Speech: Green Growth




Thank you for the opportunity to speak to you today.

What I want to do today is talk about the way the Labour Party is, and will be, approaching environmental issues, based on our values and principles. I also want to talk about some of the areas of policy and opportunity that we will develop to protect and enhance our environment.

Labour Values

At the start of the Labour Party constitution there are a set of principles to guide the party.  There are nine of them.   The second of these reads as follows

The natural resources of New Zealand belong to all the people and these resources, and in particular non-renewable resources, should be managed for the benefit of all, including future generations.

That’s a good start.  It reflects to me that Labour recognises the intrinsic connections between our people and our environment.  It draws out a core Labour value, that of intergenerational equity, of fairness towards a future generation.

But our connections need to go further.  I believe that we have a unique voice on the environment that can set it in the context of building a society that offers social justice and opportunity for all.  It is also a society where we take seriously our obligations to one another, and to future generations.

To build this society we must think for the long term, we must take hard and bold decisions now, not leave problems for future generations to deal with. 

As a social democratic party we believe that the government can and must play a core role in enhancing our well being.  This applies in environmental issues as much as anywhere.

But one thing that I am not sure is completely clear from the statement at the start of our constitution that needs to be restated.

Our environment has intrinsic value.  It is not just about the value of the resources within it, or its connection to growing our economy (issues that I will come to).   New Zealanders know about this intrinsic value, it is written into our national identity.

One recent incident made this clearer than ever. Last October New Zealanders woke on a Wednesday morning to the worst environmental disaster in our history.

The container ship Rena sat stranded on the Astrolabe reef spewing hundreds of tonnes of thick black oil into the waters of the Bay of Plenty.

Five days of fine weather passed without action (a matter that should be addressed as part of a comprehensive government inquiry). By that time the oil spill was 5 kilometres long.

As the oil washed up on to the Mt Maunganui beach, the community responded

They turned up with shovels and gloves, plastic bags and spades.

They turned up to clean the beach, to do whatever they could to restore their backyard.

They turned up to prove, that when the environment is threatened New Zealanders respond.

From our national parks to our backyards, we have always regarded our land with reverence and respect.

It is not a frontier to be tamed, or a foe to be conquered.

It is something we treasure, something we rightfully regard as an important part of who we are.

It is part of how we define ourselves as New Zealanders.

It is often what draws New Zealanders home.

Our environment is woven into every strand of our national identity.

But the reality of our action of course, does not always match such high ideals.  My point in highlighting this is more that there is enormous scope for us to tap into this identity as we forge our policies.

Labour recognises that New Zealanders treasure the value of our environment beyond dollars and cents.

In few other portfolios is the ideal of leaving a country for our kids better than the one we inherited easier to appreciate.

We stand for a long-term future for our kids with more opportunity than we have today.

We stand for making that opportunity available to the great majority of New Zealanders.

I bring that commitment to the environment portfolio.

Above all else our policy must be based on fairness.

Our environment exists for the benefit and enjoyment of all New Zealanders. We need to ensure that the opportunities do so as well.

These values are Labour’s values.

Labour’s unique positioning

Now, some might say that so intrinsic to New Zealand are these values that any political party could espouse them.  To some extent every political party does, though the National Government have a funny way of showing it.

But I believe that Labour has a unique voice in the environmental debate.

It is a voice born of the same values that make this party unique.

We need to use that voice loud and clear.

There are four points I want to make about Labour’s overall approach to the Environment


1. We must highlight that which is wrong with our opponents approach.

We have a National government who when it comes to most policy areas, but especially in the environment know the price of everything and the value of nothing.

The debacle over the mining of Schedule Four land saw that at its most starkly obvious.  A government bereft of ideas as to how to grow the economy was prepared to sacrifice our most precious conservation land in the search of some license fees and a bit of tax revenue.  It was no surprise to me the depth of anger that propelled 50,000 New Zealanders onto Queen Street to march against mining our most precious conservation land.

It shows just how out of touch this Government is.  Applying 19th century solutions to 21st century challenges.

There is nothing about tearing up our national parks in the vague hope that there might be something underneath sounds like a good idea.

It’s economic lotto. It’s not a well thought out plan for our future.

The imminent extinction of the Maui dolphins is another example. I want to acknowledge the work of Christine Rose in campaigning

There are 55 left. But so far the Government have failed to act.

