Labour to axe irrigation scheme fund, backs deep sea oil

David Parker

A Labour-led government would continue to support deep sea oil drilling, while requiring "an effective rapid response capability if an incident occurs," deputy Labour leader David Parker said in a major speech outlining the party's environmental platform.

However, Labour would axe the $400 million Crown Irrigation Fund to kick-start private irrigation schemes and would cease to undertake publicly funded geological survey work to try and identify new areas of oil and gas prospectivity, which Parker labelled "subsidies" for the oil and gas industry.

Labour had spent around $20 million on geological data acquisition when last in government and the current government had continued that trend, Parker told BusinessDesk ahead of his speech in Christchurch - his second major policy speech in a week after winning political plaudits last week with new monetary policy proposals.

"We've done enough when it comes to data acquisition. There's plenty to carry on with," he said.

While honouring any contracts already in place, Labour would replace the Crown Irrigation Fund, established from the proceeds of state asset sales, with a freshwater pricing regime to encourage economically marginal irrigation schemes.

"With a new irrigation proposal where the economics are just breakeven, as they often are, then maybe the price of water for the first 30 years is next to nothing," said Parker.

Parker also outlined numerous other planks in the party's environmental platform, including a National Policy Statement to protect estuaries and resurrection of a plan for national freshwater management devised under the last Labour-led administration.

He effectively declared the government's collaborative process for freshwater policy development, the Land and Water Forum, a failure, saying "years of delay were followed by betrayal when the government flouted the agreed outcome of the forum and served up instead a recipe for more pollution by way of make-believe standards that will not halt the decline of freshwater quality."

Instead of the government's proposed standards of water clean enough for wading and boating, Labour would establish freshwater bottom lines of "swimmable, fishable, and safe for food gathering".

Labour would go back to the NPS produced during its last term by Environment Court judge David Sheppard, which "provided that clean rivers would not be allowed to get dirty, and that dirty rivers ought to be cleaned up over a generation."

Labour would also either repeal or abandon stalled initiatives by the current government to weaken fundamental environmental protections in the Resource Management Act.

Also on the agenda are a range of new National Policy Statements and Environmental Standards to be created under the RMA, including one to protect estuaries to "control siltation and eutrophication and stop the incipient reclamation of the edges of estuaries."

"It could, for example, be require all tidal gates to be reviewed and require the removal of those which are inappropriate," Parker said in his speech.

On deep sea oil, Parker said there was not detail yet on the requirement for ready response capability, but that "we're not going to require them (drillers) to have a billion dollar vessel standing by, but we want to know there are capping devices available within a responsive timeframe."

Labour would adopt a Nordic-style regulatory regime, requiring physical as well as paper inspections of drilling facilities.

On irrigation funding and water pricing, "all the revenue raised within a region will go back into the region to fund water management and delivery, new storage and irrigation schemes, safe rural drinking water supplies and projects such as the restoration of degraded waterways," Parker said.

Labour would also pursue an NPS on bio-diversity and discourage lengthy, expensive Environment Court hearings involving "complex opinion expert evidence", but would not require a notified marine consent hearing every time a deep sea oil and gas explorer wanted to drill another well in a consented area.

The current review of Crown pastoral lease tenure would be stopped and lease terms would be enforced, "especially around lakes where landscape access values are paramount," Parker said.

(BusinessDesk)

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