as our farms and state assets are increasingly sold to overseas interests and more profits head offshore.
So what does the Green Party offer?
The Green Party has been an effective force while never actually being in Government and we have managed to get ruling parties’ support for a number of worthwhile projects.
Many of the DoC staff soon to be sacked were employed through the $8 million five year initiative we got under a Labour Government to support wetland areas. Much of the science and funding to support local farmers to protect wetlands came from this money. Our waste minimisation legislation has seen huge changes in how we manage or recycle our waste and what was thought impossible a few years ago is now daily practice for most of us.
Even under National our home insulation scheme has improved 100,000 homes, and the health of as many families. We gained $4 million to fund a pilot project to develop more effective ways of protecting our forests and native birds from pests and we led the campaign to keep mining out of our National Parks.
It was the Green Party who exposed the planned factory farming in the McKenzie basin, brought public scrutiny to MP’s spending and have pushed for the end of secret lobbyists. We also question the purchase of a fleet of BMWs with heated seats, each costing the same as a new ambulance, to carry our MPs around.
If the Green Party were to have enough MPs to be the government or substantially influence the government we would see a huge shift in spending priorities from $11 billion on Auckland motorways to sustainable jobs and actually being the green country we claim to be. We will use our talented scientists and technologists to lead the world in sustainable technology and find better ways of managing our farms. There are many farms that already operate in environmentally better ways including one that I attempted to stop gaining a conversion consent, it was an environmental winner this year and should be regarded as a model for others. We can have a prosperous country based on green principles that will give us an even stronger export brand overseas and will allow us to be economically secure and debt free well into the future.
By reducing our carbon emissions and investing in more efficient transport networks and sustainable industry we can reduce the environmental and economic debt for the next generations. Why put all our hopes in technology and energy forms of the past, it seems bizarre that a country that produced the father of nuclear science, the inventor of the jetboat and the jet pack should turn to mining lignite to take us into the future.
If you want genuine change and a commitment to a sustainable and prosperous future for us all, and not just an elite few, you must party vote Green in November!