The Three Asks of Extinction Rebellion

Like the School Strike, the worldwide movement Extinction Rebellion has received a lot of attention lately. And rightly so. Climate change is probably the greatest threat and opportunity we face as a planet. But are their demands a good idea?

First let me say that activism is absolutely essential. Extinction Rebellion is a welcome voice in the environmental debate. I’m not personally much of a protester, but some of their protest ideas are a great way of sparking a conversation. I think they are excellent at asking the questions – it’s then up to organisations like The Opportunities Party to provide the answers.

So I want to take the position of ‘critical friend’ and examine Extinction Rebellion’s three “asks”:

  1. Tell the Truth: Governments must tell the truth by declaring a climate and ecological emergency and work with other institutions to communicate the urgency for change.
  2. Act Now: Governments must act now to halt biodiversity loss and reduce greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2025.
  3. Beyond Politics: Governments must create a Citizens’ Assembly on climate and ecological justice and be led by its decisions.

Let’s deal with the easy stuff first.

Beyond Politics

I agree with this 100%.

As Chloe Swarbrick says, if you designed an institution to deal with many of our modern challenges, it wouldn’t look like Parliament. As The Opportunities Party says, we need a “democracy reset”. This includes more extensive use of citizens’ assemblies to make decisions.

For that to work, there has to be much greater devolution of power, which both the major political parties oppose (for obvious reasons). And yet this would help honour the Treaty of Waitangi. Devolution is the essence of rangatiratanga, except that everyone can have it – not just Māori.

Some of our local authorities have successfully used citizens’ assemblies to start adapting to sea level rise. This should be happening a lot more.

While some claim that this approach would result in a ‘postcode lottery’ of different approaches in different areas, I personally don’t see that as a downside. I see it as useful experimentation.

Tell The Truth

Yes! And this is central to TOP’s values. But framing also has an important impact on how ‘truth’ is received. There is little doubt that an environmental emergency is impacting the climate, biodiversity, and clean water. Either we try to address these issues as a planet or deal with the consequences. It’s an emergency either way.

But is that an effective way to frame it? I’m no psychologist, but I do know that if you put people into a state of fear they are less open to change. Instead, they hunker down and focus on taking care of themselves and their family. This is not a helpful mindset. We need the sort of wartime mindset where people came together to fight for King and Country and shared what little they had until the enemy was defeated.

In my view, we need to truthfully demonstrate that there is an emergency BUT there is also a way to win this battle and still live in the best little country in the world. We might need to do some things differently, but we can still have great quality of life. That is certainly the objective of The Opportunities Party, which is why we support the use of new technologies like gene editing that could help us make that transition to a low carbon economy. 

Some have criticised the Climate Emergency as being purely symbolic, which it is. However, it has raised the profile of the issue, which leads nicely into the next ask: Act Now. 

Act Now

Definitely! Without taking action a declaration of a Climate Emergency is just window dressing.

But should the goal be net zero carbon by 2025? That’s a big ask. To achieve it, we either need to get out of all our cars, trucks and planes by 2025 or switch them to electric. Sadly, neither scenario is likely.

The other path to net zero carbon is to plant lots of trees. Don’t get me wrong, trees are great, and we have lots of erosion prone land that should certainly be returned to native bush. But we probably won’t get that. We’ll probably get lots more pine instead, and I’m not sure that’s a great thing for our rural communities.

The real challenge with climate change is to remove fossil fuels from our lives as soon as possible. It isn't sexy but one key way to do that is to get a decent price on carbon. We need to crack on with reducing fossil fuels instead of continuing as we are and planting trees to make ourselves feel better. Plus we won’t need to import a whole lot of fossil fuels from dodgy Middle Eastern regimes.

As for agricultural emissions, that’s a lot more complex. Luckily, Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment Simon Upton has suggested a way forward by using trees to offset other agricultural emissions. This is the pathway to net zero on land.

In short, we absolutely need to act now. But the right way forward is a lot more complex than slogans. If we want to set a stretch goal, I’d be talking about phasing out fossil fuel use by 2050, rather than anything to do with net zero carbon.

