Greens might approve some mining
The Greens are to review their mining policy to possibly approve some mining in New Zealand.
Speaking today on TV3’s “The Nation” Green co-leader Russel Norman said that mining was part of our economy.
“It's part of life, like you know look at things all round us,” he said.
“You can't escape it.”
But Mr Norman said his party needed to have a conversation about the role of mining in the New Zealand economy.
“Obviously there's a lot of existing mining that’s underway, so even coal mining which we probably dislike the most right, our policy is no new coal mines.
“So we're not saying close down all the coal mines tomorrow, there's gotta be a transition, and so we think that we need to begin that transition.”
But Mr Norman said that though the party would not support any new coal mines it did not oppose any new mines for other minerals.
“I mean obviously you’ve gotta look at the localised environmental impact of a particular mining operation.
“I mean so it's case by case. “
But Mr Norman said that overall the party would oppose any new mines or drilling for fossil fuels.
RAW DATA: 'THE NATION' TRANSCRIPT
Interview by SIMON SHEPHERD
Simon You're with The Nation and our guest Russel Norman, Co-Leader of the Greens. Welcome to the programme, thank you for coming in this morning. You have your party conference this weekend. What's the main issue for you? Are you trying to work out how you're going to increase your vote or become the opposition party?
Russel Norman – Green Co-Leader
I think that we are looking to increase our vote and making sure that we have the kind of structures in place that we can do that, and then looking for the kind of policies as well. Obviously we're looking towards being in government in 2014, that’s one of our objectives.
Simon Is the Green Party on a bit of a role at the moment, you know you’ve got your MPs, good support, and Labour seems to be struggling. Are you the real opposition?
Russel Well I think that we're doing well and that you know the Greens have obviously got a very strong result, and I think that we're taking it to the government on some of the key issues, the asset sales in particular, and the citizen initiated referendum around that. So you know we're in a strong position and I think that the kind of things that the Greens have been promoting for a long time really are the issues of the era.
Simon But you also seem to be engaging more in the day to day dirty politics as it were, you know if somebody is slipping up you're going to be in there and criticising or making your position apparent. That’s not something that the Greens under say Jeanette Fitzsimons used to do.
Russel Well I think if you look at say the Nick Smith episode, that started with one of our MPs Kevin Hague dealing with Nick Smith on ACC, and it kind of rolled out from Kevin's work on ACC. So we were critical of Nick Smith and his performance, but it came from the issues, which was the way he was dealing with ACC. With Hekia Parata I mean you know we are very strong believers in public education, so when she launches measures that we believe fundamentally undermine public education, which I think is one of the great institutions of our country, then we will be critical of her. We're n to gonna hold back.
Simon But you were also critical of John Banks were you not, and there you're sort of playing the man aren’t you?
Russel Well to some degree. I mean our position was he should be stepped down as a Minister while the Auditor General or rather the Police, because it was before the Police completed their inquiries. We think that’s a reasonable approach, because there were some very serious issues about John Banks and the whole donation scandal that’s around him. Just for good government I think it's a good practice actually.
Simon Alright, your stated position is that you want to be in government. That would be with David Shearer, yeah?
Russel It's most likely, that’s true.
Simon What do you think of him?
Russel I think he's a great guy.
Simon How's he doing as a Labour Leader?
Russel I think he's finding his feet. I mean it takes time, you know they had a pretty poor result at the election and it takes time to recover from that. I think people over time will get to know the man, David Shearer and they’ll realise he's a very genuine person, as I've got to know him. So you know while we're in competition with Labour and we think the Greens have got better ideas, nonetheless David Shearer's a good guy. I think people will see that.
Simon Okay, but you are in competition with Labour and if you push your vote to a certain extent and they come down again you could be vying to be a co-leader in the next government.
Russel Well I mean I like to think that the competition between us is a competition of ideas. So you know we've been putting forward our ideas and Labour puts forwards theirs and I think that’s a healthy competition, and it's good for the nation to have a competition of ideas. And what we need to do is to grow the progressive vote if you like, and that should be the objective.
Simon Okay, but if you're having that competition with Labour is that to the benefit of National at the moment, because you know you're dividing up the centre left and the left vote and National's just sitting there on the right.
