Jeanette Fitzsimons

An open letter to Phil Goff, on reading Friday’s Herald

by Jeanette Fitzsimons

Dear Phil,


I am deeply disappointed you are letting Nick Smith’s electioneering define the Labour party, and apologising for that definition. It is hard to see how Labour will ever have an independent identity if it leaps to deny sensible policy whenever National attacks it. Even using their term, “nanny state” fails politics 101 – never repeat your opponent’s terms of abuse.


Of course it is good to admit mistakes – the people expect it when you have lost an election. But you are apologising for the wrong ones and blind to the real ones. In the process you are in severe danger of becoming National-lite – and not even very lite.


Your real problem was that when you developed innovative policies you didn’t take people with you. If you had a sufficient majority you didn’t think you had to explain. You had a theme of economic transformation – good, we need that – but you don’t transform the economy without explaining what you are doing and expect people to understand.


Your government never proposed restricting people’s showers or forcing them to use a particular type of light. You probably never understood that – certainly your minister for Building and Housing didn’t, and ran for cover rather than explain to the media that Nick Smith was lying.


The great irony in your apology is your statement that Labour should have been more focussed on what really counted for people, such as the struggle to make ends meet. The policies you are now repudiating would have saved New Zealand families hundreds of dollars on their power bills. Is that not part of the struggle to make ends meet? Just as energy efficiency standards for household appliances, which most people aren’t even aware of, have saved householders $148m since my Member’s bill in 2000 made them possible, and those savings go on growing.


The proposed standard for hot water use is the same as has been done for years in the Building Code for home heating. We are used to not being allowed to build houses with no insulation. Everyone supports that, it is a no-brainer. No-one describes that as nanny-state. But it isn’t done by prescribing just what you must put in your ceilings and walls. It’s done by saying how thermally resistant your ceiling and walls must be, and you can do that however you choose.


The proposed hot water standard was aimed at reducing electricity waste and saving householders money. You could meet it easily with a solar water heater; or a hot water heat pump; or in many houses just with better pipe and cylinder insulation and better house design for shorter pipe runs; or, as a last option, if you couldn’t be bothered doing any of these, you could meet it with an efficient showerhead designed to give you a good shower at high pressure with a finer droplet and less water. It didn’t affect existing homes.


National members have admitted to me that they knew what they were doing, they knew they were misleading the public, but it was too good an opportunity to miss because Labour hadn’t explained its policy – even to its ministers, it seems. Phil, do you have to perpetuate their lies?


The lighting standard was similar, and on its own was expected to save households who currently have incandescent lights around $500/year. Many current incandescent lights would not have met the standard, but the better ones would have, along with compact fluorescents and halogen lights and LEDs. There would have been a lot of choice on the market, including some better types of lighting that don’t come here now because there is not enough demand for them. At the same time the standard would have knocked out some poorly performing compact fluorescents that are letting consumers down.


The great irony here is that the Government has now seriously upset its Australian friends because unless we set a standard for efficient lighting, theirs is undermined. A trans-Tasman agreement says anything you can legally sell in one country, you can sell in the other. We have always worked in tandem on energy efficiency standards. The Government has a foreign policy problem on its hands, and we may end up having a standard for lighting after all, but this government may be able to explain it better to the public.


Phil, I wonder if you realise the damage you are doing to climate change policy by categorising energy efficiency standards as nanny-state. Codes and standards are the most cost-effective ways of reducing carbon emissions world wide, certainly more cost-effective than an ETS, particularly the one we are now likely to get from National.


Phil, a lot hangs on you if we are to prevent a second term of this government. Get some PR advice and stand for something. Have a good conference.


Published in Featured | THE GAME by Jeanette Fitzsimons on Sat, September 12th, 2009   

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