The list can go on and on. One that is very much alive is the Exclusive Economic Zone Bill that is before Parliament. This Bill will govern activity from  the 12 mile limit to the 200 mile limit.   It is deeply flawed.  It fails to meet our international obligations by proposing a weak “balancing of economy and environment”, rather than the presumption in the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (which gives us the ability to make laws in this space) that we must ‘protect and preserve the marine environment’ as a first premise.  The Bill also promotes language weaker than and inconsistent with the RMA, does not provide clear direction to decision makers on factors they need to take into account and limits rights of appeal.  It falls far short of what most New Zealanders would consider appropriate to protect our marine environment, especially in light of the disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.

I am proud that Labour was the only party to oppose this Bill on its first reading. We are trying to work with the government to make it better, but I fear that they are beyond listening on this one.

National has its head in the sand on these and many other environmental issues.  From a lack of action on clean streams to weakening climate change laws it’s clear that this Government holds a view that is out of touch with the majority of New Zealanders.

This government is led by a man who lists his role models in climate thinking as George W Bush and John Howard.  He once said, “ even if you believe in global warming, sir, and I am somewhat suspect on it, there is going to be billions and billions of dollars poured into fixing something that we are not even sure is a problem”.

As a country, we have to be smarter than that.


2. We must embrace the environment and the economy being two sides of the same coin, and reject the notion of the economy vs environment

At the heart of National’s belief is that  the economy and the environment are in battle, and that government’s role is to ensure  a ‘balance’ between them.

Labour rejects the idea that economic advancement can only come at a cost to the environment.

That is a view that comes from the last century. Our problems have moved on from the 80s and 90s. Our ideas should have too.


National has not learned this. It has been fascinating to see Steven Joyce go out of his way to try to dismiss and discredit the recently released report from the Pure Advantage group on green growth.  Silly, not just because it is an excellent report, but also because it comes from business people such as Stephen Tindall, Rob Morrison and Philip Mills, who I might have thought the government would at least give a fair hearing

One of the founders of Pure Advantage was Sir Paul Callaghan. He was a man I respected immensely.

His vision and passion for New Zealand shone brightly.

His reach and ambition were extraordinary. What made him so incredible was how often he attained the success he sought.

He was a man who saw with immense clarity and focus that within the folds of the shared Kiwi experience lay the key to our future prosperity.

He understood that the qualities that make this such a great place to live are the very same that propel our economic success.

He saw a future for New Zealand that captured the centrality of the environment.

He rightly pointed out that we don’t have enough physical space or water for the quadrupling of cows that would be required to catch Australia.

As good as we are at making the grass grow faster and getting cows to produce more milk, there is a physical limit to our ability to replicate that success.

As David Shearer remarked in his recent speech, If we are to have a truly sustainable economy we can’t take our environment for granted.

It is our competitive advantage; our point of difference.

The isolation of the environment as a separate discreet issue has to end.

It is an inextricably bound to our economy as it is to our identity. David Cunliffe will talk in more detail about this shortly.


3. We must offer a positive and practical vision of how the environment can be protected and enhanced.

I also believe Labour has a unique position on the environment because I believe we can offer hope and positivity.

Too often I believe the environment debate is characterised with one word – ‘no’. As Michael Cullen famously said in his valedictory speech saving the planet needs to sound less like punishment for our sins if it is going to succeed.

While there is much that needs to be stopped, slowed or opposed, we have an obligation to be able to show some vision as to how we can respect our environment and make it central to our future well-being.

We also have to bring the public with us, by giving them practical things that they can do.  And we need to base our policy on evidence and on science.  

I currently have a Bill in the Private Members Ballot that will require a comprehensive environmental reporting regime led by the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment.  We need accurate information on which to base our policy and action.

We also need to look at other ways to measure our progress. Measures such as GDP have their place, but there is a huge amount of work going on around the world that looks at a wider set of indicators for the health and well-being of our society.  We want to see those developed and promoted.

There are some issues where the evidence simply does not support the claims. I have to say that for me, genetic modification is one of those. I know of one company adopting a highly innovative green energy approach that is being hampered from fully developing this technology because of the laws around GM, even inside the lab.  Let me make it clear,  I fully support the highly cautious approach to managing GMOs.  We need to robustly police that.  But we also need to ensure that safe science that can help fuel economic growth is supported.

We cannot afford to discount all new ideas based on a fear of change. It simply isn’t realistic.  

We cannot afford the luxury of uncompromising dogma. Labour will not make the perfect the enemy of the good as we make environment central to our progress.


4. We need to be a strong voice on the global stage- global problems require a global solution

But of course when it comes to environmental issues New Zealand is not alone – this is a global trend.  Issues like climate change, biodiversity protection and marine protection cross traditional borders.

Complacency has no place here.  There is no doubt the human race has been drawing more from the environment than it can sustain.

