Family Party environment policy

My speech on the Family Party environmental and agricultural policy at the conference on Saturday:

My name is Samuel Dennis. I grew up on a farm in the Selwyn electorate, in Canterbury. My great-great-grandfather came to Selwyn from England in 1868, and I grew up on land that has been in the family since 1879. I have worked on a range of different farms around Canterbury, and have a Bachelor of Agricultural Science degree with Honours from Lincoln University. I am currently completing my doctorate in Soil Science, and was in Ireland over the last two years doing research for that. I have been married for 2 1/2 years and have a four-month-old son.

My great grandfather Ernest Dennis and his brother were founding members of the National Party in Hororata in 1936. My grandfather Gordon Dennis was on the executive committee of National in Selwyn for 28 years. He then stood as an independent candidate twice in the 80’s, before being a founding member of Christian Heritage in 1989 and standing for them in 1993 and 1996. It is great to be able to carry on this family heritage of political involvement in Selwyn as I stand before you today as The Family Party candidate for Selwyn. It is also an honour to keep on going where Christian Heritage failed, and to have Albert Ruijne, a founding board member of Christian Heritage, on our board today, and my grandfather Gordon Dennis helping me with my campaign.

New Zealand has a reputation for being clean and green. We live in a great country, and the more of the world I see the more I realise this.

We have a wonderful environment that New Zealand families enjoy. We can go tramping, hunting, fishing, jetboating, swimming – our environment provides us with a lot of enjoyment. But more importantly than that, it is our environment that provides us with clean water to drink, food to eat, air to breathe – we are totally reliant on our environment, and must preserve it, for our benefit, and also for our children and grandchildren.

Our thinking on the environment comes from the Biblical principle of responsible stewardship. Mankind was placed on earth to tend and keep it, while at the same time the environment is provided to us for our benefit. While it is popular in some circles to see humans as a disease on the earth, and that the earth would be better off if man did not exist, we reject this view. The environment exists for the benefit of Man, and this is why it is vital that we preserve and care for it. We don’t just want a healthy environment – we need a healthy environment.

For this reason we believe that minimising waste and pollution is an important and desirable goal. We believe in industrial progress, but believe it should not occur at the expense of the environment.

So how should we protect our environment?

We need practical policies that actually work. Where there are problems with the environment, we need to be able to measure them, and implement policies that will actually fix them.

But we should also do this using as little legislation as necessary. I have been in Ireland over the past two years. In Ireland there have been detailed laws to protect the environment, for example water quality, for many years now. In order to get subsidies how farmers operate is regulated down to the smallest degree. But it is difficult to know whether these restrictive policies have actually been working at all. Just this year a large study is being set up to figure out if these detailed regulations have actually been doing any good.

Ireland, and other European countries, have been tackling the issue the wrong way around. They have been regulating many little details, providing a lot of work for bureaucrats, but producing in some cases debatable environmental gains. We don’t want to fall into this trap. We must focus on results, and how to achieve them, rather than legislating every detail of how people operate without knowing the results.

Winston Churchill once said “If you have ten thousand regulations you destroy all respect for the law”, and this is a very important principle. People will obey a few basic laws. But if there are too many, people’s focus shifts to finding loopholes in the law and avoiding obeying it, which is completely counterproductive.

The Family Party wishes to cut to the heart of environmental issues and address the key problems, while avoiding a proliferation of regulations on minor details that may cause more frustration than benefit.

GLOBAL WARMING:

Global Warming is the biggest environmental issue we are dealing with today, and I am sure all of you are familiar with this.

But what you may not realise is that there is actually scientific disagreement on two things. Scientists disagree on how much of a problem it really is, with some saying it is not a problem at all. Those scientists that do accept it is a big issue disagree on whether we can actually stop it through emissions reductions, or whether this is a waste of money and we should be adapting to a changing climate instead. There is disagreement on what we should be doing about climate change.

Most other parties have accepted climate change is a massive issue, but one that can be stopped through emissions reductions, and are rushing through legislation to look like they are doing something about it.

