May 29, 2008

Green - Labour Friction Grows

1. JEANETTE FITZSIMONS (Co-Leader—Green) to the Prime Minister: Does she still aspire for New Zealand to be carbon neutral and “the first nation to be truly sustainable”, as she said in her statement to the House in February last year?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Deputy Prime Minister) on behalf of the Prime Minister: Yes.
Jeanette Fitzsimons: Why, then, was there no mention at all of carbon neutrality in either her speech on the Budget, or the Budget speech made by the Minister of Finance last week, in contrast to the numerous mentions by both of them of tax cuts?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: The Minister of Finance’s excellent speech referred on a number of occasions to sustainability issues, including some excellent initiatives that have been agreed between the Government and the Green Party.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: How is it credible for her to maintain the façade of carbon neutrality, and world leadership in sustainability, when during the last 9 years emissions have increased by 14 percent, one of the highest rates in the developed world; when 75 percent of new electricity generation built has actually been thermal, resulting in the largest drop in the proportion of renewables of any Government in New Zealand history; and when the last 4 years has seen a massive loss of forest area and the first years of deforestation since records began in 1951?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: As the New Zealand economy has grown faster than almost any other developed world economy over the last 8½ years, it is not surprising that the emissions have grown, Of course, one of the reasons for wanting to see the emissions trading scheme in operation as soon as possible is to start reducing that growth in emissions, and, indeed, to reduce emissions over the longer term. Some of the thermal new build, of course, was to retire existing thermal capacity. I well recall the National Party calling on many occasions to accelerate the building of thermal power stations in the past—Mr Gerry Brownlee most certainly did—in order to ensure security of supply. In 2008, of course, there has been a very significant drop in the rate of deforestation because of the emissions trading legislation, which is due to come into force in the forestry sector, back-dated to 1 January.
Jeanette Fitzsimons: While it is significant that in the Minister’s answer he claimed as the Government’s contribution to sustainability only those things that have been put forward by the Green Party, how can the Prime Minister continue to say that she is committed to carbon neutrality, when earlier this month she further delayed cows, cars, and coal having to pay for their emissions, leaving the taxpayer to pick up the bill and for the climate to suffer?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: To correct the member—and I do not want to appear crotchety on these matters—I did not say in my answer that all the sustainability issues were those from the Green Party. Indeed, it is fair to say that the initiative around the buy-back of the rail system was very much one of the Minister of Finance’s, but he is too modest to say that himself. On those other matters, it is clear that there are pressures around petrol prices. Consumers are very worried about that. Petrol prices have doubled in the last 6 years at the pump, and that is already achieving significant gains. One might note recent reports, for example, about people buying smaller cars rather than larger cars, and reducing their consumption in that regard.
Jeanette Fitzsimons: How can the Prime Minister claim to be committed to sustainability, let alone our being the first sustainable nation in the world, when the Department of Conservation has just sacked 60 staff, greenhouse gas emissions have continued to rise, water quality of our rivers and streams is often not safe for kids to swim in—and is getting worse—the Government takes pride in its largest road-building programme that this country has ever seen, Hector’s dolphins waiver on the edge of extinction, no preparations have been made for an end to cheap oil, and the gap between the rich and the poor in this country has widened, undermining our sense of community and our commitment to the common good; is this what she meant by “truly sustainable”?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: No, not at all. Indeed, the member is wrong. In the more recent measures around the gap between rich and poor, the surveys that were done discount most of the recent moves around Working for Families, for example, and do not take those properly into account. In the case of the Department of Conservation, it outspent its budget. It failed to control properly its expenditure. It does not get rewarded for that by increased spending to continue to maintain the levels at which it was overspending. That is not sustainable Government spending.
Jeanette Fitzsimons: Given that the Prime Minister said last year that sustainability and climate change have become the compelling issues of our times, can we take it that her Government’s abandonment of those issues illustrates that for her Government this time is now up and it is no longer fashionable?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I realise that we are starting to approach the election period, when a great deal of political positioning begins to take place, but a Government that is supporting the Waste Minimisation (Solids) Bill in the name of Mr Nandor Tanczos, a Government that is attempting to pass the Climate Change (Emissions Trading and Renewable Preference) Bill, a Government that has bought back the rail system, in part for environmental reasons, and a Government that has a Water Programme of Action, has not abandoned sustainability. We will never meet the high standards of the member in that regard, because I have a suspicion that they would be like Sir Roger Douglas’ standards in economic growth—if one met them, they would change upwards yet again.