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Key: Environment Policy Launch

Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media

6 September 2008 - Let me say a big welcome to all of you at this the 10th Bluegreens Forum.

It's great to be here on Waiheke Island surrounded by a group of people who are passionate about New Zealand's environment.

Let me single out the Hon. Greg Hunt, the Australian Shadow Minister for Climate Change, Environment, and Urban Water. Let me also welcome the other distinguished speakers who are presenting at the Bluegreens forum today.

I'd like to make particular mention of National's Environment Spokesman, the Hon. Dr Nick Smith. Nick is a passionate advocate for good environmental policy, and the National Party is fortunate to have such a well-informed spokesman. He leads a fantastic environment team of caucus members and it's good to see so many of them here today.

I'd also like to thank the Bluegreens executive for their work, both in organising this forum and more generally for advising the National Party on environmental policy.

For 10 years now the Bluegreens have argued that environmental issues should not be monopolised by those on the left of the political spectrum. They have argued that environmentalism should be a mainstream issue for all New Zealanders and all political parties. Over the past decade, that view has gained considerable resonance world wide.

What global Leaders know, and what the National Party knows, is that environmentalism and a commitment to economic growth must go hand in hand. We should be wary of anyone who claims that one can or should come without the other. And we should always measure a Government's environmental rhetoric against its environmental record.

In the years ahead it will be increasingly important that New Zealand marries its economic and environmental policies. Global climate change awareness, resource shortages, and increasing intolerance of environmental degradation will give environmental policy renewed relevance on the world stage.

New Zealand will need policies that make the most of this trend. This will be important for our trade prospects and for the way in which we grow our economy. I'm confident that with the right policies New Zealand can make its environmental credentials an important part of its comparative advantage.

National's Environment Policy

Today, I am pleased to be launching National's environment policy. This policy contains a forward-looking, practical set of initiatives in the areas of climate change, environmental governance, conservation, healthy air, noise reduction, and waste management.

We have already announced our outdoor recreation policy and will be releasing further policies on environment issues, including water, before the election. We are confident that this suite of policies will work for our environment and for our economy.

Today's launch is the culmination of three years of extensive work, consultation, and thought.

Our policy was first canvassed in National's Bluegreen Discussion Document, released in 2006. Nick and his team travelled up and down the country holding meetings about that paper. A wide range of New Zealanders took an active interest in these meetings and contributed their thoughts to our discussion. National was hugely encouraged by the level of engagement, and we look forward to continuing that discussion in the years ahead.

Because let's face it, environmental issues will always provoke debate.

I want to be quite open today about the reality that if National leads the next Government we won't always please every environmental group all the time.

That's because, unashamedly, National will seek to balance environmental goals with our other goals of increasing New Zealand's economic prosperity and providing more opportunities to Kiwis from all walks of life.

In saying that, let me be clear that I don't think environmental and economic objectives need always be traded off one against the other. In fact, the best environmental outcomes often come from the most economic efficiency.

And, in seeking the balance between environmental and economic goals, National will never forget that New Zealand's outstanding physical environment is a key part of what makes our country special. Kiwis proudly value our forests, mountains, rivers, lakes, and oceans. They are part of our history and they must continue to define our future.

Our environment isn't just a bonus. It's part of being a Kiwi. It underpins our enviable quality of life. It gives us an in-built edge over many of our economic rivals. I'm thinking, for example, of what Australia would do for our abundant water resources. And, increasingly, New Zealand's environmental credentials will underpin our prosperity and our trade profile.

One of National's key goals, should we lead the next Government, will be to stem the flow of New Zealanders choosing to live and work overseas. We want to make New Zealand an attractive place for our children and grandchildren to live - including those who are currently living in Australia, the UK, or elsewhere.

To stem that flow so we must ensure Kiwis can receive competitive after-tax wages in New Zealand. We must cut taxes and grow our economy, and National will have policies to ensure both occur.

But I'm conscious that competitive incomes will not be the only factor that brings our loved ones home. Kiwis will also choose to live here because of our open spaces, our easily accessed beaches, and our native bush.

Having lived in Singapore and in London, I feel strongly about this point. There is something very special about raising a family in a country where we can take for granted going fishing in a local river, taking a family outing to a beach, or walking through the bush without bumping into anyone for kilometres on end.

Sadly, some of these things that Kiwis take for granted are at risk. Labour has talked big talk on the environment but all too often it has failed to deliver.

Labour promised to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 20% - but instead they have gone up by 20%. Labour promised a target of 90% renewable electricity by 2021 - but the actual proportion of renewables has sunk to an all-time low. Labour promised 250,000 hectares of additional trees by 2020 - but the past three years has seen the worst deforestation since records began.

Too often, Labour has missed the opportunity to make workable, practical improvements to environmental policy. Too often, Labour has allowed good ideas to be bogged down in red tape, adversarial process, and government bureaucracy.

Kiwis are hugely enthusiastic about doing their bit for the environment. So we need government policy that will harness that enthusiasm and make it easier for us all to pitch in. National's environment policy will do that.