An Emissions Trading Scheme was recently put into law by Labour, the Green party and New Zealand First, and is supported in principle (with an intention to tweak it a bit) by National and United Future. This scheme is supposed to be New Zealand’s way of combating climate change. It is the most comprehensive and hard-hitting emissions trading scheme in the world. But:
– It will cause NO discernible reduction in carbon emissions according to Greenpeace. Let me say that again: even Greenpeace says this scheme will do nothing for the environment.
– It could actually increase global greenhouse gas emissions. As it penalises businesses in New Zealand it may force them to move overseas. For example, the owners of the Tiwai Point Aluminium Smelter in Southland have indicated that they may have to move it off-shore. This smelter uses a lot of electricity, which currently comes primarily from renewable sources. If they moved to China for example, most of their electricity would come from coal. This would cause an increase in global emissions, for no reason.
– It will cost an enormous amount to do nothing. If businesses are forced offshore, there will be job losses in NZ, many families could have their primary income cut off. If the Tiwai Point smelter were to move offshore for example, the 900 staff they employ would lose their jobs, and other jobs in the wider community would probably go as well. It will also increase the cost of everything you buy, and could cost families $3,000 extra per year by 2025. So families will be hit from both ends, with less employment but higher costs. And all for no environmental benefit.

This scheme is pure greenwash. It is designed to make New Zealand look good to the United Nations and Europe, and back up Helen Clark’s United Nations “Champions of the Earth” environmental award by being the Prime Minister of the first country to introduce an Emissions Trading Scheme that includes all sectors. But it will do NOTHING for the environment, and could in fact damage it.

The Family Party would repeal this scheme.

In addition to emissions trading, other parties want to do lots of other fiddly things around climate change, and if you read their policies you will find such fiddly regulations littered throughout them. Here are a few examples from the transport policies of other parties:
– Labour has passed an Act requiring mandatory levels of biofuel in petrol and diesel to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, despite even the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment saying this Act should not be passed.
– The Green Party wants to force cars being imported to be more economical on average, despite people already buying more economical cars because the fuel price is so high – it is pointless to legislate for something that is already happening.
– United Future wants to require all new government vehicles to be hybrids, despite some research showing these are actually far worse for the environment than conventional cars.
– National wants to have no road user charges for electric cars, to promote them – and electric cars are good, there is nothing wrong with promoting them. But the problem with electric cars is not running costs, even with paying their fair share of the cost of road maintenance they are far cheaper to run than petrol vehicles. The problem is supply. Even if you got a free house with every electric car you bought, if you cannot go to a dealer and actually buy an electric car the scheme will do nothing.

All this is fiddling around the edges. Some of the fiddly policies of other parties are not entirely without merit. But they are primarily designed to sound good and buy votes, without actually doing anything for the environment. Furthermore each involves yet another piece of legislation for families to have to deal with.

The Family Party will not fiddle around with little vote-buying pieces of legislation like this. We want real, practical policies that address the real issues, actually help families, and help the environment. We call for a unified approach to climate change, rather than loads of little fiddly laws.

The Family Party is calling for a Royal Commission of Enquiry into Global Warming, to look at the scientific and economic facts, and design practical, cost-effective policy that actually solves the real issues.

The first job of the Commission will be to look into the evidence of the scientists who disagree with the IPCC and say global warming is not a problem, to determine whether there is any substance in these claims. If the Commission concludes that global warming is a real problem, its job will then be to work out whether we should be trying to stop it or adapting to it, and design policy to do this. Designing effective policy will be the biggest job of the Commission. In doing this the Commission will need to bear in mind the effect of this policy on our access to international markets.

We aren’t pretending to have all the answers. We don’t believe that any politician has all the answers. This approach will take this massive issue out of the hands of politicians, who care primarily about votes, and put it into the hands of the experts instead.

OTHER ISSUES:

We want a unified, practical approach to all environmental issues. Currently, each new issue gets a new piece of legislation to solve it, from either central or local government. But legislation is an inefficient way to solve environmental problems. Legislation is slow, as it has to wait its turn, and be debated and amended by politicians. It can take a long time from an issue being identified before legislation to solve it is actually in place. Furthermore, legislation can be inefficient, as it can result in one-size-fits-all solutions designed by bureaucrats, that may not be appropriate to solve complicated real problems on the ground.

