It seems in the National Party there is still a mindset of the economy versus the environment. Bill English might have put it more bluntly, but John Key is guilty of saying that National’s policy is about ”maximising economic opportunities while protecting the environment.”

Notwithstanding the obvious contradiction in terms of National’s actions, it is not just about protection, it should be about integration. For our country, the two have to be seen together as part of a sustainable future.

In the lead-up to the election, John Key said National’s top three priorities were the three E’s – environment, education and the economy. On the campaign trail, when Opposition leader, he showed great enthusiasm for the first topic, lifting hopes among environmental groups that National had turned over a new, green leaf.

“Environmental issues should not be monopolised by those on the left of the political spectrum. Environmentalism should be a mainstream issue for all New Zealanders and all political parties,” Nick Smith said at the launch of his party’s “Bluegreen” policy. Interestingly, Nick Smith chose Hawke’s Bay as the ideal place to launch this document before an audience of around 100, interested to see what National’s plans were for our environment. Such words were welcomed by Forest & Bird and the other environmental groups present.

But, as Mr Key said at the time, “we should always measure a government’s environmental rhetoric against its environmental record.”

In the past six months, environmentalists have observed with increasing disquiet a range of announcements from the Government that threaten damaging consequences for the environment. For example, Mr Key’s pre-election promises on climate change have not been followed through by his actions in Government.

“National will have policies that reflect the fact that living on a diet of carbon will be increasingly bad – bad for the world and bad for our economy. We will have policy that encourages ‘climate friendly’ choices like windmills, hydro power and tree planting, and reduces the desire for ‘climate unfriendly’ behaviours, like burning coal,” Mr Key promised in May 2007.

National’s emissions trading scheme has been watered down now so that big emitters – agriculture and industry – benefit from delayed introduction to the scheme, while taxpayers pick up the bill for their emissions.

This won’t help New Zealand achieve a fair contribution towards the 40 per cent reduction in greenhouse gases, which the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has identified as the level of reduction in emissions that must be achieved by developed countries, if we are to avoid the worst impacts of climate change. Environment Minister Nick Smith says 40 per cent is unrealistic.

In August, Energy Minister Gerry Brownlee announced plans to mine New Zealand’s conservation estate, including its national parks. Exploitation of fossil fuels from beneath native forests is at odds with New Zealand’s “100% Pure” brand, which underpins our $20 billion tourism industry.

And it is out of kilter with Mr Key’s pre-election view that: “Any political party with an eye to New Zealand’s future success must pursue policies that protect and promote our environmental assets. Our environment is also an asset that differentiates New Zealand’s products.”

MEANWHILE, Agriculture Minister David Carter and Lands Minister Maurice Williamson were scoping the South Island high country. They rescinded measures introduced by Labour to protect the landscapes around high-country lakes from inappropriate development and subdivision. They also effectively spelled an end to the creation of new high-country conservation parks.

Transport Minister Steven Joyce scrapped a scheme that would have penalised imported vehicles producing high emissions. That didn’t fit well with Mr Key’s pre-election statement that: “National will provide Kiwis with good signals about the cars that are the best for the environment. We will do this by ensuring our emission and noise standards for new vehicles keep up with international standards and practices and by introducing more sophisticated emissions and noise testing for existing vehicles. If Kiwis have a highly polluting or excessively noisy car, we think they should know about it and have an incentive to do something about it.”

Mr Key also promised before the election that he would embrace environmental organisations – and indeed would “turbo-charge” the work of community groups such as Forest & Bird. In theory, the idea of linking the trade and conservation portfolios under one minister was an interesting choice, but in practice Conservation Minister Tim Groser spends so much time overseas pursuing his trade portfolio interests that he has little time for meeting with conservationists back home.

Labour will not give up fighting for the right choices for our environment – the stakes are too high.

If you want to talk about this, or any other issue with me, please give me a call in my Napier office on 835 7428.

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