Member log in

Les Mills CEO and green growth advocate Phillip Mills hits out at govt

Les Mills CEO Phillip Mills says National-led government has "blocked any green action" and has an “ideological opposition” to green growth.

He told TV3's The Nation that’s primarily due to the "leadership cabal" of John Key, Gerry Brownlee and Steven Joyce.

"I don’t believe... the Nats are going to do it. Of five years of trying to work with them, I’ve become cynical, totally cynical about that.  I know that they will greenwash the issue, that they won’t do anything about it with the current leadership," Mr Mills says.

National has "emasculated" the Emissions Trading Scheme and is making "economically stupid" decisions, the CEO says.

Mr Mills also said he supports tax on sugary drinks and all added sugar in processed food.

He wants junk food banned from schools. He says we wouldn't sell tobacco and alcohol in schools, so why junk food?

According to recently revealed returns, Phillip Mills — the son of athllete gym owner and one-time conservative Auckland Mayor Les Mills — donated $60,000 to the Green Party, and $65,000 to Labour.

RAW DATA: The Nation transcript: Lisa Owen interviews Les Mills CEO and green growth advocate Phillip Mills

Lisa Owen: To start off with, I would like to talk about taxes on sugary drinks. Should we tax them?

Phillip Mills: Absolutely Lisa, I think it’s essential. If you step back and look at the big picture of the health crisis that’s going on in the world today we are seeing dramatically escalating health costs. For instance the US health system has last year cost 3.1 trillion dollars, that’s gone from 2.1 trillion dollars in 2006. 75% of that is driven by lifestyle illness, by things that we do to ourselves; it can’t be cured by the modern medical system very easily. I know these are colossal amounts of money, to put them in context, that’s more than twice the cost of beating global warming which is the biggest issue of our age.  And this is the first [interrupted]

I just want to jump in there. You run a gym right, so you know all about motivation and how difficult it is. Well you can’t force people to come to the gym can you, so you can’t really force them to eat well either, can you?

Well you can in this situation. And this is where governments have to lead, where we have to have regulation that creates market failures and helps people to do the right thing. You know taking junk food out of schools is something that we need to do. One of your speakers on the earlier clip said that we wouldn’t be selling tobacco and alcohol in schools, so we shouldn’t be selling junk food there either. This is the first generation that will die younger than their parents, you know. We have got a huge percentage of our children now that are obese and doomed to a lifetime of misery though this. We have found with tobacco that with every 10% of tobacco tax you reduce smoking by 4%. And we have found with the recent sugar tax in Mexico, only a 12% tax, we have seen a reduction in consumption of sugary drinks and junk food of 7%. That’s dramatic.

So just sugary drinks or do we need to do more and say tax on all added sugar?

I think that there is a lot of detail around the policy here, but I think it’s all, certainly all sugary junk food and I think it probably has to go through all added sugar in processed foods.

Ok well let us move on now to the health of the environment. How is the National Government dealing with that do you think?

Not very well, I think. You would have got from my comments over the past few weeks and this is something that I have been personally lobbying.

In what way not well?

I think that the new IPCC report that came out a few weeks ago was explicit and dramatic in what it said was going to happen if we didn’t deal with the issue. I think that it is morally reprehensible for us to sit back and say well ‘ how can we get out of doing anything about it’, by saying ‘well we are so small that it doesn’t count, it doesn’t matter’, what we’ll do ‘we’ll try and save a few pennies’. The time [interrupted]

But the Government is acting isn’t it? I mean, we are less than 1% of greenhouse gases, so they are saying we are playing our role in that context, they are investing in agricultural technology to make us cleaner and greener. We are going to meet our 2020 targets. We are acting, aren’t we?

I’m sorry, but I think that’s greenwash. This Government really emasculated the ETS when they came in and has [interrupted]

So the emissions trading scheme-

And has blocked any green action. And you can say that we are only 1% [interrupted]

Blocked what significant green action do you think?

Well I could give you a lot of details, examples of that. We have been lobbying for green growth for instance through different groups like the 100% group and Pure Advantage. Now this lot has been in government for 5 years and what I’m seeing is an ideological opposition to it. I’m just seeing a lot of greenwash but really a complete sort of an anti to doing anything about it. It seems that this Government wants to doggedly pursue things like coal. We could not economically do coal in this country, even if we open pit mined the Denniston Plateau and ripped up one of our most beautiful natural conservation lands. The way with coal prices and the way that coal prices are going in the world today the only countries that can do that are Third World, or countries that have massive subsidies. Why would we focus in that area? Why not start to focus [interrupted]

Because it creates jobs, the Government would say. In the same way that they are pro-dairying and mining, it all creates jobs?

