(Op-ed published in the Herald on 3 December 2012)
Green development and green jobs provide a clear vision and economic direction for our nation. We can have good jobs without destroying the environment, and we can take advantage of the huge green economic opportunities overseas to supply exports with a premium. That’s what smart green economics is all about.
It is the alternative to National’s failed economic approach which has given us one of the fastest increases in unemployment in the OECD, the second highest current account deficit, and further environmental degradation. National’s attacks on the environment have accelerated since the last election.
National still believes that all growth is good growth, but it isn’t. Growth which leads to more debt, pollution and environmental destruction is bad growth.
Now that the dust has settled on Labour’s leadership contest, we have to ask: where does Labour stand on these clear economic alternatives offered on the one hand by National and on the other by the Greens?
Labour MP Shane Jones has been vocal in the pages of the New Zealand Herald over recent weeks, criticising the Green Party over our concerns about the serious environmental impacts posed by deep sea oil drilling off our coasts and the use of slave labour on foreign chartered vessels in New Zealand waters.
Given that Labour has been supportive of some environmental and worker protections in the past, we have to ask if these repeated outbursts from one of their senior MPs are simply the views of an individual, or something more.
The free-rein given to Mr Jones to attack the Green Party on environmental issues suggests the latter. I hope this isn’t the case.
Protection of the natural environment is fundamental to what makes New Zealand a great place to live and is fundamental to our future economic prosperity. The tourism industry – our second biggest export earner – is built on the appeal of our amazing natural environment. Our dairy industry, our biggest exporter, is dependent on our clean, green and safe brand – that’s why exports into China are booming after their tainted milk scandal.
Just this month, the Pure Advantage group of leading New Zealand business people including Sir Stephen Tindall, Rob Fyfe, Jeremy Moon, Philip Mills, Sir George Fistonich and others released their second report on the green growth, green job opportunities for our economy. Their report offers many elements of an inspiring and lucrative alternative economic direction for our country.
Now that the failure of the National Government’s economic policies is plain to see, it is refreshing to have a clear alternative strategy.
In this context, it is very worrying that Mr Jones’ anti-environmental tirades have been greeted with a deafening silence from the Labour Party leadership.
Mr Jones’ outbursts won’t deter the Green Party from doing our job in highlighting the risks of the National Government’s decision to open up New Zealand to dangerous deep sea oil drilling.
The oil industry’s promises of an economic boom are, in our view, inflated and need to be weighed against the very real risks of a spill, highlighted by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico which devastated local wildlife and cost over $40 billion to clean up.
The oil and gas industry tends to be risk-rich and jobs-poor. Nationwide, coal, oil, gas and metal mining employs only 3,000 people, according to Statistics New Zealand. That compares with around 200,000 employed in manufacturing, and any future job growth in the mining sector won’t compensate for the 40,000 manufacturing jobs lost in the last four years.
Mr Jones claims to be driven by a concern about jobs for Maori. Yet while he was chairman of Sealord, the company chartered a Ukrainian vessel and foreign workers were hired rather than New Zealanders. After Mr Jones departed, Sealord continued the practice of using foreign charter vessels instead of employing New Zealanders. Mr Jones accepted $10,000 from the company for his last election campaign.
The mistreatment of crews working on foreign chartered vessels has been well documented; they are essentially slave labour. The National Government has taken far too long to start to address this issue and Mr Jones played a part in allowing this disgrace to happen in the first place.
Despite Mr Jones, the reality that we live on a finite planet is forcing the world to confront its environmental challenges by creating more sustainable jobs. National has failed to create jobs for the 175,000 unemployed New Zealanders. Labour and the Greens owe it to those workers, and the thousands more whose jobs are at risk, to work together to build a clean green economy that delivers genuine prosperity for everyone.