Russel Well, but if you look at the polling I mean I think National's on a downward track, and I think that actually we're also, the other kind of competition is to hold the government accountable. So I think the Greens and Labour we're both kind of trying to be the most effective at holding the government accountable for what they're doing, and I think that’s for the good of the nation, but it's also for the good of the Opposition if you like as a whole.
Russel Well at the end of the day you know we're in competition for the party votes and you can't pretend we're not. It's also about how you do that competition. I think that’s important.
Simon Alright, let's say you are in government in 2014, what Cabinet positions would you want to see Green MPs hold? Let's start with you. What would you want to do?
Russel I think it's a little early right, so it's a little presumptive. There's a long way to go yet.
Simon True, but you're discussing this at the conference aren’t you? About how to lift your vote with the ultimate game of getting into power. So these kinds of things will be weighing in the background.
Russel They are, and as we get closer to the election we'll probably give it even more thought about specific portfolios. But clearly what we're interested in doing is how do we make the transition to a Green or sustainable economy. How do we deal with the imbalances in the New Zealand economy, at the same time dealing with the issues of unfairness and you know the terrible inequality that’s grown in New Zealand. So that kind of gives you a flavour, that obviously we're going to be interested in some economic portfolios and some social portfolios. But that will be up for negotiation post election. I mean I think you can't resolve it all here.
Simon Okay, economic portfolios. I can understand the social but the economic side, I mean we're talking about you know country's growth, managing the budget, you know the zero budget that you’ve been critical of. I mean is that where you would like to get your hands on?
Russel I think it's very important that we change the way we're managing the budget so I think we do want to have Green…
Simon So you do want to be Finance Minister?
Russel Well whether it's Finance Minister or whether it's one of the other economic portfolios, we'll obviously have that discussion. But I mean if you think National gave away giant taxcuts at the very top end, they put a two billion dollar hole in the government books over 18 months for those taxcuts, and that means now they're going and saying to us oh we have to have asset sales, we have to cut teacher numbers, all that kinda stuff, I mean I think National have mismanaged the budget, and I think they could do with a lot of Green influence in there because we wouldn’t make a mess of it like National has.
Simon Oh okay, well look have the Greens had the luxury of being a minority party and therefore you haven’t has as much scrutiny on what you are proposing? Because at the last election National did say that your policies would end up costing an extra 25 billion dollars of debt over four years for what you're planning, and so have you sort of been skirting along not getting the full glare of the public spotlight?
Russel Possibly, to some extent, but we welcome the public spotlight, I mean you know bring it on. But in terms of the fiscal analysis before the election we released our budget figures a month before Labour released theirs for example, and we outlined very clearly where the increases in revenue would come from. We outlined very clearly where we would cut spending, because we think the new motorways, a number of those don’t make any economic sense. And we also indicated where we would increase spending, and whether that’s for our families that need support, or whether that’s in protecting our rivers and lakes to protect our clean and green brand, the foundation of our economy. We did release a budget beforehand.
Simon Well if New Zealand's going to take you seriously as the potential, the opposition party or a coalition partner in government, let's you know nail a few things down. Let's talk tax. Alright. So your big one is Capital Gains Tax. Is that what you're going to bring in to try and pay for your spending promises?
Russel A Capital Gains Tax excluding the family home has two purposes right. So the one is about revenue in the long term, fiscal resilience is important. We need fiscal resilience in the budget. The Tax Working Group estimated such a tax would over the medium term raise about four and a half billion a year. So it's significant. But that will take a number of years to roll on, it's not short term fix. But it has a second purpose which is the structural change in our economy. Our economy is dreadfully imbalanced in terms of its external relationship, and we've been running current account deficits. National's projection in its own budget is the current account deficit goes to 7% of GDP. The reason why this is important okay, Capital Gains Tax what the idea of it is it's driving capital investment back to the productive sector instead of the housing sector. So that’s why that tax is important, it's more than just the money.
Simon Alright you would reverse the taxcuts, does that mean you would actually increase taxes on higher incomes?
Russel Well we haven’t decided our tax policy for the next election at this stage. What we've said is that we would have a temporary earthquake levy to pay for the rebuild of Christchurch which would raise about a billion dollars a year. When we polled New Zealanders about it, are you willing to make a small contribution in order to pay for the rebuild, people said yes rather than going into debt, which is National's strategy, more debt. We said a temporary earthquake levy, five years would you know raise the five billion or five and a half years that we need. But the other side of that is it would involve a 3% increase, temporary increase on those on upper salaries.