This is not a passing fad or a minor blip. Nor is it an issue we are dealing with in isolation.

This is truly a global issue. It’s an issue that countries around the world are grappling with.

We are all facing an inevitability.

We sit at the dawn of a new economic and environmental age.

In the past economic expansion was fuelled by seemingly limitless natural resources.

The industrial revolution drove an expansion of imperial powers across the globe in search of resources to further fuel their growth.

America’s great westward reach across an entire continent provided the resources to fuel the emergence of global super power.

Expansion, growth and success were measured without regard to environmental cost.

In fact more often than not it came at the direct expense of the environment.

Today’s expansion faces more rigid limitations.

We now find ourselves pushing the outer reaches of environmental tolerance.

We are now reaching the limit of what can be achieved without due regard to the consequences.

From climate change to biodiversity losses, from air and water quality to the sustainability of fish stocks and farming practices we are straining the bounds of sustainability.

We see this tension emerging for China as it seeks simultaneously to secure the resources western powers enjoyed unchecked at the same time as developing sustainable technologies.

If the last century of expansion has been marked by an abundance of resources; the next century of achievement will be defined by the limit of natural resources.

In order to address these global issues we need global solutions. New Zealand must play its part in global environmental discussions.  As with other aspects of our foreign policy, as a small country we have a great deal to gain from multilateral agreements.  Moreover these environmental issues do not respect borders.

The current government is showing a reckless disregard for our international reputation through its proposed cuts to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade.  We need to keep our proud voice on the global stage, not reduce it to a whisper.


The Future: Opportunities for New Zealand and Opportunities for Labour

The opportunities for a country like New Zealand are enormous.

The economics are clear – New Zealand businesses trade heavily on our environmental credentials.

From Fonterra to Weta, the New Zealand landscape, the pristine beaches and unspoilt landscape are worth billions to the New Zealand economy.

Our environment must be part of securing a sustainable economic future.

For Labour I think we can show leadership and stake out our own position in some key areas.  A leading example should be the health of urban environments. 

87% of New Zealanders live in cities.  Our urban environments deserve no less attention than our streams, rivers and lakes. As a country we need to prioritise and integrate sustainable approaches to energy, housing, transport and planning in our cities and towns.

For most New Zealanders this is where policy meets everyday experience. I think there are a lot of gains available to us if bring urban issues into focus.

The rebuild in Christchurch offers us the opportunity to design and build a sustainable city.  I fear that a government with little commitment to the principles of sustainability will fail if it takes over the central city re-build to develop the modern, sustainable city that is at their fingertips.

Phil Twyford as Associate Environment and Auckland Issues Spokesperson is working me on this. Labour will champion the urban environment as much as our rivers, lakes and streams as we work towards 2014.

Labour will also be developing a positive vision for a New Zealand that supports our environment in its own right, but also as part of a new sustainable economy.  David Shearer has begun this by emphasising the importance of being clean, green and clever. This is a positive vision, giving hope to New Zealanders. It also needs to be practical and show individuals, families and communities how they can make a difference.  Too often people feel that their individual actions will not make any difference.  We have to give people hope and confidence that not only is a Labour led government prepared to act, but there is a practical role for them too. There are many ways this can happen, but I am attracted to a British Labour Party pledge document that gave five government pledges on environmental action and in turn five actions that can be taken by families.

I strongly believe that by establishing a unique Labour position on environmental issues that is based on our values of fairness, intergenerational equity and obligations to one another we can lead in this debate.

We will always hold our opponents to account, be they those who see the economy and the environment in pitched battle or those who always want to say “No” and who are blinkered to opportunity by dogma.

But Labour will more importantly continue to drive New Zealand towards a future where we see our environment and our sustainable economic future as one.

In the pursuit of green growth and the production of green jobs, New Zealand cannot afford to be left behind.

Our economic challenges are significant, but they are not insurmountable.

For too many the change in New Zealand over the past 30 years hasn’t been for the better.

It is a change that has seen the gap between the rich and poor grow wider.

That was what a recent OECD report found. Inequality over the past few decades has grown.

This gap is not just a financial divide; it is a disparity in aspiration.

It tells us that the New Zealand that was full of the opportunity which the last generation benefited is slowly disappearing.

We know that fairer economies are more productive; where the majority have a solid stake in our collective future.

We need to close this gap.

To do it, we need new ideas and innovative solutions.

We can’t afford to be held back by out-dated notions and tired concepts. We can’t afford to be held back by an unwillingness to compromise.

I am committed to using this time in Opposition to present a workable and sustainable plan that preserves the intrinsic value of our environment for future generations and our future prosperity.


Thank you.