Banning plastic bags tackles small part of a big problem

Yesterday the Government announced that New Zealand would phase out plastic bags within 12 months. The announcement, which was made by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Associate Minister for the Environment Eugenie Sage comes amid a growing backlash against single use plastics.

The announcement, whilst welcome is in some respects more of a feel good measure. Whilst single use plastic bags are a very visible part of the plastics problem in New Zealand, in terms of the larger waste issue, plastic bags are a relative minor issue. Paper, glass, wood, materials such as polystyrene and so forth will continue to get dumped in landfills or recycled at negligible rates. Electronic waste will continue to go into landfills at between 72,000 and 85,000 tons per annum with only 1% of that being recycled.

The announcement did not escape criticism. David Seymour, Leader of the A.C.T. Party said it would punish consumers who find the bags easy and convenient. He also attacked the lack of science qualifications held by Green Party Members of Parliament. Nor did it escape criticism from the Leader of the Opposition, Simon Bridges who likened it to low hanging fruit and that no real gains would be made. Mr Bridges claimed that the Government had bigger problems on its hands and needed to address what he called “plummeting business confidence”.

Both of these criticisms come from desperate politicians wanting to undermine something that they know will be well received by the public of New Zealand. Much has been made of the growing number of seabirds, fish and other marine life being found to have died from consuming plastics that their bodies are not able to digest. One also cannot ignore the Great Pacific Garbage Patch in the central part of the northern Pacific that has an estimated 5 trillion pieces of plastic in it. That is about 680 pieces of plastic for every single human being on the planet.

I doubt that, despite the incoming ban, plastic bags will actually be fully phased out. Several questions need to be asked – and answered about this:

  1. How will the Government deal with imported products that come in plastic bags – last time I got an electrical device there were about three small plastic bags each with a component relevant to the device. They were single use bags in that once opened there was no further use for the plastic.
  2. Will there remain drop off bins after the ban takes effect for those who have stockpiles of plastic bags? I suspect that there will always be a small number of plastic bags retained by New Zealanders and there will be people all over the country with a cupboard holding a few, just as my parents have.
  3. Businesses seem to be enthusiastic about the ban, but there will always be a few that are non-compliant. Will the Government enforce the ban somehow?

All in all, a nice feel good ban. Greenpeace and the other environmental N.G.O.’s might be happy, but the war on waste has a long way to go before it reaches anything approaching a successful conclusion.

Tit-for-Tat politics do no favours

It is something all politicians are probably guilty of at some point in their career. In their attempt to either score political points or establish their name as a productive elected official, one might propose an amendment to legislation before the House of Representatives. The amendment is rejected possibly simply because it came from the Opposition, possibly because it came out after due process had been followed.

The proponent of the amendment is bitter, grumpy and perhaps feeling short changed. In retaliation for their attempt at a constructive amendment being shot down, they change their vote in an attempt to kill the legislation entirely. In doing so, they shoot down an opportunity to show that they are a good sport and try to understand why it was rejected and do better the next time such an opportunity arises.

The sad fact of the matter is that tit-for-tat politics are really just petulant stupidity. No one wins from politicians throwing hissy fits in Parliament – whether it is in a speech, at a Select Committee or in terms of how they vote.

Thus, National’s decision to yank its support for the Green Party’s medicinal cannabis bill, only to then come up with a near identical version is particularly galling. It essentially says that there was nothing wrong with the Green Party version other than to say that it was the GREEN PARTY that came up with it in the first place. Furthering the petulance, National have rejected the warnings from the Ministry of Health that their Bill will not significantly improve the availability of medicinal cannabis products.

Another example can be found in the National Party attacks on the Government for their fiscal policy. Afraid that their own fiscal management, which saw significant debt accrued – admittedly through testing times including the back end of the Global Financial Crisis, and two hugely costly earthquakes – was under attack, National have seized every opportunity to try to present the Labour-Green fiscal rules agreement as a failure and a joke, despite the spending falling within the limits agreed to and monetary inflow continuing to exceed spending. As Stuff reporter Tracy Watkins notes there is a fine line before highlighting failing policies and deliberately talking down the economy.

It is not just the Opposition parties that do it. Sometimes the Government parties can be equally dismissive. But right now that is not happening. It is the Opposition, struggling as it is to get used to the fact that petulant behaviour instead of quietly dropping an unwinnable argument does not get one very far.

Domestic Violence Bill passes; National misses point

Yesterday the support available for people suffering from domestic violence took a giant leap forward. Green Member of Parliament Jan Logie’s Bill of Parliament to allow people suffering domestic violence to take up to 10 days off work with pay, means that people in the throes of an abusive relationship are able to take time off work to get their lives back in order.

I congratulate Ms Logie on her Bill of Parliament, the Domestic Violence: Victims Protection Bill, which passed through on its third reading with a vote of 63 (Labour, New Zealand First and the Greens supported it ) – 57 (National and A.C.T. opposed it). It improves and/or introduces a number of protections for people suffering the effects of domestic violence. They include:

  • Making it illegal to discriminate against victims of domestic violence
  • Employers must allow up to 10 days of paid leave that is separate from annual leave or sick leave

National Member of Parliament Mark Mitchell said National had withdrawn its support for the Bill of Parliament. He cited the additional costs put on employers and said that it would do nothing to stop domestic violence. Whilst opposing the Bill National M.P.’s insisted that they agree with the spirit in which the Bill was written.