Why We Have a Policy Committee

The Opportunities Party Policy Committee is what sets us apart from other political parties. It ensures that we produce best practice policy based on what works, free from political influence.

In most political parties, policy is made by the politicians. They work out what is acceptable to the public and which ideas do well in polls or focus groups, and put those forward to the public. The result is an echo chamber: people end up hearing policies that they like the sound of, instead of anything challenging or new. It doesn’t matter what will work to solve the problem identified, or even what the problem is. If the idea is popular, it flies.

In some political parties, members can also put forward ideas. This is a different route, but usually ends up as another version of the same thing: popular ideas get through. It hardly matters what will actually work as long as it sounds good.

This is how we end up with career politicians pushing ideas that simply don’t work. Kiwibuild is a great example. The Labour Party pushed it while in opposition for 3 elections, yet nobody ever bothered to think about how to implement it. Instead it got dumped on the laps of officials who somehow have to make a donkey run like a thoroughbred horse.

No wonder the legacy of career politicians is more tinkering around the edges rather than real change. Their job is to look like they are doing something rather than actually doing anything useful.

How Does TOP Make Policy?

TOP is unique in that we keep policy development separate from politics. Our candidates and spokespeople don’t have direct control over the policies they promote to the public. That’s the role of the Policy Committee.

Of course, candidates, spokespeople, and even members can put forward ideas. They can suggest policies and get involved in the teams that develop them. However, the final say on what makes party policy rests with the Policy Committee.

At present, the only member of the Policy Committee is Party Leader Geoff Simmons, but that will soon change as we are currently recruiting more members.

When fully constituted, the Policy Committee will comprise experts in policy development and a variety of specialist disciplines, including social, environmental, economic and cultural expertise.

The criteria the committee will apply for new policies will be:

  1. The robustness of the evidence base,
  2. Value for money (ideally policies will be revenue neutral, but if not they need to demonstrate strong value for money),
  3. Fit with existing policies, and
  4. Fit with the Party's values (which will unveiled soon). 

For issues where evidence is lacking and considerable value judgements are involved instead, the Policy Committee will seek guidance from the party’s membership base.

The processes for developing policy were trialled for the gene editing policy and will continue to be refined over time by the Policy Committee, the Policy Manager, and the teams involved in developing policy. But we are happy to have the skeleton of a solid process in place, which will serve us well in the future.

That way, The Opportunities Party will continue to produce best-practice policy based on what works, free from political influence.


Image Attribution: Alpha Stock Images -

Wasp Control and Gene Editing

New Zealand has a wasp problem. In the beech forests of the north-west of the South Island, wasps feed on the honeydew exuded by the trees. In some areas, their combined biomass has been estimated at nearly 4 kg/hectare – more than that of the birds and mammals in the same area.

Wasps compete with native birds, such as rifleman, fantail, whitehead, and yellowhead, for food, insects as well as honeydew. Wasps eat 99% of the available honeydew, leaving none for native fungi, microbes, insects, and birds. They even attack hatchlings.

The context for our wasp problem is that our current set of tools to control them is not working. Indeed, most of the tools we use to control invasive pests are becoming less effective – except 1080 poison, used for possums, which is effective but excites a good deal of public anxiety. If we can’t control invasive pests, we will see native bird and other animal species becoming extinct.

The targets the world set for the year 2020 in the 1992 Convention on Biodiversity (not signed by the US) have not been achieved. Globally, species are becoming extinct at an unparalleled rate, due to the impact of humans on fragile ecosystems. What is to be done?

Entomologist Professor Phil Lester, and colleagues from one of the National Science Challenges, NZ’s Biological Heritage, is working on New Zealand’s wasp problem, investigating the potential of a novel control for wasps based on gene editing. One of the Science Challenge’s goals is to develop new pest controls that can be used at landscape scale. Of these, gene drives to control wasps are looking promising.