The best way to solve environmental problems is through community- and industry-led initiatives. These initiatives are faster, because they can be implemented without waiting for legislation to be debated. They can be more efficient, as they draw on the expertise of the local people who are most familiar with the issues. And they can have far more willing participation, resulting in better outcomes, than if people are being forced to do something by legislation.

The Family Party will introduce a single unified process to allow environmental problems to be solved rapidly and flexibly as they arise.

Firstly, the problem must be measured. For example, if we have a polluted river, the level of pollution must be measured.

Secondly, a target must be identified, which is an acceptable condition for the environment. With the polluted river, this would be a target level of pollution that must be achieved.

Thirdly, the problem and target must be presented to the community and industry. They will be given an appropriate timeframe to identify a solution, and implement it. By the end of the period they must be on track towards achieving the target. With our polluted river example, factories may limit effluent discharges to the river. Farmers may restrict stock access to water. Households near the river may ensure their septic tanks are working correctly. The community would do whatever they felt was needed to fix the problem.

Finally, legislation may be considered ONLY if:
– after this time the problem is still not being solved, and
– a known solution exists that is expected to be much more effective than the community solution.

This process is very simple – identify the problem, present it to the community, if they don’t fix it, legislate.

The big advantage of this is that environmental problems can be solved rapidly, as the community will be encouraged to start doing something about it as soon as the problem is identified rather than waiting for legislation. There will be a strong motivation for people to fix it themselves, to avoid having legislation thrust upon them. But if legislation is required after all, no-one can complain as they had a chance to fix it themselves but blew it.

AGRICULTURE:

One large aspect of managing our environment in New Zealand is agriculture. This is because so much of our environment is managed by farmers. Agricultural policy also directly impacts on families because so many families derive their income from agriculture. 54% of New Zealand’s exports in 2007 were agricultural products. For this reason, agriculture provides employment and income for many families – and even here in Auckland, if many of you today were to trace back where your income ultimately comes from, you may well find it originally comes from agriculture.

The Family Party recognises that farmers know far more about farming than politicians do. Just like our environmental policy, our agricultural policy is designed to have minimal, yet effective, legislation, and as much as possible allow farmers to farm without politicians getting in their way.

The Emissions Trading Scheme could have a disastrous effect on agriculture, because agriculture is responsible for a high proportion of NZ’s emissions, and this could flow on to many of your own jobs. Dairy income could reduce by 12%, Beef by 21%, Sheep and Venison by around 40% – this is massive for such a large section of our economy. New Zealand still survives “off the sheep’s back” and we need to preserve this industry that underpins our country. Repealing the Emissions Trading Scheme and pursuing practical environmental policies is vital to keep our economy running, and preserve the income of our families.

Our community- and industry-led approach to environmental issues will be a welcome approach for farmers, that will prevent us ending up in the same over-regulated situation that European farmers have to deal with. We will be very cautious about any new bureaucracy that may be proposed, such as an animal identification scheme that is being designed at the moment, and will only support such bureaucracy if we are convinced that there are significant advantages to be gained from it and it has widespread farmer support. We will be reviewing the RMA to ensure that it is efficient, and while it is protecting New Zealands natural resources it does not also require unnecessary levels of bureaucracy around minor environmental issues.

SUMMARY:

In summary, we are calling for a unified, scientific approach to solving climate change. We will not impose costs on families for dubious benefit. We reject the ineffective legislation being promoted at the moment, and will repeal the Emissions Trading Scheme. We will establish a Royal Commission of Enquiry to have climate change policy designed by the experts rather than politicians.

We will establish a clear approach to solving all environmental issues, that focuses on achieving results, and promotes community- and industry-led initiatives before resorting to legislation.

And we will support farmers, as the caretakers of so much of our environment.

You will notice that our environmental policy is much shorter than that of many other parties. This is because we don’t have a load of new regulations we want to impose on families. Rather we want to get down to the fundamental issues, fix those well, and otherwise let families get on with their lives and enjoy our great environment.

Thankyou for listening.

15 Responses to “Family Party environment policy”

  1. kiwipolemicist Says:

    That’s a good speech (I don’t have to agree with all of it to recognise that it’s good) and after having recently read a speech given by Winston Peters I’m glad to find that there is a political candidate who is capable of stringing together some cogent thoughts.

