by Kevin Hague
While some others were focused on political events elsewhere in the country, I was in Blackball for the annual Mayday celebrations and for the launch of a memorial wheel for those who have lost their lives in West Coast mines in recent years, most notably the Pike River 29. Families had made tiles with the names of the men they had lost and these were attached around the outside of large wheel (probably originally from an aerial ropeway, I’m guessing). There was also an opening for a new exhibition on the ultimately unsuccessful fight to save the Lane Walker Rudkin factory in Greymouth from the ravages of Ron Brierley.
Blackball speech – Time for a Green Change
30th April 2011
(speech as delivered was slightly different)
E nga mana, e nga reo, e nga iwi o te motu, tena koutou, tena koutou, tena tatou katoa.
It’s great to be in Blackball again this year to be part of this great Mayday mix of food, entertainment and politics. Thanks to everyone involved in the organisation.
I very much appreciated being part of this afternoon’s opening of the memorial wheel for the Pike 29. I couldn’t be here on Thursday, having earlier promised to attend the Service and Food Workers Union event in Nelson for Workers Remembrance Day, but I want to add my voice to those mourning the guys who were lost to our community in the mine. No reira, e nga mate, haere, haere, haere ki Hawaiki Nui, Ki Hawaiki Roa, Ki Hawaiki Pamamao. Apiti hono, tatai hono. Te hunga mate ki te hunga mate.
It is a national disgrace that these guys will now only be brought from the mine as an inadvertent consequence of some future decision based on commercial grounds.
I know on Thursday Helen Kelly spoke about the responsibility of employers to provide a healthy and safe workplace. I am certainly going to be monitoring the Royal Commission of Inquiry to see that it fulfils its responsibility to determine whether Pike River Coal did all it could to meet that responsibility but also that successive governments did all they could to create and maintain a framework for mining to occur that would achieve maximum workplace health and safety. I guess it’s no secret that I believe shortcomings will be found on both of those grounds.
And that’s not a surprise. I spoke last year about the central idea in capitalist economic theory in which big capital extracts as much profit as it possibly from people’s labour and from the environment, which it regards as “raw materials”. It’s an amoral process, in which if costs can be reduced, they will be. This National Government sees its fundamental role as allowing this process to occur with as few obstacles as possible, and at the same time dismantling the role of the State, to create fresh opportunities for profit maximisation.
Since I spoke last year, the Government has kindly provided me with yet more examples:
- The new law allowing workers to be sacked for no reason at all within their first 90 days of work
- The new law denying trade unions right of access to their members’ workplaces
- Wave after wave of attacks on beneficiaries
- Effectively nothing to create new jobs, thus maintaining high demand for jobs and keeping wages low
- No new state houses (despite the waiting list of 10,000)
- Tax changes that greatly benefited the rich while leaving the poor worse off
- Ongoing dismantling of our ACC scheme and preparation for its privatisation
- Significant cuts to DOC’s budget, with nearly 3,000 species on the endangered list and in the International Year of Biodiversity
- The Minister’s refusal to agree to new marine reserves
There’s also been progress towards the TPP, the free-trade agreement being developed with the United States and others. We have mostly been attacking it because it will involve compromising on important NZ laws, allowing tobacco companies, for example, to sue the NZ Government for smokefree initiatives, and requiring changes to our patent laws to allow big pharmaceutical giants to maximise their profits at our expense. But some of you may recall that last year I also made a critique of free trade agreements and globalisation in general: fundamentally these are about lowering national boundaries so that big capital has access to the cheapest labour and cheapest natural resources wherever they are in the world.
In that light you may want to note a couple of other developments:
- The Government changing well-established employment law because Warner Brothers didn’t like it
- The Government issuing an oil exploration permit (which requires drilling) to the Brazilian company, Petrobras, which has a poor safety record, without it having to submit any plan to deal with an oil spill, and without there being any realistic way at all of dealing with an oil spill.
In both cases, you may observe that these companies take all the profit. All we get is the wages, in return for all the risk.
Last year I outlined the Green Party’s overall approach to turning things around. We say that the relationships between economy, environment and people need to be reversed. Rather than people and the environment serving the economy, we need to re-engineer a smart economy as a set of tools for achieving our goals of environmental protection and a fair, just society.
Over the past week or so we have fired off an opening salvo in this election campaign with a leaflet with the theme ‘Looking Forward’. In part that reflects that long-term thinking that the Greens are well known for. But it’s also meant in the sense of “what are you looking forward to?” We are asking everybody to engage in thinking about what they most want to see – effectively setting those environmental and social goals we want to achieve. There’s been an extraordinary diversity so far, but also some really consistent themes.
Closer to the election the Greens will issue a number of concrete and robust commitments that we will advance in the next Parliament if you give us your party vote (and remember that’s what we campaign for, not the electorate). In the meantime, here’s some of the things we would do if we led the next Government:
- Increase the minimum wage (and index it to the median wage, along with MP salaries)
- Compulsory quality standards for all freshwater streams, rivers and lakes
- Recovery plans for all threatened species in NZ and realistic support to help DOC achieve that in partnership with communities
- Building resilience in rural areas by relocalising economies (encouraging local food and energy production, local goods and services and Government services)
- Plan for energy independence from oil
- Return to a planned system for making electricity generation decisions in which all the alternatives are considered and the ones that are best for the public are chosen
- Reprioritise Government spending (less on roads and more on “nice to haves” like education and health)
- Repeal the anti-worker laws
- Cancel the plans to sell SOEs and privatise government services
- Retain our economic sovereignty by much tighter restrictions on foreign ownership of NZ land and assets
- Incentivise research and development to help build a clean tech economy that delivers higher wages by making higher value products, at no net cost to the environment
- Help make the 100% Pure brand real, by reducing taxes on people’s work and replacing the revenue with new taxes on waste (including Carbon emissions) and resource rentals
- Create green collar jobs by directing both public and private investment into areas that are job-rich and help protect and restore the environment
- Build 6,000 new state houses
- Legislation to require rental properties to be healthy and warm
- Extend our home insulation scheme to schools and other public buildings
- Introduce a capital gains tax to redirect investment into productive activity rather than housing speculation and fund other policies like first $10,000 of income tax free, progressive electricity pricing, extending the WFF in-work tax credit to beneficiaries, reinstating the training incentive allowance
- Incentives for new and more diverse forestry
- Encourage businesses whose profits are retained in the communities where they were obtained
- Encourage community- and cooperative-owned businesses
- Sharing the cost of rebuilding fairly by a temporary levy on those with higher incomes rather than making the poor pay by service cuts or are kids pay through more borrowing
That’s a programme that would provide immediate benefit in the places and for the people who need it most, but maybe more importantly would put in place the correct relationships between economy, environment and society and establish a virtuous cycle whereby the whole system would continue to improve. And it’s all practical, and achievable by reprioritising spending and tax reform. Big business would hate it!
The fact is that NZ faces big challenges. National is steering the ship with blinkers on and without using the radar. If it is re-elected, its programme – whether through ignorance or malice – will be an acceleration of these policies that have done so much to unravel NZ’s social fabric and benefit a few to the cost of so many. The Greens have chosen to focus on hope for a better society and on a programme of practical, achievable and fiscally responsible steps that will be good for you, for me and our planet. Party vote Green!