NZ Green Party
National’s two-faced approach to Australian harmonisation

I laughed out loud as I read the National Business Review’s article about how keen National is to fast track the development of a single market. Apparently Gerry Brownlee didn’t get the memo, as he has summarily torn up a long standing, well developed standards agreement with Australia in his first few weeks. The article, which is not online, opens with:

The global financial crisis has had a perverse, albeit welcome, effect of creating an unprecedented willingness on the part of politicians, business, and regulators to accelerate the development of a single economic market involving Australian and New Zealand.

There are cogent arguments for and against a truly single market, but that is not what I wish to debate here. What I want to point out is that where we already have agreed standards with Australia, the government is undermining them for cheap political gain.

When the Minister of Energy instructed EECA to completely rethink the Minimum Energy Performance Standards (MEPS)  for incandescent bulbs and TVs, purely for political grandstanding, he undid years of work between our two governments and industry that had finally struck a balance between our needs and those of Australia.

We implemented a joint performance standard that allowed industry to manage products across both our markets in a staged and sensible way. New Zealand chose not to ban incandescent bulbs but to phase them out gently via the performance standards, whereas Australia chose a short, sharp cut off. This subtle market independence was thought to be as important as the joint standard.

Now we have cut ourselves adrift, leaving industry players wondering what to do and opening ourselves up as a dumping ground for everyone else’s inefficient products as China, the US and the EU are also introducing the same performance standards.

The joint MEPS standards we have with Australia are important. They protect Kiwis from substandard appliances, save us all money and make it easier for trans-tasman businesses to operate. Why, then, are we undermining all of this work just to score political points?

25 thoughts on “National’s two-faced approach to Australian harmonisation

  1. As long as the energy costs include externalities, there is no reason to ban light-bulbs, plasma TVs or anything else.

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  2. Who was suggesting banning them? I have only spoken out in favour of Minimum Performance Standards, in concert with Australia.

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  3. Really, Frog you answered your own question in your last sentence.
    They are doing it to score cheap political points.

    Same with the shower head “issue” where cheap points were scored over an “issue” that was not an issue.

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  4. Brownlee is an ignorant lout. His knowledge of the details of his Energy portfolio seems to be zip!

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  5. Frog,
    You spoke in support of minimum performance standards on electrical appliances, what this amounts to is a ban on the sale of new electrical appliances that to not accheive the required energy efficency for the given type of device. As such wat is correct, in this instance, to call it a ban.
    Minimum performance standards make sense economically and socially in our present environment as many of the costs of generating electricity and of operating devices are externalised; the result being a distortion of market signals.
    However, wat did qualify his statement by stating that his statement applies only under an environment where the costs of the energy production are internalised. That is, an envrionment where those that produce the energy must pay for all those presently externalised costs such as, for coal plants, the carbon/sulfer/heavy metal emmisions and the environmental costs of extracting the coal and disposing of the heated water. Costs which are then passed on through the price mechanism.
    It is notable that the same arguement for or against minimum energy standards for appliances is the same as for power plants; regulate only to correct the effects of cost externalisation.
    The Green party supports measures to internalise the majority of the costs through mechanisms such as (the far-less-than-ideal) carbon emmisions tax, water tax, and various other environmental taxations. If these were adopted there would be absolutly no reason what-so-ever to have energy efficency standards for appliances or for power plants as doing so would serve to benefit none and yet take away the freedoms of society; the hallmark of totally unjustified laws and regulations.
    Let them buy massive inefficent plasma screens if they want so long as they have to pay the full cost for energy and as such incur the cost of said inefficency. Let them build massive coal power plants and extract coal from the ground so long as they pay for the damage thus created and sequester the carbon. The market is pathetic when it comes to big things, but for determining prices, and the motivation thus created, there is no better.

    Besides, if coal power plants were made to account for all the costs generated they would only be economicly feasable in a very very favorable, and unlikley, economic situation or as back-up load.

