Gareth Morgan's Opportunities Party says we must protect and enhance our natural environment both because we love it, and because it makes good business sense 

Gareth Morgan's Opportunities Party says we must protect and enhance our natural environment both because we love it, and because it makes good business sense 

The Opportunities Party, headed by high profile economist Gareth Morgan, has issued its environmental policy. 

Here are the details, supplied by the Opportunities Party.

Economic growth must not come at the expense of the environment 

New Zealand’s natural environment is our #1 asset; it attracts tourists and skilled migrants, and earns an export premium. It is also a massive part of the Kiwi way of life. 

However, our precious environment is only in such good shape thanks to our low population. Establishment party governments have been running down our natural assets, thanks to a strategy of economic growth at any cost, and pursuit of volume over value. Growth that comes at the expense of our rivers, lakes, oceans, soils or unique native wildlife is dirty, dubious and downright dumb. We can and must get smarter. If we want to keep and capitalise on our clean green image, we need to start investing in our environment.

TOP’s position is that we should leave the environment for our descendants in no worse shape than we inherited it – and preferably in better shape. We will protect and enhance our natural environment, not just because we love it, but because it makes good business sense. 

We want true prosperity – growth that improves our well-being including our environment, our social harmony and our health. To achieve the harmony between the economy and environment, our approach is for polluters to pay to clean up their mess. We do not subscribe to the view that it’s appropriate to degrade our environment or for taxpayers to pick up the tab. 

Land based industries are the backbone of New Zealand’s exports, and they also have the largest impact on our environment. In the past clearing hill country of forest led to massive erosion issues, and more recently intensive agriculture has added more nutrients to our waterways. 

In many cases we have hit the limit for how much we can produce on our land. We have been using more fertiliser, more water and importing more palm kernel to feed ever more cows, which has led to further decline in the quality of our rivers and lakes in areas of intensive agriculture. Continuing to push for increased volume is not good for our land, our water, our wildlife, the cows or even our farmers. It is time to focus on profit growth from improving the value of our exports rather than increasing the volume of them. 

Yet the Government is intent on doubling agricultural exports and increasing irrigation while leaving the taxpayer to foot the bill for cleaning up our rivers and lakes. The only reason increasing volume is viable is because the industry is not paying for the environmental damage it’s inflicting. TOP will ensure that polluters do pay for the damage they cause. 

Our land-based industries face many risks; changes in consumer preferences, an increased demand for food with environmental integrity, and new technology. New Zealand agriculture can innovate to meet these challenges, as we have in the past and some small companies still do, but we have to think ahead and start preparing. Some farmers have already shown they can improve their environmental outcomes without hurting their bottom line. Charging polluters for their pollution will help prepare our businesses for the future and direct research funding away from the quest for volume to adding value. 

New Zealand could be the world leader in producing high quality, sustainable food 

We need businesses to provide income and jobs; enterprise and risk must be rewarded via profits as long as they are making us better off overall. Good regulation should support this by rewarding the environmentally best businesses and penalising the worst. Many farmers and other businesses care about their environmental impact and are already doing the right thing. But the time has come to lift the performance of many more of these businesses. The appropriate way is to ensure they pay for making good any environmental damage they cause. 

TOP’s Plan for making growth Clean and Clever 

The overarching issue is governance. Local authorities are making variable progress on environmental issues and there is a need for more independent coordination and oversight without resorting to legal action.  

Swimmable rivers and lakes, sustainable farming. TOP’s default goal is for swimmable rivers, unless local communities decide otherwise. We want intensification of land use to cease unless the impacts can be offset. TOP will invest in monitoring, research, improving water quality and resolving Treaty claims. This will be paid for by a levy on commercial water users and polluters, paid into regional Nature Investment Funds (NIFs).  

Protect and restore our oceans. TOP will use spatial planning to ensure all ocean users have fair access to the resources in our Exclusive Economic Zone. This would also ensure that at least 10% of all ecosystems is set aside as no-take reserves, with compensation for existing users where appropriate. This process would be funded by a resource rental on all commercial ocean resource users. Enhancing our natural assets. TOP will impose a $20 levy on all tourists entering the country. This revenue will be used to improve local infrastructure and placed in an independently managed fund that can be invested with partners to get the best biodiversity return (which may include the Regional Council NIFs). 

Resource Management – Less paperwork, more protection. TOP will ensure that development which delivers no net loss of natural capital can proceed in a timely fashion. Any use of biodiversity offsets will be quality assured. RMA fines will be directed to restoring the damage caused by the breach. 

Here's TOP's environment policy in full.

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Oh dear - how disappointing. I had such high hopes of a party that promised to be both environmentally and economically literate.

Characterising the present approach as "a strategy of economic growth at any cost, and pursuit of volume over value".

There are already extensive environmental, animal welfare, food safety, social and biosecurity-related constraints on agricultural production, and other forms of economic activity, in place.

By all means hold the opinion that those constraints are not extensive enough and should be further strengthened. That is a legitimate position to take. But it's not "growth at any cost". None of those regulations would be in place if that was the approach.

"It is time to focus on profit growth from improving the value of our exports rather than increasing the volume of them."

