At the weekend, the Leader of the National Party, Simon Bridges made an announcement. National is going to hit the reset button on environmental policy. Whilst this will please the party’s left-leaning Members of Parliament and their supporters, are the grass roots on board?
For a while National has had the Bluegreens. This is a wing of the party that has had an environmental focus in an attempt to shore up the party’s credentials with the Green movement.
For much of the time Prime Minister John Key and his successor former Prime Minister Bill English were in office, the Bluegreens were at best, paid lip service. Little was mentioned about them in the media, and little – unless the media ignored it, which is possible – appears to have been said by the Bluegreens. For the vast majority of National voters the environment was only something to be paid attention to if it meant depriving the Greens, Labour and New Zealand First of votes. That is probably still the case today. It therefore remains to be seen just how on board the party grass roots will get.
National, like Labour has philosophical supporters. Just as Labours are traditionally unions, lower income workers, and those with concerns about social justice, National is typically supported by industry, farming and people who are philosophically conservative. This is where much of National’s funding for its day to day core operations as a party come from alongside member donations and fundraising efforts.
It will be interesting to see what sort of environmental reset National leader Simon Bridges was thinking of when he made the announcement. Will it be a comprehensive one across all environmental concerns – waste, freshwater, marine environment, air pollution, climate change, soil quality?. Or will it be concentrated into a few areas with significant policy announcements intended to be made in these areas?
If National stick to a few key environmental issues that they are prepared to invest in, then climate change, waste and fresh water issues are the most obvious top three. In addressing waste and fresh water, National would be indirectly tackling climate change.
The waste New Zealanders generate is substantial. The potential for burning waste in order to drive a power station generator unit would allow a clean source of electricity whilst reducing the risk of toxics leaching into the groundwater supply – the technology and know how is there. This provides the opportunity for scientific research and significant job creation, whilst at the same time providing New Zealand with electricity.
Just because climate change involves cutting back on carbon emissions does not mean it is an economy killer. It is important for National to recognize this because a significant part of New Zealand’s environmental reputation, which is essential for keeping tourists coming here rides on reducing climate change. Other nations are starting to take significant steps to address this with policy announcements. New Zealand can become a hotbed of research into carbon neutral technology if it wants to, which like waste to energy plants, could lead to job creation.
Finally I have mentioned in prior articles the important contribution of fresh water based recreation. But also there are many obvious medical benefits to be had from clean drinking water and a secure supply. These benefits are too many and too diverse to adequately capture in an article of this length, but New Zealand will be a healthier, wealthier nation for it.
So, I look forward to seeing what Mr Bridges has to say in terms of policy. It is a chance for National to claw back some of the ground it lost at the last election. But if he is genuine, the grass roots will need to be on board. Right now, I do not think they are.