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Emissions law needed minor party support to scrape through

Oct 14th, 2008 | By | Category: Features

The Labour government needed every vote it could scrape together to get the emissions trading law through Parliament.

LAURA FRYKBERG and JENNY MEYER look at the minor parties’ role:

When National withdrew its support from the emissions trading bill, Labour had to look to the Greens and New Zealand First to get the legislation through.

The smaller parties – Act, Maori Party, United Future, the two Independent MP’s, Progressive, Greens, and New Zealand First – all have different stances on the bill, and what it means for New Zealanders.

ACT

Act leader Rodney Hide labelled the bill “the wealth-sapping emissions trading scheme”.

He says the party opposes the scheme (ETS) because it favours reason, freedom and prosperity and it opposes all three.

The party believes New Zealand will not suffer from the increase in CO2 into the atmosphere but instead benefit from a warmer climate closer to that of neighbours Australia.

Mr Hide also remains sceptical of what the weather will be like in 100 years and also if greenhouse gases are the cause of global warming.

He says the ETS creates a market in greenhouse gas emissions and therefore a price to emit. By trying to change our behaviour as producers and consumers, it becomes a policy that is too radical and will try to reshape our economy and our lives.

“It will drive businesses under, farmers to the wall, cost untold jobs, make us much poorer and drive up the cost of everything. That’s the policy’s purpose.

“It will also subject every part of our lives to government control and regulation because the carbon cycle is central to life, to agriculture and forestry and the burning of fossil fuels drives our industrial economy and our standard of living.”

Mr Hyde, who has a master’s degree in ecology and lectured in environmental science, said while he believes it is important for New Zealand to maintain its clean and green image, if we are going to constrain carbon emissions in New Zealand it will come as a big cost.

He finds it interesting that not even a rudimentary cost-benefit analysis has been done on the scheme.

“The amazing thing about human beings and modern society is our ability to adapt to our environment…We are setting up a scheme that will be a potentially corrupt scam worldwide, because what is being traded is an odd thing – the ability to emit carbon dioxide, and eventually other greenhouse gases.”

Act’s other MP, Heather Roy, says speeding through the law is “a sad indictment not just on the New Zealand First MPs and the leader of that party, but also on the Labour Government, which was desperate to get this legislation through in order to show that we are world leaders in something and going where angels fear to tread.”

MAORI PARTY

MaoriParty co-leader Tariana Turia, who also opposed the bill, said in March that while they did not support the bill, they looked forward to learning more about the matter.

They remain strong in their belief the ETS “is still just an emissions trading scheme, when what is required is an emissions reduction programme”.

The scheme will defer liability and with masses of free credits going to the biggest industries and the worst polluters for years to come, this negates any incentive for them to make changes: “This is not ‘polluter pays’ – it’s ‘pay the polluters’.”

Mrs Turia says an emissions reduction programme will require significant changes in New Zealanders’ lifestyles and credits should be issued on the basis of need as opposed to blanket donations and exemptions to huge corporate lobbyists.

“The government is not willing to fully explain the disastrous consequences of doing so little to save the planet, for fear of a voter backlash.”

UNITED FUTURE

United Future’s opposition to the bill stems from its belief that New Zealand should be working in concert with Australia to develop legislation.

The party says a bill needs to be compatible to both countries and should be passed through both Parliaments by April, 2009.

The party believes the Act imposes too many costs on New Zealand households and for it too survive it needs to have significant public support, which will not occur if they feel the cost is too great.

When the bill was being enacted, a spokesman for United Future said the government seemed determined to pass any ETS scheme, so long as it got something into place before the election.

INDEPENDENTS

Independent MP Gordon Copeland (who is going to run the Kiwi Party banner in the upcoming election) voted against the bill as he said his research found the science was unsettled on the issue of climate change. He believes human activity is less significant than other natural phenomena.