If it were more profitable to add value than to add volume in agricultural exports - why would all those greedy, profit-obsessed, capitalist bastard farmers not already be doing it?

"TOP’s default goal is for swimmable rivers, unless local communities decide otherwise."

So how is that different from the Government's present approach, which is that local communities should decide what water quality they want to aim for?

WADE-ABLE only, at govt level is a huge difference.

How is it different? Maybe read the policy again huh!

Yes, the OnePlan experience is instructive, MdM. As I understand it, they set nutrient limits, required nutrient budgeting in order to obtain consent to farm and then proceeded to twist the rules (i.e., read the applications and consent in a very loose manner/interpretation) at the behest/insistence of the newly elected council members and the farmer landowners;

I suspect the only way to get off this increased degradation, litigation infested nightmare is to be upfront about defining land use - i.e., restricting property rights. We have the science to know what the most appropriate uses for land are. It comes down to telling agricultural landowners what they can and can't do in respect of farming on their land. We have to get off the effects-based approach that the RMA attempted and just get back to basics with respect to honest, appropriate land use planning - which boils down to land use restrictions.

TOPs idea that over time polluter pays mechanisms will change land use just wastes time and energy; leads to a lot more costs associated with complex formula/calculations, measurement, enforcement and litigation - when all along we know many conversions should never have happened in the first place and the polluters won't pay because they will go broke BEFORE they have to pay.

Unfortunately TOP simply seem unable to get past property rights. Instead they want to create more property rights by way of tradable economic instruments, and over time they seem to think that ag land owners will either adapt or go bust. Point is, when they go bust - the taxpayer still ends up paying for the damage done in the meantime. And they talk about bottom lines but seem to be suggesting that local government needs to set them. Well that's exactly what they have tried to do - unsuccessfully.

TOP wanted to start a conversation that no one else is having but I'm not sure they are actually getting there.

Love this approach. To achieve anything meaningful environmentally you need to put a cost on polluters and give them a financial incentive to do otherwise. Currently there is really no incentive to pollute less than minimum regulations, or to innovate.
Also love the acknowledgement of the link between a low population and low pollution. Letting more and more people immigrate here only puts more strain on our environment. Same also goes for increased tourist numbers.

While I consider this may be an idea worth examining, I do have to ask if, like GST, the allowable "pollution" could be negotiable. If subsequent govts could ratchet up acceptable levels of nitrates up, then the idea is rendered useless.
Low population does not necessarily mean low pollution, it just means your polluting may be being done by someone else, somewhere else in the world, I think we seriously need to start thinking how the cheap stuff we are so addicted to that is polluting elsewhere, is our doing, not just the people in the place where it is being done.

The problem is that there is NO way to measure pollution on a per farm basis . Farm practices are different, Soils are different, environments are different so how do you do this ??? What pollution do you count ?

Yes, two farms whose boundary fence runs down to a waterway or one farm on one side of a river another on the other, will be a challenge all right. Perhaps not thought through all that well

GM has shown he is very good at accumulating wealth (money) but not so hot at spending it wisely.

His policies seem to be the same. Tax, Tax, Tax. Then a big Ummmmmmm.

New Zealand environment has already been seriously damaged by both Maori & Pakeha for 800 years.

* 76% of the entire landmass of New Zealand has been deforested of native forest.

* New Zealand is second only to Hawaii in proportion of native species lost.

* New Zealand has the most endangered & introduced species for any country in the world.

* 50-60% of NZ's total native fauna are extinct.

* 90% of the original wetlands of New Zealand are gone.

* 60% of NZ's total waterways are polluted.

Your point?

Point is; our environment is not "clean and green" and that we (humans) have done immense damage.
Gareth M. is correct and has a strategy to partially address some of the issues, he needs to look at the urban issues as well - plastic waste, raw sewerage and heavily polluted runoff in the sea.
Aucklands Big Brown Backyard gets a big fail, why are we allowing more immigration when the infrastructure is hopelessly inadequate for the current lot. A shameful and disgusting mess for our so called economic (E.Coli) powerhouse.

Yes and considering our economy basically runs on poo, by that i mean cow/ sheep poo and also increasing amounts of tourist poo, its really no wonder our waterways are suffering. I am aware gains have been made and farm practices are improving, its just the amount of it that is the problem, coupled with fertilisers, and we can blame our ancestors for clearing so much land, that there is no real buffer/ filter.
Modern NZ seems hell bent on using as many plastic bags as humanly possible (just go to your local new world). And our waste per head is embarrassing.
The ace in our export or brand pack of cards is this primordial clean green "image". If word gets out that this is just poppycock, our apples and milk powder will be just like any other plebs on high st, no premium, no competitive edge.
INNOVATE, DIVERSIFY, Kiwi's have always been great at innovation, no thousand year old traditions to get tangled up in.
Effective management can only come with effective leadership, politicians are so fickle its all knee jerk reactions and populist tinkering. Cmon this is our country, our slice of paradise, why would we want to shit in our own nest!!!
I Thank Gareth for stepping forward and giving us an alternative to career politicians shuffling around parliament oooing and aaaring across the floor continually on the election cycle.
to quote John key.... "Get some guts!"