New Zealanders care strongly about their environment. That is evident from general conversations, and even the most casual perusal of the stories produced by major news outlets. Environment issues always feature prominently and usually sympathetically.
Yet New Zealanders are currently being short-changed when it comes to environmental policy. The debate over swimmable rivers water quality comes to mind. How can it be that in a country like pristine, green New Zealand (as we like to style it) we have over time allowed our waterways to become so degraded that it is now going to take at least 20 years of concerted effort to restore 90% of them to a swimmable standard? And do we really believe that housing shortages in our major cities are all the fault of our concern for the environment?
Equally, on the other side of the ledger, environmental dogmatism, often from the Left, frequently gets in the way of progress. The “my way, or the highway” approach they are fond of simply alienates potential support for a particular cause. (A notable exception at the political level is the cross-party GLOBE group, ably chaired by the Greens’ Dr Kennedy Graham, which is working alongside the Minster for Climate Change Issues on New Zealand’s response to global climate change.) But such co-operation, sadly, remains the exception, rather than the rule. Too often, environmental issues – which should be pervasive – are reduced to the politically partisan level which means that frequently no progress is made on their resolution, lest political credit has to be shared with Opposition parties. It is remarkably and nigh irresponsibly short-sighted.
The prospect – however remote and unlikely according to every opinion poll, published and unpublished so far – of a Labour/Green coalition taking office in September has had a number of spin-off consequences. (In Ohariu, for example, early indications are that the deal between Labour and the Greens has backfired, with support galvanising around the incumbent, and many previous Green voters saying they will cross the line because of their misgivings about the Labour candidate they are now being told to vote for.) More broadly, the Labour/Greens prospect has raised questions about the future direction of environmental policy, given Labour’s likely economic profligacy (few days seem to pass without another expensive spending promise being made) and the Greens’ increasing focus on broad social agitation, at the expense of their traditional advocacy for the environment.
For the many New Zealanders with a strong interest in sound environmental policies the picture is now very depressing – and confusing. National’s environmental shortcomings are clearly and regularly displayed – and their communication usually mis-articulated. But the Left are no better. After nearly a decade in the wilderness (more than two decades in the case of the Greens) they are so desperate for power that everything else, including environmental integrity, now pales into insignificance. Labour has no environmental vision, nor does it show any interest in what the Greens have to offer on that score. Both seem to agree that, for this election at least, more traditional social democratic issues should be the focus, to the detriment of the Greens – and the environment.
Nevertheless, there is a need for a political voice for New Zealanders passionate about their environment, but at the same time committed to policies that will stimulate sustainable economic growth to support the social infrastructure a progressive and compassionate society requires. Or to state it more simply, a political party with a clear head, matched by a soft heart.
UnitedFuture has strong credentials in this regard. Not only has it used its political influence, through its centrist position of support for orthodox economics balanced by compassionate social policy to moderate both National and Labour Governments over the last 15 years or so, it also has a strong environmental pedigree, based around its support for the retention of the principles of the Resource Management Act, and its practical policies to future proof our environment for coming generations. The likelihood that the National-led Government will be returned at the election is reason enough for UnitedFuture be strongly represented there to provide the environmental balance, and to ensure the strong environmental concerns of New Zealanders are well represented at the decision-making table. No other party can offer that prospect.