Yes there are far more jobs to be created in green growth, in the industries of the future as opposed to the industries of the past. Hundreds and thousands of green jobs that have been developed in Germany for instance, which are much more exciting, interesting jobs in the industries of the future, renewable energies, the things that are going to keep our kids in New Zealand. Keep our kids not feeling that they got to go off overseas.

So specifically then who in Government is pushing back? Name some names.

I think that it is the leadership cabal, that there are a lot of people down through the ranks of the party that are really concerned about climate. You know you got your blue-greens that really want to do something but they are not getting a voice at the top. I think that the guys at the top [interrupted]

So who at the top is pushing back?

It would seem to be to me your John Key, Gerry Brownlee, Steven Joyce, group of people. You know we have heard Steven Joyce’s reaction at the IPPC report as well ‘we can’t do anything about this because it would risk jobs, it would cost us money to do something about that’. Aside from the fact that is morally reprehensible you know we must deal with this. Leaders must stand up and deal with this problem. If we don’t nothing else matters, this is the issue of our time.  But aside from that it’s economically stupid.

So are you asking basically for sacrifice now, benefit in the future? So let us look at a couple of things. Dairying, we make a lot of money from dairying. So what are you suggesting? Shall we cap dairy farms where they are now?

I’m not actually anti. I think that our dairy industry is great. I think what Fonterra is doing is great. I think that we have some of the cleanest greenish farming in the world and I think that we should be doing more with that. Doing more to differentiate and price it based on that and to add value. I think that certainly we need to clean up our rivers and our lakes and I think that that is something that is not too difficult to do. And I think actually that’s an area that the Government and the public [interrupted]

Then moratorium on mines? No more mining?

I don’t think that we should be focusing on that. I think that we should be focusing on supporting the industries of the future, renewable energy. Some of the renewable energy industries for instance are ones where we can be real world leaders, we all know that we are world leaders in geothermal. But for instance in the conversion of biomass to fuel that’s an area that we can be, we are world leaders in with our research. That’s an industry of the future that we can be a world leader in. And we should be [interrupted]

I want to just talk to you about the Government then. If this Government is not playing ball in the way that you would like them to, I’m wondering you are putting your money into Labour and the Greens, what do you expect in return for that donation?

I expect a chance for my children and my grandchildren really.  There is no trade-off here, I looked at the policies of all of the parties and I have said this is what needs to happen in our country and in the world and I believe that these are the guys that are going to do it. I don’t believe I’m sorry that the Nats are going to do it. Of five years of trying to work with them, I’ve become cynical, totally cynical about that.  I know that they will greenwash the issue, that they won’t do anything about it with the current leadership.

So is Labour strong enough though then environmentally? Is Labour really strong enough environmentally. They are pro deep sea drilling. Mines; don’t have a problem with that. So are they strong enough?


I think that they have a modern economic policy. I think that they understand that we have to tilt the table. You know we have got this whole archaic free market, the free market, you gotta let competition decide what will happen. You know that is a crock. That is something smart countries do to tilt the table. The US has subsidised everything from the telegraph to the internet. And if we look at what China, Korea, Taiwan, Singapore, their markets doing, we are a small shallow pockets country. We have to look at what are the industries where we have strategic advantages, where we have core strengths and we do have to tilt the table.

Comments and questions

Brilliant and courageous by Mills. I'm historically a National supporter but have also grown cynical of their lack of courage and propensity to look after their mates. Anything not directly beneficial to their club gets treated with a friendly grin, pat on the head and no action whatsoever. It is arrogance plus personified. I accept the other mob aren't much better but having lost all respect for Key, Collins and co I am thinking the unthinkable - or not voting at all. Sad.

Well said,Phillip.
To coin an old but good expression,this government is "tall hat,no cattle"
ie,all talk but little action.

I struggle to see a vision for the economy from national, and I am a national voter.

I think national see that a debate about how we develop the economy with environmentally respectful initiatives shows them to be the emperor with no clothes.

For national is it better to dismiss the new approach rather than have the resulting comparison show them wanting.

"A leadership cabal", "a chance for my children", "blocking any green action", "green growth".... Someone got the talking points from Cunliffe and Norman. And because he's personalised his anger against John Key - NZs most popular politician, no one will listen to Mr Mills.

I think Mr Mills is just talking in nice generalities.

