The “100% Pure New Zealand” myth has long been busted but work to clean up the country has lagged behind for many years. This is partly because it costs real money to tackle our worst problems such as the roughly 20,000 contaminated sites across the country. One of the reasons I stood for Parliament was to progress how contaminated sites are dealt with and my maiden speech refers to communities affected by the varying forms of chemical contamination.
Yesterday, I signed an extension our Greens’ Memorandum of Understanding with the Government to advance cleaning up toxic sites. I did this because, under MMP, we can make policy gains without voting for policies we disagree with or endorsing a Government whose overall programme is at odds with many of our core principles and policies.
After some negotiation, Dr Nick Smith has agreed to some critical steps necessary to adequately address this issue. Now, there is more money to stabilise the Tui Mine tailings dam on Mt Te Aroha and there will be a publicly accessible national register of priority sites. There will also be regional council registers that will be accessible for the public. They will use common software so everyone can get information about where sites are and how polluted they are.
We have agreed to have an independent peer review of the National Environment Standard for contaminated soils. This was announced Tuesday and will cover the risks to human health on contaminated sites. We want this to include environmental effects — not just immediate health risks. The Minister for the Environment has agreed to the independent peer review despite the Ministry for the Environment’s advice that it’s too difficult. Other countries have both human health and environmental standards for sites and associated impacts off site which affect the food chain. No contaminated site is an island.
We have also agreed to work on policy and legal changes around the issue of pre-1991 liability for cleaning up sites. Prior to that, original polluters didn’t have to pay to for cleaning up their toxic sites. That is just wrong. But it can be changed by amendment to the Resource Management Act.
People have asked me why the last Government didn’t address these issues. That’s a damn good question and I will be challenging whoever is the next Government to work with us to progress this work even further. Human life, our environment and our international reputation are at stake. As the wahine from Hauraki said at the Tui Mine event at Parliament yesterday, we destroy the environment, we destroy ourselves. Hauraki iwi want their mountain returned to them and they want it returned in a healthy state!
One person amongst many deserves credit for the progress we hope to make under this new agreement and that is Gordon Jackman. He first exposed this issue in 1991 while working for Greenpeace. I can truly say he has taught me everything I know about the issue as has given me the encouragement to take on this work!