Our policy is underpinned by five Bluegreen principles:

Resource use must be based on sustainability. Economic growth and improving the environment can and must go hand in hand. Good science is essential to quality environmental decision making. People respond best to change when engaged and given incentives. New Zealanders have a unique birthright to access and enjoy our special places.

I urge you to read our environment policy in full. But let me pick out some highlights.

Climate Change

First, this policy underlines National's commitment to addressing global climate change. We view this as the most serious environmental challenge of our time.

National believes that New Zealand, as a responsible international citizen, and as a country that values our clean, green environment, must act to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions. This policy sets out our commitment to that goal.

National will set an achievable emissions reduction target for New Zealand. We seek a 50% reduction in New Zealand's carbon-equivalent net emissions, as compared to 1990 levels, by 2050. 50 by 50. We will write the target into law.

National will also ensure New Zealand works on the world stage to support international efforts to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions. We are committed to honouring our Kyoto Protocol obligations and we will work to achieve further global alliances that build on the goals agreed to at Kyoto.

Our approach to future international negotiations will be to work with fellow countries on finding a pragmatic way to include large emitters like China, the United States, India, and Brazil. It's clear that the absence of these large emitters from any post-Kyoto agreement would severely compromise global progress on this issue.

In order to achieve domestic emission reduction, National will pursue sound, practical environmental policies. We want to reduce emissions in ways that result in least cost to society and the economy.

To that end, we consider a well-designed, carefully balanced emissions trading scheme (ETS) to be the best tool available for efficiently reducing emissions across the economy.

But we have been appalled at the process Labour has followed in introducing their ETS legislation to Parliament.

On Tuesday this week, Labour introduced 785 new amendments to their bill. They did so without giving MPs or the public any opportunity for input or for considering what those amendments may mean. This is a piece of legislation with far-reaching impacts on the environment and on costs for families and businesses. Labour's attitude towards it has been nothing short of reckless.

What's more, National believes the content of Labour's proposed ETS will meet neither New Zealand's economic needs nor our environmental obligations.

National's policy is to introduce and pass a bill to amend Labour's ETS legislation within nine months of taking office. We will give the public the opportunity to examine our proposed amendments in the select committee.

In amending the ETS we will be led by six key principles. These are outlined in our policy, and they are: balance, fiscal neutrality, trans-Tasman co-operation and alignment where possible, carbon efficiency rather than carbon export, fairness for small and medium businesses, and ensuring adequate flexibility to respond to international developments.

So let me be very clear today: National is serious about reducing New Zealand's greenhouse gas emissions. We will ensure that a New Zealand ETS is introduced on 1 January 2010.

We are confident that the pervasive price signals sent by the ETS will encourage widespread innovation and emission reduction. We also think that consumers will increasingly be willing to make more environmentally friendly choices. National's ETS will also be accompanied by complementary emission-reduction measures to back those choices.

We have announced, for example, our plan to increase government investment in broadband infrastructure. I believe in time this will be a great help to Kiwis wishing to reduce emissions from travel.

In the years ahead, it's likely that the rising global price of oil will nudge Kiwis towards different forms of fuel and transport. National is keen to encourage the use of new low-emission energy technologies. We know that these will be required to help New Zealand make the transition to a low-carbon economy and reduce our dependence on fossil fuels.

The Biofuels Act passed this week highlights the difference in approach between National and Labour. The Act requires New Zealand fuel to include an increasing compulsory proportion of biofuels. This compulsion comes ahead of a sustainability standard that would ensure those biofuels actually help the environment.

National will set the sustainability standard first and then provide a consistent incentive for both biofuel and biodiesel, by exempting them from excise tax or road user charges.

Today, I am also pleased to announce National's plans to encourage more use of electrical vehicles.

Right now, Kiwi owners of electric cars are expected to pay the same road user charges as diesel-burning vehicles. This is a huge disincentive to using these zero-emission vehicles. National thinks it is ridiculous to put such a barrier in the way of Kiwis wanting to make an environmentally friendly transport choice. So National will kick-start the use of electric vehicles by exempting them from road user charges.

We will also provide a $1,000 grant for new and existing households to install solar water systems. And we will extend this grant scheme to include heat pump hot water technologies - where energy performance is as good as it is from solar power.

I am confident that these complementary measures, when combined with an improved ETS, will ensure New Zealand can reduce its greenhouse gas emissions and uphold our international obligations.

All these initiatives are about providing Kiwis with the right incentives to make environmentally friendly choices. National wants to make it easier for everyone to do their bit in the battle against climate change. That incentives-based approach will flow through into other aspects of our environment policy.

National will, for example, ensure Kiwis face good incentives when it comes to purchasing a new vehicle. We want to ensure New Zealand communities aren't subject to damaging air pollution and excessive noise. Cars are major contributors to both these forms of pollution.

So, National will provide Kiwis with good signals about the cars that are the best for the environment. We will do this by, on the one hand, ensuring our emission and noise standards for new vehicles keep up with international standards and practices. And, on the other hand, by introducing more sophisticated emissions and noise testing for existing vehicles. If Kiwis have a highly polluting or excessively noisy car we think they should know about it and have an incentive to do something about it.