    What sort of reaction did you get at the conference overall (not counting the wives, family, friends, etc🙂 )? On one hand Mangere is traditionally Labour, on the other hand you have Jerry and I would have thought that a pro-family message would have been popular.

    It’s appropriate that you’re doing you PhD in soil science: I’ve always said that PhD stands for Post Hole Digger🙂

    Have you studied the seventh-year-fallow system? I listen to the rural programme on National Socialist Radio and recently a farmer near Queenstown was talking about it. He’d been doing it for 19 years: the first fallow year made him wonder if he’d done the right thing as there was hardly any growth. But each fallow year after that gave knee high growth with a thick humus layer, and he has very little trouble with weeds, animal diseases & parasites. If my memory serves he uses little or no sprays, drenches, etc.

    It’s interesting how less intensive farming methods can improve the bottom line, e.g. once-a-day milking does reduce income, but the farmers also find that their costs reduce slightly more than their income does: labour and hot water for cleaning the yards and milking shed are major costs. Thus they were actually paying to do that second milking, and they appreciate the lifestyle benefits of once-a-day. I’m guessing that there would also be reduced animal health costs.

  2. Mr Dennis Says:

    I got an excellent response, no negative feedback, lots of interest.

    I haven’t studied the seventh-year fallow, but I have often considered it. When I have my own land I am intending to try it out. It would provide plenty of humus, and would affect parasitic worms too as they can’t survive a year without any sheep. I am interested that it affected weeds as well. If you shut it up at the right time of year it would also be an excellent opportunity for annual pasture species (such as subclover) to seed and replenish the soil with seeds for the following 6 years.

  3. #13baby Says:

    Mr Dennis

    How exactly would the ‘community’ responsible for fixing, say, a polluted river be determined? Would it correspond to a local body authority, or something smaller? (Or larger) How would you deal with environmental problems that aren’t limited to a compact and easily defined physical area – an outbreak of parasites, for instance?

    What would you do if the community disagrees there is a problem – eg, feels that the level of pollution that the government wants reduced is actually acceptable? What if the community is not unanimous – if a majority feels this way, but only a small one? Would the government insist on its definition and move to the legislation stage (since a community that doesn’t feel pollution exists isn’t going to get cracking on fixing it) or would it respect the wishes of the community?

  4. Mr Dennis Says:

    Good questions #13baby! The community responsible for a polluted river would correspond to those within (living or using) the catchment area of that river, which is easy to define topographically. Those with a greater stake in the issue will be those causing the most pollution, as it is they who stand to lose the most if legislation is introduced. These people can therefore be expected to be the most active in solving the problem, to avoid legislation.

    There will need to be a process to determine whether the problem and target are reasonable, this is certainly an issue, and there needs to be an appeals process. Exactly what this must involve has yet to be finalised, but we certainly do need a solid process to ensure we are aiming for a sensible target.

  5. #13baby Says:

    Samuel

    Unfortunately not all environmental problems are as likely to lend themselves to as natural a formation of community as a river. What if the problem is the release of chemicals into the air from a certain industrial plant? Does everybody who sometimes breathes the polluted air count as part of the community? Is the community composed of those are affected, or those who produce the problem? Because requiring those who are affected by the problem to correct it may not work, particularly if they have to wait some time before they are deemed to have not done enough. Similarly, there may be issues surrounding property rights. If I am told by the government to fix a problem that emanates from a local industrial plant, there’s little I can do to get them to stop beyond asking them repeatedly – something that, in my experience, doesn’t work.

    On to the second question, even with a vigorous appeals process, there is no single standard as to what is or isn’t polluted.

    My feeling is that often communities will say ‘although we don’t like the way the river is polluted, we don’t dislike it enough to pay for cleaning it up ourselves’. In this situation the government’s role as de-polluter of last resort becomes less of a threat and more of a promise – since the government will presumably pay for any legislative clean-up, there’s a strong incentive for the local community to sit on its hands. People may find legislation annoying, but I think most people prefer legislation and a government-funded cleanup to no legislation and paying for a cleanup out of their own pockets, particularly when you consider that the costs of cleaning up something as big as a river is likely to be high, and ongoing.

