I had the opportunity to hear Finance Minister Bill English opine about various issues during his pass through Hawke’s Bay last Friday.
On occasion, I’ve toyed with the notion that, underneath it all, I might be a closet “Blue-Green” … the name for a dwindling band (if not an outright endangered species) of pro-environment members of the National Party.
Minister Bill put an end to that delusion!
He volunteered a comment to the effect that New Zealand’s economic prosperity is being held back by our refusal — so far — to exploit the vast mineral wealth contained beneath our conservation lands. And why is this wealth — rivaling that of Australia, he noted — being denied the nation? Because of a few members of Greenpeace!
There’s so much wrong with that statement I scarcely know where to begin.
First, one might hold out hope that our Tourism Minister, John Key, sees a huge and — if we stand by it — everlasting commercial value in our conservation lands and the natural splendor they protect. Set aside, if you must, ethics, legacy to our grandchildren, biological diversity and sappy stuff like that. Those protected lands are the primary reason most foreign tourists come to New Zealand, for god’s sake!
Tourism Industry Association chief executive Tim Cossar said: “Taking a long-term view, it may be that tourism is a more valuable and sustainable industry to New Zealand’s economy than mining.” NZ tourism is a $20 billion per year industry, while our mineral potential is estimated at about $140 billion, 70% of which would involve conservation land.
But second, perhaps more alarming because of its broader consequences, is what the comment clearly signals about where Bill English comes from when Cabinet debates occur on such matters.
In his head, they are framed in terms of the economy VERSUS the environment. That’s an antiquated notion with as much credibility these days as tying your currency to the gold standard. Sure, if you want to milk every last bit of production and revenue out of a piece of land as quickly as possible, unfortunately “the environment” can get in your way … there is a trade-off. But sustainable growth (and profit) requires that environmental values and carrying capacity be taken into account. Successful (i.e., profitable and job-creating) businesses are increasingly green ones.
However, when “economy versus environment” is the ideological mind-set of the nation’s Finance Minister, it automatically gains respectability and becomes dangerous. Because facing the clout of the Finance Minister, all other ministers are eunuchs … possibly excepting our current Tourism Minister. Hence National’s cave-in on any credible Emissions Trading Scheme, and its opposition to stronger protection of endangered marine mammals.
And that’s why “Blue-Green” in the National Party looks like an impossible dream. Even if you’re inclined to trust the intentions of an Environment Minister like Nick Smith, he’s dogmeat for the Finance Minister!
So all you remaining Blue-Greens out there, get out your credit cards and go here to make a contribution to Greenpeace. Don’t worry they’ll keep it confidential.