Sadly, current regulations prevent turning this idea into a reality. However The Opportunities Party is proposing to change that, allowing gene editing where no new genetic material is added to an organism. The outcome is just like selective breeding, only faster. This would allow us to tackle some of our trickiest environmental challenges; including wasps. 

A gene drive is a genetic modification to a target genome, such as the wasp genome, that consists of three parts: an enzyme to cut the DNA (known as CRISPR-Cas 9), a short strand of guide RNA, and a target gene. The team’s target genes for wasps are those used in spermatogenesis. Once the target gene has been altered, rendering the male wasp infertile, the modification will surge through the population, with nearly 100% penetration.

There are lots of opinions about gene drives. Some people think they have no place in conservation. Others, like Professor Lester, think the benefits could be huge (potentially the eradication of wasps in New Zealand within a few years), but we still need more research before any conclusion about their potential or effects can be made. For instance, it’s possible that in some species wild populations will develop some resistance making gene drives ineffective. In that case the gene drive wouldn’t work. Unfortunately, there’s not enough evidence yet to support either case.

Phil Lester and his team have worked on the genomes of three wasp species in New Zealand (common wasp, German wasp, and Western yellowjacket) to identify the genes responsible for spermatogenesis, and understand the range of variation in specific genes.

Highly variable genes would enable us to develop gene drives that target a specific genotype. Targeting a highly conserved gene (with little variation), on the other hand, would be more effective in eradicating an entire population.

The next step was to design guide RNA for a CRISPR-Cas 9 transformation, and test it in vitro. Once tested, the team designed a precision drive targeting some New Zealand gene variants that are not found in the European wasp. They also looked at the potential for off-target effects. In the case of their target wasp spermatogenesis gene, they are very different to those in other species, such as the honey bee. There is no possibility that the modified gene could jump from the wasp into bee species.

The next stage was to do some modelling to understand the effect once deployed in a landscape. The findings were surprising. Complete gene sterility doesn’t work (because it is too devastating for reproduction in the wasps), but partial drone sterility would substantially lower populations. Eradication might be possible when gene drives are combined with pesticide. Although pesticides are not very effective on their own, the modelling shows that, if used in conjunction with a gene drive, they could knock out a wasp population in 20 years.

Are there risks? Phil Lester says that there is a risk that the gene drive might fail and disappear. But as far as our native forests are concerned, there is a greater risk – that of doing nothing. More work investigating the potential of gene drives is needed. This technology is definitely a tool worth investigating.


Budget 2019: Tinkering or Transformation?

The Wellbeing Budget has finally arrived. But has it lived up to the hype? 

The short answer is no. The Budget has delivered a lot, probably more than many expected. However, from the outset the Government has restricted itself to tinkering at the edges of its existing spending programme. Real change is unlikely without making some big calls to redirect money where it is most needed. 

Some positive signs for Mental Health and Child Wellbeing

Mental Health and Child Wellbeing have both received big injections in this Budget. Mental health has received an extra $1.4b and Child Wellbeing $3.5b over the next four years. The new frontline mental health service and cuts to school fees in poorer communities will both be welcomed. 

However, time will tell whether this new money ends up in the hands of the people that need it most. Two key examples are welfare reform and addiction services. Benefit changes will have fallen well short of what child poverty advocates have called for, with most of the money in the Child Wellbeing package going into the Education system and Oranga Tamariki, rather than into the hands of the poorest in our society. It looks a little bit like this Government doesn't trust poor people to make good decisions with their money. And we also know that around $150m per year additional funding is needed for addiction services, but only about 10% of that has been allocated under the Mental Health package. 

It looks like there will be more to do if we really want to prevent our social problems rather than just put the ambulance at the bottom of the cliff. 

Other than that... 

Other than those it is lean pickings. The Budget contains a lot of tiny initiatives, many of which are business as usual but have been shoehorned to fit into one of the Government's "priority areas". Some of the links are pretty dubious:

  • pretty much anything to do with education has been put into the Child Wellbeing category (which has been branded as a child poverty package but ain't);
  • funding for the Royal Commission on abuse in state care appears in the mental health package; 
  • subsidies to film companies apparently "support innovation";
  • eradicating Mycoplasma Bovis and improving biosecurity will apparently "transform the economy"; and 
  • Kiwirail has received a much needed $1b injection of capital but this is dwarfed by $1.7b on aircraft. 