Mr Mitchell misses the point and his claims are probably not quite true. There will be people – maybe not a huge number – who will be able to use it as a circuit breaker. For them those 10 days might critical time in which they can end a relationship, get into a safe house and make contact with the Police.

But it will go one step further. Employees coming from a stable domestic life are more likely to be effective and productive workers. So while employers will pay up to 10 days leave for someone suffering domestic violence, if it leads to them having more secure and stable domestic circumstances then in the longer term it will hopefully lead to improved workplace performance.

So, let us welcome what will now become an Act of Parliament that makes the tortuous path that victims of domestic violence must follow hopefully a bit less treacherous.

National changes tune on climate change

National leader Simon Bridges has pledged to work with Labour and the Greens on establishing common ground on climate change. The announcement comes as part of a u-turn by National on an issue that until recently it had been quite cool on.

I find this quite interesting given that when Mr Bridges was a Minister of the Crown one of his portfolios was Minister of Energy and Resources. Mr Bridges in that role undertook to pass under urgency legislation that effectively criminalized the right to peaceful assembly on the high seas. Mr Bridges also met with executives from several oil companies, such as Anadarko who lobbied heavily for the Crown Minerals (Crown land and protection)Act 2013.

How will National work constructively with Labour and the Greens? To do that, they would need to get their M.P.’s on board – many, such as Judith Collins do not care much for environmental issues, and some have gone so far as to say so in public. National would then need to get its grass roots members on board, remembering this is a conservative party with a strong rural base and supported by businesses, farmers, industrialists and wealthy donors.

Getting all of them on board would be a challenge. Many would see it as undermining the economy. Industry would be reluctant to support changes to resource management law for example that tighten emissions controls and force them to spend money on installing scrubbers, despite the existing argument that the scrubbers would pay for themselves by enabling more efficient burning.

Part of this is no doubt intended to appeal to National’s Blue Greens, who are the segment of the party with concerns about environmental sustainability. The Blue Greens were delighted in April 2007 when the then Leader of the Opposition John Key said the key areas for the National Party would be economy, education and the environment. But during the 8 years Mr Key was in office the party largely paid lip service to the Blue Greens and I cannot help but wonder if it will wind up doing the same again this time.

It is not that there are no opportunities for innovation and job growth. On the contrary, one of the great opportunities afforded by the need to tackle climate change is unlocking green research, science and technology. This could be boosted by raising the percentage of the G.D.P. that New Zealand spends on research, science and technology which has been hovering around a mediocre 0.9% in contrast with other O.E.C.D. countries.

Will partisan politics wind up getting in the way of a multi-lateral approach involving cross party support from both Opposition and Government parties? One would hope not. New Zealand needs to tackle this issue, because the damage to our environmental reputation if we do not would be simply too much for a country of our size to handle.

So, I welcome National’s commitment to doing something about climate change. There is a lot of water to go under this bridge, but it is a start.

Simon Bridges drops in popularity; Crusher enters preferred P.M. stakes

National leader Simon Bridges is not the most popular politician in New Zealand at the moment. Whilst he might have the support of his National Party, and not really having been tested in the short time that he has been in office, his popularity is right where Andrew Little’s was this time last year before Jacinda-mania took hold.

Mr Bridges is experiencing the same very low levels of popularity that assailed successive Labour leaders during the three terms that party was out of office. For the time being this is not cause for alarm as Mr Bridges still has at least two years to wait before the next election, meaning there is plenty of time for Labour to make a significant mistake that National can capitalize on.

However if Mr Bridges still finds himself in this position cometh the 2020 Fiscal Budget he might find himself being challenged for the job. For that to happen though, there would need to be a significant change in polling fortunes. Right now A.C.T. and National can muster 59 seats in a Parliament of 122.

Perhaps the party that should be the most concerned is New Zealand First. Since their announcement that they will support the Comprehensive and Progressive Trans Pacific Partnership, the support for the party has plunged with many people who until then had been staunch supporters walking away from the party of Winston Peters. Prior to that announcement, the Party had been widely viewed by the voting public as the only party other than the Greens that was stridently opposed to the C.P.T.P.P. and its predecessor the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement (T.P.P.A.). If an election were had today and the poll result was accurate, there would be no New Zealand First in the new Parliament.

The Green Party are still struggling with the post-Metiria Turei era. Mrs Turei’s departure from Parliament as a result of being made to resign following admissions that she misled Department of Work and Income over her income whilst she was a solo mother, was bad enough. But that was damage that could have been (probably would have been)fixed had she announced at the same time that she had paid it all back, leaving the Opposition with minimal ammunition and probably not causing the revolt in the ranks of the Green Party. Although they have now elected Marama Davidson to the co-leadership position, Mrs Davidson has yet to be distinctly heard, which is something that the Greens will be hoping changes in the near future. Because of that, the Greens slipped slightly in the poll.

A.C.T. continues to languish in the poll, supported only by leader David Seymour’s hold on the Epsom electorate. Granted Mr Seymour has been showing off his dance moves on Dancing With The Stars, and his End of Life Choice Bill has cross party support in dealing with euthanasia, there is little else maintaining peoples interest in him or his party.

Meanwhile Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern sails positively on. A few weeks away from going on maternity leave and handing Mr Peters temporary control of the country, Ms Ardern sits on 40.2% support in the preferred Prime Minister stakes. Since much Labour policy is still to come and her handling of the problems that have so far come her way, has been largely competent, like Mr Bridges, although for quite contrasting reasons, she has little cause for alarm.