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  6. Sorry sapient, I disagree. Banning inefficient appliances, as you argue, via minimum energy performance standards, does not limit anyone’s freedoms. Light bulbs and TVs and fridges are still available, in abundance, with lots of choices and features. We just don’t have any crap ones. Are you complaining that we have lost our freedoms regarding fridges, where MEPS have been in effect for years? Poppycock!

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  7. Frog,
    The loss may be minimal, prehaps even near irrelivant. But the loss itself is none-the-less very real.
    When the state tells you that you cannot partake in a particular activity you then loose the freedom to legally do so. In this instance you loose the freedom to purchase inefficent fridges or massive televisions and while the loss of those freedoms may seem trivial it is still a loss of freedom with no associated gain to society granted that the costs are internalised.
    A law or regulation that does not benefit society has no justification for existance; esspecially when, in existing, that law posses a cost society.

    “…they came first for the communists…”

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  8. It does not pose a cost to society, in fact MEPS provides measurable economic and social benefits to both individuals and to society at large.

    It does not eliminate participation in any particular activity. One can still buy a plethora of products of varying efficiencies and features. You are still free to chill your food and watch telly all day.

    None of your objections hold water. There is no slippery slope argument here either.

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  9. Frog,
    No, not only do my objections hold water but they also hold its, much more fluid, gas state. You mearly refuse to recognise such.

    You are arguing as much against yourself as against me in your statement that the implimentation of standards “does not eliminate participation in any particular activity”. The entire point of the regulations is to limit participation in certain activities, if it didint then it would be totally and utterlly pointless; You are left with two, and only two possible posistions:
    First; This regulation does not eliminate participation in certain activities, does not decrease freedoms, and does not have any effect what-so-ever.
    Second; This regulation does eliminate participation in certain activities (the importation and purchase of lower-than-standard electronics), does decrease freedoms because of this activity being forbiden, and does acheive something (the elimination of said participation, plus carry-on effects).

    The question of if, or if not, those aformentioned carry-on effects produce a social benefit is open to debate and circumstance. As I have mentioned previously in this thread, I do beleive that in the present circumstance they would as there is presently massive cost externalisation. But this discussion is not about the present circumstances but rather the circumstances postulated, by wat, in the first post. In those circumstances, of full cost internalisation, there is no reason to suggest that there would be ANY social or economic benefit to our nation to off-ballance the, admitedly small, infringement of freedom.

    While the costs and benefits in this arguement are rather small, this arguement is comparable to the regulation of power stations, industry, and commerce where the sums involved are substantially larger. Due to this there are dirrect implications arising from such regulation on further regulation of larger sectors.

    You first deny that the proposed standards are a ban, you then admit that it is a ban and deny that it impacts freedoms, you then argue that a ban does not eliminate participation in an activity and as such does not impact on freedoms. You fail to associate a ban with compromised freedom while such is the very definition of a ban. I would state your arguements to be so full of holes that they fail to retain water in its liquid state, but i doubt they would be very effective in holding ice cubes eaither.

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  10. Frog

    “Light bulbs and TVs and fridges are still available, in abundance, with lots of choices and features. We just don’t have any crap ones.”

    The whole reason no-one complained about MEPs for fridges was that they were usually getting a better product, with or without MEPs due to design and technology improvements over the long lifetime most fridges have. The whole problem with the bulbs was they were, for most people, clearly inferior to the incumbent technology that was being banned.

    And this whole semantic nonsense about bulbs ‘not being banned’ – you’d think you’d have learnt your lesson with the anti-smacking bill in terms of trying to spin the meanings of rules.

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  11. Frog, I am still wondering – without incandescent bulbs, my lamp becomes useless because you cannot place those eco bulbs upright. Indeed, many light fittings would become useless for that reason. What say you frog?

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  12. >>”In those circumstances, of full cost internalisation, there is no reason to suggest that there would be ANY social or economic benefit to our nation to off-ballance the, admitedly small, infringement of freedom.”