Simon And you haven’t decided whether that’s going to be permanent?
Russel The earthquake levy was always meant to be targeted and temporary. In terms of permanent changes to the tax levels we will release our policy in the lead up to the next election.
Simon GST would you reduce that, or would you take it off food?
Russel I mean the GST off fruit and vege that Labour supported we never supported that, we said we supported at first reading to have the debate, but there were real problems about that policy in terms of how you could actually implement it. More generally in terms of GST we'd have to look at it, because if you take GST back again it's a big hole in the budget, and so we will need to look at that in devising our tax policy running up to the next election.
Simon Right. You talk about wanting to grow the economy, you talk about wanting to fund inequalities and fixing inequalities in New Zealand society. You’ve gotta pay for that. How are you going to grow the economy if you're not gonna let us mine anything?
Russel What we're trying to do, I mean the growth issue is a complicated one right. So at some level we have to make the transition in our economy to a more sustainable footing. We can't just keep growing for example new motorways right. The government wants new motorways, more greenhouse gases, more oil input.
Simon Yes okay, and more mining and all those things.
Russel So we want to transition the economy to a more sustainable footing. So let's say for example look at the current account deficit. We import eight billion dollars of oil every year right? National wants to make us more dependent on oil by building new motorways. We're saying we need to move away from that to increase in public transport and the alternatives, and also more freight on rail, which would reduce the cost of our oil import bill, and at the same time reduce the cost of our greenhouse emissions. That’s one example where Green economics I think makes a lot of fiscal sense, because there's less pressure on the government's budget, but it also makes great economic sense cos it does the rebalancing we need in the New Zealand economy. We can't afford to spend eight billion dollars a year importing oil, it's only going to go up.
Simon Well let's talk mining. We are losing a lot of people from New Zealand to the mining jobs in Australia. You know I don’t really understand – are you actually anti everything mining, I mean no mining whatsoever? Because it seems like every time there's a mining proposal you're anti it, but you don’t actually have a national policy on this.
Russel That’s right. I mean actually that’s one of the discussions we need to have further as a party, is how we're going to deal with it.
Simon Okay so you don’t have a national policy on mining but every time there is something that comes out like the economic zone or you know mining conservation land, it's no. What's the alternative.
Russel If we look at mining broadly right, mining is part of our economy and it's part of life, like you know look at things all round us you can't escape it right. So the question is, do we want to have mining in our national parks which is what National wanted to do. We said no they should be put aside. Do we want to engage in fossil fuel mining right? So there's the mining for all the metals, but then there's mining for fossil fuels right. And as we get towards the end of the oil age right, as oil starts to become you know more and more expensive, there's more and more proposals for very risky mining projects. So deep sea oil drilling is one of those, fracking for gas is the other one. And so what we're saying is instead of going down the path of more and more risky mining for fossil fuels, we should be investing in the transition, because we're going to have to do it anyway.
Simon That’s the transition to the nice headline, Clean Green Technology Sustainable Jobs.
Russel It's a nice headline but it's something we have to do. If you look at oil, the IMF right, a very mainstream organisation, the International Monetary Fund, it's predicting a doubling in oil prices in the next 10 years. So if we don’t make the transition now it's gonna be very very expensive to do it later.
Simon As you say mining is inescapable as everything with the commodities around us, and how we're travelling at the moment. Is there any particular kind of mining that the Greens support?
Russel Well I mean you know obviously there's a lot of existing mining that’s underway, so even coal mining which we probably dislike the most right, our policy is no new coal mines. So we're not saying close down all the coal mines tomorrow, there's gotta be a transition, and so we think that we need to begin that transition.
Simon So no new mines at all in New Zealand?
Russel No. No new coal mines, we haven’t said no new mines. I mean obviously you’ve gotta look at the localised environmental impact of a particular mining operation. I mean so it's case by case. But you know in the big picture if we don’t make this transition it will be much much harder to make it later because you know oil gets more expensive, the cost of energy goes up, actually we need to make it now. And this is New Zealand's future. I mean that clean green stuff anyway, I know, you're smiling you're looking at me, but actually this is going to be New Zealand's export future is in this kind of technology.
Simon Okay Russel Norman thank you so much for coming in this morning, good luck with the conference this weekend.