  6. Mr Dennis Says:

    If you are talking about air pollution from one industrial plant, it is only that plant that is responsible for the pollution, and only that plant that can fix it.

    At present, this would generally be solved by a council putting limits on emissions from that plant, or some similar legislation.

    What we are saying is that first you present the problem to the plant, and give them a sensible timeframe to clean up their act. Legislation is only considered if they fail to do so. This is a proactive rather than reactive way of dealing with the problem, and is much faster than if you have to wait for laws.

    It is not the government that bears the cost of cleaning up a river, but the polluters. In Europe, to solve water quality issues, farmers are regulated heavily. They have limits on the amount of fertiliser they can apply, limits on stocking rates, heavy laws around the disposal of effluent, and subsidies to encourage the planting of trees along waterways. It is the farmers that must implement this regulation, regardless of whether or not it is actually working. The government doesn’t come along and fix it all with loads of cash, it forces farmers to follow its method of fixing the problem, regardless of whether or not it is working.

    One of the big problems with this is that the motivation is purely to comply with the law. So when you have a law saying for example that you can’t spread fertiliser within a certain distance of a river, a farmer knows he can ignore it and just claim he has done so on the paperwork, because no inspector can ever know. The motivation is to find loopholes, so the environment is not helped. If on the other hand the farmer was aware of the actual pollution of the river, the target, and current progress towards it, they would be more likely to actually not spread fertiliser close to the water. The focus is now on results and community ownership of the problem, rather than compliance with legislation.

    Many people may prefer a government-funded cleanup, but unfortunately that is not what you get. You actually get laws that affect how you operate your business, laws that impact your everyday life, but that may not actually work. If you want the government to fix everything, you can look forward to higher tax rates, and most people don’t want that.

  7. #13baby Says:

    What we are saying is that first you present the problem to the plant, and give them a sensible timeframe to clean up their act.

    So who defines what is sensible? The plant responsible for doing the fixing? The people having to suck down chemicals while they wait for the plant to do something? Nobody has ever put forward a timeline that they didn’t think was ‘sensible’. We need to know what is considered sensible in your view before we can consider voting for you.

    on the other hand the farmer was aware of the actual pollution of the river, the target, and current progress towards it, they would be more likely to actually not spread fertiliser close to the water.

    So you believe that the reason farmers don’t take active measures to prevent pollution is that they’re not aware of the pollution? I would think that if a river out back of a farmer’s field is polluted, he is going to know about it – and if he thinks it isn’t polluted, and the government tells him otherwise, he’s not going to change his mind.

  8. Mr Dennis Says:

    Sensible as in workable. In that case, 6 months may be long enough for actual changes to be made. For a river, it could take at least 2-3 years before the results of measures would be apparent. The timeframe will be different depending on the issue, so you cannot define one “sensible” timeframe to bung over every unique issue. I would generally say 6 months – 3 years depending on the issue.

    I know what I’m talking about with farmers. Most farmers care about the environment, but they may not be aware what effect their farm practices actually have on waterways. And no, they are not necessarily aware that a river is polluted, pollution is not always visible until it is severe.

    Some farmers do take active measures to prevent pollution. And this is why we favour encouraging this voluntary approach before considering legislation. If you define a problem, identify the primary causes, and say you’ve got 3 years to fix it before we consider legislation to, you’ll get a far better response than if you just jump in feet first with legislation. And they will fix it, because they won’t want to have to deal with legislation.

  9. #13baby Says:

    So can I ask where you get the six month and two-three year figures from? Given your commitment not to make any moves on Global Warming until the science has been confirmed, I would hope that you have similar commitment not to impose any requirements on communities until a similar level of scientific confirmation has occurred.

    And no, they are not necessarily aware that a river is polluted, pollution is not always visible until it is severe.

    So the government can percieve the problem more effectively than people on the ground, but it can’t implement a solution more effectively?

    Going back to what you said in your post of 10:55am, you said

    Many people may prefer a government-funded cleanup, but unfortunately that is not what you get. You actually get laws that affect how you operate your business, laws that impact your everyday life, but that may not actually work.

    Presumably under a Family Party government you would be getting laws that actually work, though?