    Of course aren’t you treating this as purely a choice of preference. What I suspect is at the basis of the requests to virtually remove such items from the market, irrespective of their comparative costs is their peceived deleterious effect on the environment. This would be in much the same way as the purchase of alcohol and the practice of prostitution, to name a but two, are legally unavailable to the younger members of our society. To me there is a strong moralistic tinge in many of these restrictions, proposed and current.
    Perhaps, as a society, we are gradually developing a ‘green conscience’. One of its implications is that technology that is now replaceable by an alternative, ‘greener’ product is viewed on as somewhat immoral, insofar as it is more harmful to the planet. This is especiualy the case when the green alternative has a costing not dissimilar to its more ‘harmful’ rival.

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  13. Kjuv,
    But with cost internalisation two products which are otherwise the same except for a variance in environmental damage would not be the same price as the cost of that environmental damage, even if it occurs in disposal or operation, would be internalised and incorporated into the price. Because of that price difference the product would be less compeditive and because of that would be less purchased resulting in less manifactured and a move towards more sustainable products. A move which with regulation but the absence of internalisation will happen only once and to a much smaller extent.

    The age restriction of alcohol and prostitution is another matter entirly as both of those pose a massive risk to youth who may not understand correctly the consequences of such actions and to society in treating and dealing with such consequences.
    Though, alcohol and prostitution do have significant externalised costs that really should be internalised and i beleive society would benefit from doing so.

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  14. >>The age restriction of alcohol and prostitution is another matter entirly as both of those pose a massive risk to youth who may not understand correctly the consequences of such actions and to society in treating and dealing with such consequences.

    Is this so different than the belief that ‘non-green’ technology poses a greater risk to a vulnerable portion of our environment (rather than the young, specifically), or will irreversibly deplete our natural/energy resources thereby impacting negatively on our wellbeing, to say nothing of future generations. Can all this be quantified by virtue of internalising costs? Aren’t there also moral considerations as with youth prostitution et cetera?

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  15. Kjuv,
    Can we undo all the effects of excessive alochol consumption in the developmental years of youth? If so then we could internalise that cost and we could remove many of the social consequences, if we could then there would be no problem. But no matter how much we tax alcohol we cannot regenerate or even compensate for the effects of alcohol on brain function and development, we do not yet have the tehnology to deal with something so massive. We do have the technology to replenish our natural resources given sufficent funds and we are able to create a market to meet that demand.
    As for prostitution; personal morals should have no effect on the decisions of those whom rule, morals should only come into consideration when one must consider the effect on the morals of the drones. I think protitution being legal does less damage than protitution being illegal and as such i support it being legal.

    The point is that with a fridge the external costs to society and the environment can regenerated easily through funds where as the social effects of alcohol consuption on developing youth and prostitution on child abuse, the emotional state of young child, and the child slavery which normally accompanies it are unable to be recuperated using such methods using our present knowledge.

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  16. insider Said:

    The whole reason no-one complained about MEPs for fridges was that they were usually getting a better product, with or without MEPs due to design and technology improvements over the long lifetime most fridges have. The whole problem with the bulbs was they were, for most people, clearly inferior to the incumbent technology that was being banned.

    The nail on the head. People needed to know that they were going to be able to buy light bulbs that started straight away. The “eco-bulbs” take at least 40 seconds to reach full brightness. The one place I still have an incandescent bulb is in my toilet. After 40 seconds it is all over, usually!

    What people were told (rightly or wrongly) was only the curly “eco-bulb” fluorescent bulbs would be available.

    peace
    W

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  17. john-ston Says:

    Frog, I am still wondering – without incandescent bulbs, my lamp becomes useless because you cannot place those eco bulbs upright. Indeed, many light fittings would become useless for that reason. What say you frog?

    Well, Johnston, someone forgot to tell my upright lamps, because two of them in my flat are working fine with energy-efficient fluoro bulbs in them.
    What have you been reading?