You get the picture. The fact is that the business of Government trundles on, no matter how each government chooses to dress it up. Unless an administration is prepared to really question business as usual, a government has to fund new priorities out of the leftovers and scraps. This means that transformational change will take years, which isn't really the point of transformational change. 

Transformational Change Means Questioning Business as Usual

What this Budget tells us is unless this Government is prepared to be bold and question business as usual, they won't deliver truly transformational change. The fact is that spending pressures just chew up too much of the pie, so there isn't anything left over to make much of a difference. Here are a few examples of the sort of bold changes that would really make up a transformative Wellbeing Budget:

  1. New spending for NZ Superannuation in this budget alone was about $900m. Over four years that is equivalent to the entire Child Wellbeing package. Funding NZ Super isn't that difficult in the good years (like this one) but come the bad years younger generations might start questioning whether that is really adding to the country's "Wellbeing". The Opportunities Party have suggested means testing NZ Super and using the money to really help families with little kids thrive. This would not only make make NZ Super sustainable and be a fantastic investment in our country long term. 
  2. New spending for our Health system in this budget is about $1b. This dwarfs anything else in the budget, and with the exception of the improvements to mental health services, we will see very little new services as a result. This is just the cost of keeping an unsustainable system going. The health sector will require reform, it is just a question of when, not if. 
  3. Given we face these costs rising into the future we either need to make changes or find new forms of taxation to cover them. Lifting income taxes would just make younger generations pay for the profligacy of older generations. We need to find a way to tax wealth, particularly the equity tied up in our overinflated housing market.  

Photo credit: Lenore Edman

Who is Better at Balancing the Books?

Opening the Government’s books to the public was supposed to take the politics out of Budget time. That goal has clearly failed. It seems like every budget descends into bickering between the Right and Left, leaving any member of the public who isn’t part of either tribe confused. With the furore over the Treasury “leak” this year has probably been worse than any.

This bickering is all heat and no light. The fact is that both Labour and National have shown themselves fully capable of balancing the books in the short term, and both are completely useless in the long term.

Who is better at managing the books?

Since the Fiscal Responsibility Act was passed in 1994, both National and Labour have proven completely capable of managing the books… at least in the short term.

Sure, there have been bumps along the way, including most recently the Global Financial Crisis. But over time, surpluses have prevailed and debt has been reduced. And now debt is so low that the debt target has rightly come under scrutiny, as it is preventing us making long-term investments that would benefit the country.

The relaxed debt target and the fiscal black hole

Given our creaking infrastructure, booming population, and low debt (by international standards), relaxing the debt target was a pragmatic move by the Government. The net debt target of 20% of GDP was completely arbitrary and made no difference to our international credit rating.

What about National’s claim that it vindicates their claim of a “fiscal black hole”? The crucial point here is how the extra money the Government borrows gets spent.

The risk that National is pointing to is that Labour might spend the extra cash they borrow on operational spending pressures, such as teacher salaries. Generally speaking, running deficits and pushing up debt for operational spending is not a great idea outside of a recession. If Labour did that it could vindicate National’s claims of a fiscal black hole. However, given Labour’s past record it is unlikely they would do that.

On the other hand the Government should be investing more in things that will make our country run better in the future. Our infrastructure is groaning loudly and needs urgent attention. Running up debt in order to invest in infrastructure is an obvious thing to do, especially when interest rates are so low. That is basic business sense that National should understand. 

The key thing with infrastructure spending is that we must avoid falling into the trap of allowing politicians to fund their pet projects. Instead the Government should create a transparent list of the country’s infrastructure priorities so we know the money is being well spent.

Neither Labour nor National is Facing the Long Term Issues

However, this short term success of both parties masks a glaring omission. The Crown Accounts have never included our biggest liability by far: New Zealand Superannuation. If they did, it would show that the country is actually bankrupt, and neither Labour or National have done anything about it.