Mr Copeland also thinks the Al Gore movie, An Inconvenient Truth, is flawed. He would not support amended legislation either, and thinks New Zealand should explore withdrawing form the Kyoto Protocol.

“What we believe we should be doing right now is concentrating our efforts and our funding on to issues that confront our environment in New Zealand.”

The other Independent MP, Taito Philip Field, voted against the bill, but was unavailable to comment.

PROGRESSIVES

Jim Anderton, the single MP representing the Progressives, supported the emissions trading bill into law.

As Minister of Agriculture he wanted to ensure the law was not delayed, despite the agricultural sector needing to become more organised to fulfil their obligations. He is particularly concerned with the pastoral and seafood industries and to see that they are reasonably treated by the ETS.

GREENS

While the Greens were always assumed to be for the scheme, this bill did test some of their priorities.

Green Party Co-Leader Jeanette Fitzsimons says that they fought to make the ETS as fair as possible for all New Zealanders.

The $1 billion green homes fund that the Green Party secured during the negotiations will make reductions to household energy use, as well as improve health.

“We know that households use about a third of our electricity and health research shows that hospitalisations for asthma and winter flus drop by more than half once a house is insulated warm and dry. This is a win-win all around,” says Ms Fitzsimons.

Although the Greens do not agree with everything about the design of this bill, she believes that Mr Parker has done everything he can, in the current political environment, to take this first step towards reducing our emissions.

“The important thing is not to get the idea that, because we now have an emissions trading scheme, climate change is fixed.”

The environment is just too precious to gamble on delay. The Greens believe the biggest risk is people will think this is all that has to be done on climate change.

During the election campaign the greens want to put emphasis on public transport and rail freight.

They wish to use whatever influence they have after the election to make this legislation fairer and more effective.
This links to their policy.

NZ FIRST

The fact that New Zealand First decided to support the bill within the last three months has caused controversy.

Heather Roy said: “The agreement of New Zealand First to support this bill has bought their leader, Winston Peters, more time in his rapidly dwindling political career.”

On August 27, Mr Peters, said after several months of consideration and negotiations with the Government, NZ First would support the scheme.

Mr Peters said that New Zealand First had secured a package that will ensure all households will receive a one-off payment to mitigate the impact of the ETS.

Those people on low incomes, including from New Zealand superannuation, will receive a Consumer Price Index adjustment to ensure they keep ahead of the projected cost of the ETS.

“We brought about considerable changes to forestry and agriculture in the ETS and the Government has accepted these changes,” he said.

On August 15, he said the ETS is an opportunity to rethink issues such as land use.

“The clock has already started ticking in relation to our Kyoto obligations. We cannot escape this fact. What we can do is look at what options are available to reduce our carbon footprint and to turn this issue from a negative to a positive. Land use, which is core local government business, will be critical to this.”

Previous National Minister of Energy Max Bradford sent an email to Mr Peters on September 10, a key day for the Privileges’ Committee hearing, and two days before the parliament vote on the ETS.

Mr Bradford suggested the country would think far better of Mr Peters if he were to withdraw NZ First’s support for the emissions trading legislation at the third reading stage.

He told Mr Peters Labour cannot expect the legislation to work for ordinary Kiwis.

“I urge you, even at this late stage, to withdraw support for the Bill,” he said in the email. “If you do so, the public will think better of you when – or should I say if – Helen Clark wields the axe in the next few days. Her action will then look like a vindictive response to your principled withdrawal of support for legislation that is inimical to everybody’s interests in this country.”

It would be ordinary people who suffered, not the Labour ministers and their supporters who would have departed the scene by then, he said.

Total votes held by the minor parties is 25, meaning Labour’s minority government needed significant support to pass the controversial bill into law. It was passed 63-57 on September 12.

PICTURE: The Plug, a floating sculpture in the sea off the bottom end of Waiheke Island.

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is is a Whitireia Journalism student who has a passion for music, fashion, films and contemporary novels. She plans to work in radio and television.
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