    My experience of both energy-efficient fridges (had one since 2001) and energy-efficient light bulbs has been mostly positive.(Can’t count how many I’ve gone through, although my current flat has a cupboard storing five years’ worth of discards, ‘cos they didn’t want to send them to the tip until a safe disposal method had been sorted out by WCC … )

    As well as having used low-flow shower-heads since around ’96 .. none of these things did anything worse to me than reducing my power bills, which with small children in the 90′s was quite a saving and very useful to our household budget, especially when we were proud parents and renovating at the same time. ( I don’t recomend the combination, BTW …)

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  18. Sapient:

    So, you are claiming that all human impacts on the natural environment are reversible, or at least far more reversible than altering human behaviour? Certainly, if we live in a wholly deterministic world AND we are capable of attaining the appropriate know-how, I would grant that many processes are reversible: Extinct species could be ‘brought back’, for example.
    However, it is just as likely that we are of a limited intelligence and can never fully comprehend the workings of this universe. Another associated restriction may be that some porocesses just aren’t reversible per se.

    And then there is the consideration that we may actualy live in an inderterministic universe…. :)

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  19. Sapient: Have seen neural pathways grow through alcohol damage – but it takes about 8 years – not something one can pay for….
    Anyway, in a different environment lately – I was told by a researcher the the whole silicon valley phenomenon wouldn’t have happened with out the concentration span of people with asbergers. Interesting no? Who else can work continuosly on a problem for days without sleep? Dunno.
    I’m trying to discover more benefits from my own electromagnetic sensitivity – but the ones I’ve found are not held to be generally usefull (they are to me)
    regards Mark

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  20. Kjuv,
    I am saying that the vast majority of the effects of human behaviour on the environment, if not all of them, are reversable given sufficent funds with our present technology; atleast short of a nuclear holicaust.

    Mark,
    Yes, the brain does have significant plasticity, though this decreases significantly with age. Since we are both psychologists we should both know plenty about brain plasticity, i will cover this more fully latter when i have the time.

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  21. Sapient,

    You have said:
    “But no matter how much we tax alcohol we cannot regenerate or even compensate for the effects of alcohol on brain function and development, we do not yet have the tehnology to deal with something so massive”.

    I don’t argue with this statement and I assume it is possible for present human technology to “reverse” the effects of human behaviour on the environment. This is if you take a very narrow view of “reversal” – where we obliterate old growth forests we can possibly replant trees and given a thousand(s) years the damage will have been undone – we can think up a number of examples along a similar vein. However generally, once we mess up we don’t undo the damage e.g note the huge numbers of species we have driven into extinction without “reversing” them into existence again.

    I am perplexed however that you do not use the same logic (we can fix it with technology) to the effect of alcohol on the human brain. If I was cynical I could say “Sure we cannot reverse the effects on an individual but there are many humans not so affected and we have the technology to look after those who are affected.”

    I guess my point is that you place a lot of value on the individual human being but seem to place only value on the environment to the extent that you consider whether we can reverse (however imperfect) the effects of our behaviour. This seems to me to be an extemely antropocentric view of the place of the human animal in nature. Based on our earlier discussions I understand that you take a “utilitarian” view of life and accept that your argument here is based on that.
    Cheers
    Johan

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  22. Johan,
    Yes, i tend to take a utilitarian view of life, but quite frankly i dont give a nod of the head about individual humans. I care about humans more than than a rat only so far as they are of more utility to my purpose.
    My concern is the continuation of gaian life to the greatist degree and highest standards possible without compromising that continuation. Whilst we are confined to a single planet this goal is at a very high risk, but once we spread out the chances of the acheivement of that goal increase dramaticly; therefore it is in my interests to ensure that society is able to continue to funtion, inovate, and learn to the greatist extent plausable. I have detirimined long ago that while an authoritarian leader may make great advances compared to a democracy, the authoritarian leader also holds significantly greater chances of stoping or reversing any progress to such a degree that democracy is favourable. To that end it is logical for me to therefore do all i can to promote liberty where that liberty does not impair the functioning of society so that authoritarianism may be avoided. To me the environment is valueble for its function. I care about the dolphins and the whales not because they are pretty or intellegent but because there is much we can learn from them biologically and because the greater the biological diversity the greater the chance of survival of any given incident, and in that circumstance their intelience grants them very large utility :P .