Treasury doesn’t include this liability in the books because it argues we can reform NZ Super to make it affordable. In reality, we haven’t managed to do this in decades, despite full knowledge of the long shadow it casts over the Government’s books.

NZ Super currently takes up 16% of government revenue, and climbing. This year the bill increased by $1b. By 2030, it will tick over 20% and by 2060, it will swallow one quarter of every tax dollar. We can’t grow our way out of this – despite what the NZ First leader claims – because NZ Super is tied to wages.

With more and more baby boomers retiring, the costs of NZ Super will continue to rise, as they have done since 2008. So far, we have absorbed that cost by cutting every other aspect of public spending. That will eventually become too difficult and we will have to dip into the Cullen Fund. And when that runs out? We can’t borrow money to pay this ever-rising bill. We must either raise taxes or reform NZ Super.  

The picture gets worse when you add in our growing Health bill. Again this year the country's Health bill jumped by $900m, and apart from the mental health changes there won't be new services to show for that. On current estimates by 2045 Health and Super will make up half of Government spending. Both need urgent reform, but neither National nor Labour have the guts to do what is needed.  

Pre-funding NZ Super is bailing the Titanic out with a spoon

Instead of facing the unaffordability of NZ Super and reforming it, we are pre-funding it with the Cullen Fund. The purpose of the fund is to convince us that NZ Super is affordable, when it is clearly not. The Coalition Government has restarted payments to the Cullen Fund, instead of paying down debt or investing in sorely needed infrastructure.

It gets even nuttier. The Government is also talking to the NZ Super Fund about setting up an incredibly complex contract for the Fund to invest in infrastructure through a public-private (but actually 100% public) partnership. The Government will end up paying the NZ Super Fund a higher return than if it had simply borrowed the money itself.

This magical merry-go-round of money is designed to fool voters that the Government’s books are solid, NZ Super is affordable, and we can still get the infrastructure we need.

It is all a sham.

Better to end the whole sham now. We should reform NZ Super (and our health system) to make it affordable, and start taxing equity (wealth) instead of incomes. This would put the government books on a truly solid footing long term, and we could start investing in the infrastructure programmes our country sorely needs.

My TOP Budget Priority for Water Quality

The TOP priority for water quality in the Budget 2019 has to be a serious boost to the Overseer tool, which many regional councils use to regulate farmers to maintain or improve water quality in their area.

In simple terms, farmers are asked a few questions about their farm and then Overseer estimates how much nitrogen (mostly from cow pee) is leaching from their soil into our rivers and lakes. The regional council then sets limits for individual farms and holds the farmer to account for any reductions needed.

It’s a big deal because the results it generates could alter land values by billions of dollars.

What’s the problem?

Overseer has had problems with reliability and accuracy for years, and it produces wildly different estimates whenever it is updated. Farmers have been well aware of this but the problem came to national prominence when it caught the attention of Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment Simon Upton. And since then, Eloise Gibson at Newsroom has covered the issues in depth.

Currently, Overseer is jointly owned by the Government, a Crown Research Institute, and several fertiliser companies. Since the private sector is involved, both the tool and the data it uses are jealously guarded. This has led to concerns over the data and the transparency of the tool itself.

Firstly, some fear that the data are not suitable to apply to all of New Zealand. Weather and soil types vary hugely across the country, and there are concerns that the data do not reflect these complexities. In Budget 2018, the Government allocated $5m to address this issue, but there has been no public review of any improvements achieved.

Secondly, the tool itself is a black box and isn’t open to critique. Since it is increasingly used as a regulatory mechanism with massive financial implications for farmers, there needs to be confidence in its robustness. At the very least it needs an independent review and, as Eloise Gibson points out, some are calling for the Government to take over the tool entirely. This would at minimum require buying out the fertiliser companies.

Why is Overseer so important?