A New Approach to Environmental Governance

The second aspect of National's environment policy which I want to highlight today is our new approach to environmental governance.

For too long in New Zealand, tackling environmental problems has been synonymous with dispute, complex process, and long delays.

Environmental management has been further compromised by the poor performance of the Environment Ministry and the lack of independent monitoring of New Zealand's progress towards environmental goals.

National believes Kiwis are ready to do things differently. We want to strengthen the incentives for co-operation in the pursuit of shared environmental goals.

So, National will invite stakeholders to work with us to reach agreement on up to 20 national environment goals to be achieved by specific dates, at the latest by 2030. To give those goals some real resonance we will introduce a new Environmental Reporting Act. This will require the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment to conduct independent five-yearly State of the Environment Reports.

National also believes that by making some careful nationwide regulations we can improve New Zealand's environmental standards and ensure greater efficiency in the processes used to ensure those standards are met.

So, today I am announcing that National will expand the existing Environmental Risk Management Authority (Erma) into an Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) combining Erma's existing powers with new powers.

The need for an EPA is well illustrated in last month's report on the Mapua toxic chemical site. The existing environment agencies proved hopelessly ill-equipped to deal with the

issues. The inherent conflict between their various roles resulted in the Government making serious breaches of resource consents.

The EPA's new responsibilities will include the national regulatory functions of the RMA,

including the development of National Policy Statements and National Environmental Standards. These will include, for example, a National Environmental Standard for Landfills and a National Policy Statement on Biodiversity. The EPA will also have responsibility for processing major projects under National's "Priority Consenting".

Alongside the EPA, National will refocus the Ministry for the Environment into a smaller, politically neutral and highly skilled policy adviser.

Let me assure you today that the overall size of the three current environment agencies - the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment, the Ministry for the Environment and Erma - will not increase. National will expand Erma into an EPA by reprioritising some of the resource currently allocated to the Ministry for the Environment. There will be no extra bureaucrats.


The third aspect of National's policy I'm highlighting today is our desire to work alongside our communities to conserve our native species and environmental heritage.

National supports the Department of Conservation as the lead agency for conserving New Zealand's unique native plants and animals, and we recognise its world leadership in species recovery and island restoration.

So, I'm pleased to announce National's intention to advance two new National Parks in the North.

More than half of the population lives north of Taupo and yet only four of our 14 national parks are in the North Island.

National will establish a new national park in the home of Tane Mahuta - Northland's Waipoua and surrounding Kauri forests. We will also initiate a formal investigation under the National Parks Act into a new park on the public lands of the Waitakere Ranges. I'd like to thank Paula Bennett for her role in promoting this idea.

These are important public conservation projects. National is proud to support them. But I don't think the government should have, or ever seek to have, a monopoly on conservation works or environmental protection.

National believes the next step forward for conserving our unique flora and fauna is to get alongside the initiatives of volunteers and dozens of organisations involved in community conservation projects.

Last year, I had the privilege of visiting the Brook Waimarama Sanctuary in Nelson. The sanctuary is situated in mature beech forest with more than 250 species of plants and rare birdlife, including New Zealand falcon, weka, and yellow-crowned parakeet. It will eventually extend over 715 hectares.

The charitable trust in charge of the sanctuary intends to make it a year-round attraction with a range of low-impact tourist opportunities. So, not only will the sanctuary provide a pest-free oasis to preserve our native flora and fauna, but it will also bring thousands of people in touch with the joys of New Zealand's wildlife. It's a privately run initiative in pursuit of a public and long-term goal.

A National Government will work to encourage and support initiatives like this. We believe the Department of Conservation should take a more open approach to partnering with the community.

National will reduce the bureaucratic barriers to the participation of community organisations in species recovery programmes. We will make funding of community eco-restoration projects a priority. And we will remove tax disincentives to landowners seeking to improve their own land management.

We will also encourage DOC to take a more constructive role when dealing with rural communities over conservation on private land. Too often, DOC reverts to regulation when it could achieve more through consultation and engagement.

National's desire to work alongside individuals, local government, community groups, and businesses in pursuit of environmental goals will extend to other areas of environment policy.

We will, for example, work with local government and industry to ensure that the Waste Minimisation Act is implemented successfully. We want to ensure that when government acts it doesn't cut across already successful programmes.

National will also support Keep New Zealand Beautiful to run the Clean Up New Zealand Week. We think this is a great example where a few government dollars can go a long way to encouraging thousands of Kiwis to do their bit for the environment.


Ladies and gentlemen, those are three highlights of National's environment policy.

They indicate how seriously we take environmental issues and how optimistic we are about New Zealand's ability to step up to tomorrow's new and complex environmental challenges.

I am confident that a National Government can provide the leadership required to meet the environmental challenges of this new century.

I am confident that we can bequeath our children with the opportunities and great outdoors we have been so privileged to enjoy. And I am proud to stand behind National's package of practical, balanced environmental policies.

I urge you to read our full policy and I wish you all a very good forum. Thank you.

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