    The concept of internalisation means to take account of all the associated costs, while we do not replenish the forests or environment presently we also do not account for the costs; if the producers were made to account for said costs then by neccesity the damage would be undone in every instance. The thing with humans is that while we are simple in principle we are imensly complex when you get to the details of it all, our arm may be a simple lever but that lever operates using extremly complicated organic compounds and organisations, metobolic processes, self repair mechanisms, etc, etc. Whle we can make life comfortable for those whom are adversly affected by excessive alcohol intake in youth that care presents a massive social cost, not just through taxes but through the wasted state spending on education, health, etc. The costs are simply too high.
    The neurons of the brain develop in a multitude of ways, the most notible and prevalent is in response to chemical messages, the axons follow chemical aths to connect with the dendrites, the axon buttons receive messages form the dendrites encouraginf the growth of further buttons, etc, etc, but when neurons are killed from alcohol those are neurons that no longer funtion, that no longer reply to signals and no longer emit them. Yes the brain may be able to recover from light damage but in the time spent recovering the time that they would otherwise be developing is lost as the basis for those developments is lacking and will develop differently due to the chemical differences which result from different stages before, during, and after puberty. one may recover to where they were before hand but they never recover to where they would have been in the absence of such interferance. The cost to society is simply too large.

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  23. Mark -
    Nice point about the Silicon Valley/aspergers confluence:
    - I’d hazard a guess that 90% of the diagnosed high functioning autists/aspergers guys are all in the IT industry – school careers & uni guidance counsellors have been quietly channelling kids in that direction for the past 25 years, easily. Having married one, and given birth to one, I think I’m qualified to respond, here!

    There’s also a high acceptance of bi-polar, for the same reason – during manic state, they can code like demons … Used until burnt-out, by cynics who write them off as damaged goods to begin with.

    Doesn’t make for a society in which empathy or human boundaries are valued, though. Never mind respect for anything that is to do with long-term biological patterns, or the consequences of immediately helpful technology, when the break-up and disposal phase of using that tech is looked at.
    “lightbulbs’ are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to looking at sustainable disposal of tech waste.

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  24. Sapient,
    You said:
    “My concern is the continuation of gaian life to the greatist degree and highest standards possible without compromising that continuation.”

    Interesting statement with broad implications – but I like it. I assume you mean all life on earth when you say gaian life? If so it implies (1) that you do not distinguish between human and non human life and (2) that you are concerned about the continuation of all life – including that that has little known utility for humans but is necessary for the continuance of other gaian life? It takes us to the question: “What about life forms that are inimical to human welfare?” This is often a point of criticsm against the “deep ecology” of Arne Naess but he answered it by saying that the human is as much part of nature as those life forms that threaten it and may defend itself as any life form does.

    BTW, I know what you mean when you refer to the irreversible effects of alcohol – in a previous life I was heavily involved with a programme to reduce the occurrance of fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) amongst wine farm workers in South Africa by making early teenagers aware of the dangers of alcohol consumption by pregnant women/girls. The stats for this was horrific – highest in the world by far. When I visited rural (primary) schools that workers’ children attended teachers could point the FAS children out and describe the inability of these children to concentrate or constructively participate – and all of this a totally preventable syndrome.

    Cheers
    Johan

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  25. Katie,
    Please dont group high-functioning autism with aspergers. totally different disorders. High functioning autism is to aspergers as a high-school drop out is to someone with a doctorate. Though probally not a good comparison considdering i never finished high school :P .

    Johan,
    Close enough.
    It is not the utility to human welfare that it should be judged by but the utility to the continuation of gaian life. If through its existance it impairs the further existance of gaian life as a whole to an extent greater than it benefits it then it does not have a reason to be continued. Humans do a great deal of damage to the planet, but we are also the flowers of gaia; it is through our technology that seeds may be created and gaian life spread throughout the solar system; the potential benefit of human existance outweighs the costs, even if theyt were much larger than present.

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