Why do we need a water quality tool at all? The only alternative we have seen overseas is to establish input controls, i.e. telling farmers how to farm. For example: “On this type of soil, you can only put this many cows, unless you build a barn or plant trees beside your river…” Etcetera. For many decades, our farmers have rejected input controls, preferring to work out the best way to farm themselves. This freedom has led them to be among the most productive in the world. But it has also contributed to the parlous state of our rivers.

If we want to improve water quality and still allow farmers to find the best way to farm, then we need to regulate them on outcomes, not inputs. And this would be impossible to do without a tool like Overseer. It would simply be too expensive to set up water quality monitors under the soil or next to rivers and streams on every farm to figure out who is doing the leaching.

An improved Overseer is better than no Overseer

Farmers have been the first to write off Overseer when it performs poorly or inconsistently. Many think it should be scrapped entirely. Without action, Overseer faces a crisis of confidence.

However, farmers should realise that without a functioning tool like Overseer, we are headed down the path of European-style input controls. Most farmers would dislike that even more. Farmers should be the first people calling for Overseer to be improved, not thrown out.

Give Pharmac a Break

It seems to happen every few years... the heat comes on Pharmac to provide a particular drug. In the last month alone, there have been outcries about medication for epilepsy, lung cancer, and epipens. And we are always told: “Such and such other country funds it!”

But every funding decision Pharmac makes involves a web of detail and some tough, heart-breaking calls. Maybe sometimes it gets the balance right, maybe sometimes it gets it wrong. But in general, this is an incredibly robust model that has served us well for the past 26 years. The problem is really that it has been too successful. Let’s briefly review why we have Pharmac in the first place.

Why Pharmac?

Just about every country in the world has trouble with health spending rising faster than incomes, and New Zealand is no exception. This has been the case since World War Two and is predicted to continue well into the future. By 2040, health and NZ Super are predicted to make up half of all Government spending.

Pharmac was set up in 1993 as a way of curbing those escalating costs. It has proved to be the most durable and successful reform of its era. The idea is that Pharmac has a fixed budget to spend in the most cost-effective way possible. It bargains with drug companies to keep the prices down. It also weighs up how effective different drugs are across different medical conditions. In simple terms, Pharmac uses its budget to buy as many healthy years of life as possible. It is a pretty thankless task because every decision means someone, somewhere misses out.

Is Pharmac Too Successful?

The problem might be that Pharmac has been too successful. For almost 30 years, it has curbed the growth of the drug budget – in fact, drug spending has fallen – while the rest of health spending has continued to balloon. Not many other countries employ the Pharmac model. Many want to implement something similar, but it is too hard to fight the drug companies’ PR machines. No wonder then that most of those countries provide the latest expensive drug – they spend way more than we do on drugs! Also, those countries are mostly richer than us, so no wonder they can afford to spend more. 

Today, the pressure is on once again for Pharmac to fund certain drugs. Is it me or is it a coincidence that these stories always seem to crop up around election or budget time? I may be cynical, but these stories appear too well timed to not have some drug company PR operating in the background.

Don’t Throw the Baby Out With the Bathwater

The crucial thing, as always, is to keep politicians out of drug-spending decisions. If they get their mitts on them, we will be prey to the PR campaigns of drug companies wanting to flog their latest drug.

The way to deal with this problem (if we decide it is a problem) is to simply allocate Pharmac more money and let it decide how to spend it using the existing processes. Let’s leave things that are working well alone.

The only tweak to Pharmac’s processes that might be needed is to make greater use of citizen’s juries to help Pharmac make some of the tricky values-based decisions it faces.

The place where real reform is needed is not within Pharmac at all, but across the wider health system. We need to apply the same degree of rigour as Pharmac does to all our health spending. We currently spend a lot of money on operations and some of them add very little to our healthy life span. If we scrutinised this area much more closely, it might indicate whether to allocate a greater proportion of money from the standard health budget towards funding more drugs. Given how good Pharmac has been at controlling costs compared to the rest of the health system, that seems likely.

Three Ways to Raise the Carbon Price and Reduce Emissions Today

Congratulations to the Government on introducing the Zero Carbon Bill into Parliament. Despite criticisms it is still a long overdue step to facing up to the massive challenge of reducing our emissions.