To quote Germany as an example has to be a just about a Tui billboard laugh. They have spent billions on renewable energy projects ( many of them heavily subsidised ) with little effect on their CO2 emissions.
Their renewable energy industries are not in good shape

The German Government listened to the Greens and bought forward the closure of many nuclear plants --they now realise this was a huge mistake and are building about 20 huge, new coal fired power plants to fill the gap.

Does Mr Mills think that cutting down tens of square miles of forest/yr in the USA to chip and transport to the Drax power plant the UK to allow it to continue to operate, to meet a stupid EU directive is a good Green idea ? ( conversion of biomass)

Instead of rubbishing what we do in NZ he should acknowledge we have been using a very high percentage of renewable energy for decades.

If he thinks these ideas are great why doesn't he just get on and do it ?
He is a rich guy and the others in his group are not short of funds so just get on with it and made some more money. Or is he really wanting Government grants or subsidies or guarantees.

He doesn't want to risk his own money on his wonderful green ideas.

Yawn - nepotism in play

Self made of interest

Maybe penguins need him

Someone is hoping to be parachuted into a Labour listing...

Did the IPCC account for the amount of hot air coming out of this guy's mouth? A lot of words to tell us absolutely no useful facts.

Look at me ....Look at me

The guy runs daddys sweat shops

No economic substance in arguments - can he unwind what we are doing + personally live in a cave for 5 years

Well I think that anonymous attack on the man rather than the substance of what he's saying pretty much makes Mills' point

He effectively uses the platform to say "Hey, nothing has happened here and this is our children's future. Let's get ahead of it. I think there needs to be some serious consideration given". To knock him for trying to elevate the debate speaks volumes.

Mexico enacts soda tax in effort to combat world's highest obesity rate:
Health officials in the United States look to Mexico's new law as an experiment in curbing sugar consumption. A groundbreaking tax on sugar-sweetened beverages recently passed in Mexico could provide the evidence needed to justify similar laws across low- and middle-income countries and cities in the US, experts believe.

From a Mexican tax on sugary drinks to legislation banning Happy Meal toys in Chile and Peru, Latin America is becoming a laboratory for public policies meant to steer consumers away from processed food.Since 2012, Peru, Uruguay and Costa Rica have banned junk food from public schools. ... .

A medical study from 2010 estimated that 9.7 per cent of China's population now has diabetes, as against 11 per cent for America. What made China fat? The Chinese case resembles a speeded-up version of our own obesity crisis. Cars, city life, television, fast food, a taste for beer and lack of exercise are all factors. The growth of the fast-food market (now worth more than $70 billion) has been dizzying. Fried chicken, burgers and sugary sodas are ubiquitous. At the same time, China's roads, once crowded with bicycles, are jammed with people sitting in cars.
Yet, in some ways, China's weight problem is very different from ours, as Paul French and Matthew Crabbe point out in Fat China (Anthem Press, £16.99). In Britain and America obesity correlates with poverty. China, by contrast, has what French calls a 'wealth-deficit problem'. The rural poor are still thin, while those getting fat are the educated urban middle classes. Indeed, the problem is fuelled by the Chinese obsession with academic achievement, which leaves children almost no time for physical exercise. .

The publicity seeking Mr Mills would be better spending his time worrying about his business and leave such issues to those who actually understand them

Clearly Mr Edwards you are not one of those who "actually understand them". You most certainly understand a great deal less than Phillip Mills.

Phillip Mills is correct in identifying an ideological basis for the lack of action on greenhouse gas emissions by the National government. Exactly the same issue has been clearly demonstrated in other western countries as well, particularly the USA.

It is definitely " morally reprehensible " for New Zealand to be doing nothing. Our combined emissions of carbon dioxide and methane (dairy cattle) make us just about the largest emitters in the world. Quite how anyone could mount a case for such high emitting people not doing anything just because we are few in number is hard to envisage. This is more especially the case when you consider the fact that New Zealand is in a better position to move to sustainable energy generation than just about any other western country.

I also find the comment about publicity seeking versus worrying about his business rather revealing. Are you trying to say that devoting one's time and energy to trying to get something that needs to be done actually done is somehow disreputable? I suppose if one is deeply enough to committed to the "individual economic interest capitalism" ideology that Phillip Mills is referring to then doing something other than advancing one's own interests is disreputable. Me, I think it is something to be approved of. Your comment seems to me to be just about the best reflection of the truth of Phillip Mills' contention of the ideological basis for the resistance to taking action.

So good to see one of our business leaders taking a stand for the future as he sees how important policy can be to affect the conditions for true innovation which will improve society, environment and economics.

I hope we'll see a small startup fund for social + enviro innovation launched by these business leaders as well to circumvent the prospect of another few years of National obstinance.

Great work Phillip!