Barrier Peak, Darren Mountains (one of my first climbs)
I have been asked to speak at a public meeting in Queenstown this evening to provide a Green Party perspective. I decided to demonstrate why it is crucial to have a strong Green presence in the next government:
We currently have a National led Government that puts economic gain and balancing the budget ahead of environmental and social consequences. They have an ideological agenda that is not informed by science, research or sustainable economics. They are motivated by the sugar fix of quick financial returns that ignore the long-term consequences and they put corporate interests before small businesses and ordinary New Zealanders. The sale of State Assets is a prime example.
This approach has had a direct impact on government services and departments and we have seen the evidence in the operations of both ACC and DoC, with some very serious consequences. In both cases the core purpose and public mandate for their existence has been side lined.
I am a member of the Green Party because I believe our charter and founding document provide the answers to the issues we are being confronted with and we have the people with the knowledge and credibility to make a positive difference.
Four principals guide our party’s policies and decisions and they also address the issues that confront us this evening.
The first principal is ecological wisdom. This principle accepts the fact that we live in a finite world and much of our resources can only be used once. We have a moral obligation to ensure that we pass on a world to the following generation that is as good or better than how we found it. We now have few areas left in the world that support and sustain biodiversity that have not been substantially changed by human intervention. Areas like our National Parks are recognised internationally as extremely valuable, hence their World Heritage status. We have a responsibility to maintain the natural values of our parks, not only for New Zealand, but for the world’s sake.
Our second principle is Social Responsibility and this refers to the just distribution of our social and natural resources. For private interests to be able to dictate the management and use of our parks in an exclusive way is not just nor reasonable. The fact that rate and taxpayers will probably have to pay the external costs of the tunnel and monorail rail projects when most will not benefit from the facilities isn’t equitable. We also need to consider any project in terms of the wider effects on the region’s economy and ensure that the tourist dollar is not captured and monopolised by a few.
Our 100% pure, Clean Green brand is also extremely important for our national economy. Pure Advantage estimates that 75% of our exports are reliant on this brand. Even though our environmental monitoring is poor compared to the rest of the OECD, 80% of our lowland rivers are polluted and we have one of the worst levels of carbon emissions per capita in the world - it is actually images of Milford Sound and Fiordland that sustains a brand that probably isn’t deserved. To seriously compromise our last remaining natural environments through large scale commercial developments only attacks the credibility of what remains of our 100% pure, clean green status.
Social responsibility is also about how overseas tourists and New Zealanders experience our wild places, those experiences should be the best that we can provide both now and into the future. It is not socially responsible to limit the experience of Fiordland for tourists by shortening the journey unnecessarily. By cutting much of the trip it would also reduce the appreciation of the wider geography of park and for many the drive through the Eglington Valley is an important part of the full experience. It does not have to be a one day trip.
It is also not socially responsible for huge allowances to be made for commercial enterprises that have substantial backing and yet not make the same allowances for small businesses and projects. Why should DoC have to struggle in maintaining tracks and facilities for ordinary New Zealanders and overseas trampers and yet allow corporate interests drill tunnels through mountains.
Our third principle is appropriate decision making. This means giving proper consideration to all the issues involved: social, cultural, economic and environmental. Although the current government often refers to the need to have balance in decision making it is clear that there is no balance, especially when promoting economic growth over protecting the environment. Our natural resources appear to be up for sale to anyone keen to buy and the checks and balances one would expect around their use and access just don’t exist. Not for oil drilling or lignite and coal mining and the royalties we get in return would probably struggle to cover the costs of a major disaster.
Appropriate decision making also means making decisions at the level where the most impact will occur and including those who will be impacted in the process. It means making informed decisions based on research, evidence and what will be sustainable into the future. It is also really important to me that we don’t take more than we need from my children’s future to support the greed of today.
Appropriate decision making means honouring the commitments set in place by earlier generations to protect the natural values of our conservation estate and natural heritage for future generations in perpetuity. This government has ignored that commitment and have tried to open schedule 4 land for mineral exploration and extraction and while we did stop them from exploiting those places we have not stopped them from:
· Privatising conservation land on the Craigieburn Range so that a Russian owned company could develop an alpine tourist resort with no public input.
· And allow overseas owned Oceana Gold Ltd destroy more than 235 hectares of the Victoria Conservation Park for an open caste gold mine, again there was no public input into DoCs decision.
New Zealand is not ranked 3rd in the world for the ease of doing business in for nothing.
This National led Government does not have a mandate from the people of New Zealand to allow overseas interests to exploit the resources in our most treasured places for minimal benefit.
The fourth and last principle is Non-violence and this applies at all levels of our society and the way we manage conflict and different points of view. This not only refers to physical violence but the respectful way we treat those who hold opposing views to our own. It means addressing the argument without attacking the person or the messenger. We are seeing protests up and down the country at a level not seen since the Rugby tours of the early eighties. People only march when they feel they have no other avenues of communication and their views are being ignored. I was involved in organising Invercargill’s anti mining march and more recently our one against the asset sales, the people who marched beside me represented all sectors of society, Grey Power, students, wage earners, professionals and mums and dads. They all felt disenfranchised, their interests ignored and their values not respected by this government.
Finally I wish to acknowledge the tremendous work that is done by our Green MPs. As a Southlander for most of my fifty something years I am used to living in a province that is largely ignored by decision makers in Wellington. When there was a proposal to raise Lake Manapouri many of the Government Ministers at the time had never visited the area and I understand the Minister of Tourism, our PM, has never visited Milford Sound. Green MPs refuse to make decisions in such a detached and uninformed way and despite the fact that we have no Green MPs living this far South they have maintained a direct and personal involvement with our issues. Rod Donald provided personal support to the Southland Building Society as it rejected merging with an Australian Bank and remained independent and New Zealand owned. Russel Norman is the only MP who has personally spent time in and around our polluted Southland rivers and has met with local authorities and farmers to find solutions for saving the Waituna Lagoon. Gareth Hughes is the only MP I am aware of who has personally met all the stakeholders involved with the lignite mining in Southland to try and fully understand the issues. And Eugenie Sage is so passionate about saving Fiordland from unnecessary development that she even walked the route of the monorail and helped make a video to demonstrate what would be lost if the project went ahead. She has written a submission against it and also took time out of a Queenstown local body conference to speak at the launch of the Save Fiordland Incorporated Society. As far as I now she is the only MP who has written articles voicing concerns about the tunnel and monorail.
In conclusion I would like to remind all of you that it is the efforts of publicly motivated and driven groups such as the Save Fiordland Society and Glenorchy’s Stop the Tunnel that can shift the government's thinking and galvanise public support. The anti mining marches were successful and so can you be. While the Green Party will support you all as much as it can as an opposition party, remember in two years we will have an election and there is only one party I know of that truly and sincerely understands why it is important to protect our natural heritage and has the commitment and the knowledge to create positive change. We can best do this if we are in Government and we have two years to make that happen.
The view towards Milford Sound from the Gertrude Saddle.