    I agree that legislation can be onerous. However, I still feel that the desire to socialise the costs of a cleanup across the whole nation rather than to bear the cost as individuals will be an extremely heavy deterrent. Farmers facing tight profit margins will be very reluctant to incur extra expenses in a voluntary cleanup. They’ll be reluctant to incur extra legislative responsibilities also, it’s true, but I can imagine many small family owned farms teetering on the brink of profitability doing the finances over the kitchen table and saying “we just can’t afford to clean up the river and still pay ourselves a decent wage; why not just wait three years, since the government has promised to do it?”

    I presume the legislation you envisage would be focused on a relatively tight area? Eg rather than legislation mandating all rivers be cleaned up, it would simply say ‘the Waimakariri river (to use a random example) must be cleaned up’, and be silent on the matter of the other rivers where voluntary clean-ups have been successful?

    Finally, what sort of on-going monitoring would you envisage to ensure that a river that’s been cleaned up won’t revert to its existing state?

  10. Mr Dennis Says:

    “So can I ask where you get the six month and two-three year figures from?” – off the top of my head, based on my understanding of how fast things can actually be implemented in industry and agriculture. This is why we aren’t actually mandating this period in the policy, you need to decide it based on real knowledge about the individual situation, rather than what some politician decides sounds right when designing a policy.

    Problems must be defined and measured scientifically, with scientific justification for this.

    The government cannot perceive the problem more effectively, but if a problem is brought to its attention, it may be tempted to legislate. We are putting this in place first, to give the community a chance to fix problems themselves.

    Yes we will only be promoting laws that actually work. But if we are a minor party, we may not always get our way. Any legislation should be focussed on a tight area (depending on the situation of course), rather than blanket rules for the whole country, that is what we are trying to avoid.

    If a family farm chooses to help fix the problem themselves, they can make sensible changes with minimal cost – switching fertiliser types, adjusting the area fertilisers are spread in, day-to-day management decisions that minimise stock access to water etc. If they wait for legislation they may be forced to reduce fertiliser and stocking rates, and lose profitability, when they could have fixed the problem themselves and retained profitability. Profitability is one of the key reasons for farmers to have a crack at fixing the issue themselves.

    You would need ongoing monitoring to see whether the measures were working or not. This would be different depending on each issue, but would probably be carried out by local councils for most situations.

  11. greenfly Says:

    Mr Dennis – you are being challenged over this policy, the reason being that it is gutless. I’m guessing that you are a supporter of the ‘Clean Streams Accord’? where farmers esp. dairy manage their pollution on a voluntary basis. Voluntary. Heavens above! Look what’s happened! Read the report from Forest and Bird. Like Federated Farmers, I’m betting you ‘doubt their science’ and would like to see a review. Am I right? Like your prevaricating over climate change (let’s not do anything until the definitive science is in..) you are dithering, emperilling your followers and burying your head deep in the sand.

  12. Mr Dennis Says:

    Greenfly, our policy provides a framework within which measures like the Clean Streams Accord can be implemented. The big difference however is that our policy has teeth, they have a time limit to fix it within before they can expect legislation. So you get the best of both methods.

  13. greenfly Says:

    “The Family Party recognises that farmers know far more about farming than politicians do. ”

    It follows then, that politicians know more about politics than farmers do and environmentalists know more about the environment than farmers do? Yes?

  14. Mr Dennis Says:

    Politicians would know more about politics than farmers.

    Environmentalists would understand more about the environment where they have more actual experience of it than a farmer. I wouldn’t trust a townie couch environmentalist’s word over a farmer’s, but if he has spent 3 years studying stream pollution than he should certainly know more about this issue than a farmer – the word “environmentalist” covers a lot of people, from very well-educated experts to inexperienced “oooh, look at the nice cuddly animals” self-proclaimed “environmentalists”.

  15. kiwipolemicist Says:

    Re reduced weeds with a seventh-year-fallow system: it appears that weeds flourish when a monoculture is imposed upon the land. In comparison, weeds are almost unknown in the undeveloped areas of the Fiordland National Park.

    This pattern is perhaps present throughout nature. For example, so-called “superbugs” are mutants that can only survive where other bacteria have been suppressed, which is why they flourish in hospitals and bottles of iodine. The best treatment for an external superbug infection is to go home and roll in the dirt.


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