Nonetheless, it is important to remember this legislation by itself won't get emissions down. It sets out targets and will eventually map out a pathway for reducing emissions, but it will remain up to politicians to take those steps. 

Despite acknowledging the massive challenge that faces us, this coalition Government hasn't actually done anything to reduce emissions. The offshore oil and gas exploration ban will stop companies prospecting for fossil fuels, but unless we do something to stop people using fossil fuels (either for electricity, industry or transport) then we will simply import more from overseas. 

The most powerful tool the Government has for achieving this is increasing the carbon price. The carbon price needs to start rising NOW. Here's three ways to do it:

1. Get rid of the price cap

Duh. The price can't rise if you cap it, team. At least, if you are going to cap it, raise the cap and show that it will keep rising every year into the future. At the moment our carbon price is $25 per tonne, while in Europe it is 25 Euros ($43). Our carbon price should at least be at the European level. 

The Government has agreed to remove the price cap, but it might not happen for another three and a half years. After this the Government has promised to create something called a "cost containment" regime. What a crock. This just clouds the whole issue in politics and confusion. It could only be created by a Coalition that can't agree on anything and reserves the right to fiddle with the market at a moment's notice. 

Businesses need some certainty over the carbon price to invest. This isn't helping. 

2. Phase out the freebies

Currently we give away so many free credits to large exporting emitters (and agriculture) that by 2030 all our emissions allocation will be taken up by these companies. That will leave nothing for the rest of us. We need to start phasing these out, ASAP so our large energy intensive emitters have an incentive to reduce their emissions also.

As for agriculture, given that we have acknowledged methane is different from other greenhouse gases by giving it a different target, it is also time to start renegotiating our international targets accordingly.

3. Get Trees out of the Emissions Trading Scheme  

Trees are fantastic, and we should definitely have more of them in Aotearoa. We particularly need more natives on riverbanks and erosion prone land; I plant a few myself in my spare time. Plantation forestry is also a great option in sensitive catchments where too many nutrients are entering the waterways.

However at the moment New Zealand has so much marginal land that our companies have no need to reduce emissions for the next couple of decades. Instead they will keep on emitting and simply buy up land to plant trees on. There is a risk that we get to 2050 and are still burning a whole lot of fossil fuels. 

We are the only country in the world that allows unlimited use of forestry offsets instead of making emitters actually reduce emissions. As the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment has pointed out we need to rethink the way that we encourage appropriate land use. Such an approach needs to take greenhouse gas emissions into account but also water quality and biodiversity. At the very least we need to limit the use of forestry offsets to push the carbon price up and force people to actually reduce emissions. 

Applications for Board, Policy Committee, Spokespeople and Candidates

Selection Process for New Board Members

We are looking to expand the Board to at least six members.

The Board needs people that have:

  1. A depth of experience and expertise in an area that is relevant to Board work including:
    • Political or media strategy
    • Strategic leadership
    • Business management
    • Financial management
    • Constitutional Law
    • Communication & marketing
    • Cultural change and creating high performing teams
  2. A real drive to see The Opportunities Party succeed
  3. A clear understanding that success means seeing The Opportunities Party policies implemented, through winning Parliamentary seats, through winning votes in any election in which The Opportunities Party stands.
  4. The ability to communicate clearly in writing and in person - to articulate complex ideas in a way that allows them to be understood
  5. A high level of emotional intelligence - including the ability to empathise and to reflect and change/grow.
  6. A steady temperament and the ability to work under pressure.
  7. Time available to do the work required (around 5 hours per week).
  8. A demonstrated commitment to the Party’s values, including evidence based policy.
  9. A declaration of any conflicts of interest or past issues that may compromise the Party.

Of course fit with the existing team is important as well. In that context the particular skills we are looking for in this intake are:

  • Financial management
  • Political or media strategy
  • Fundraising and networks of donors
  • Law
  • Communication and marketing

If there are more people available with these skills than the slots available, the preference will be given on the basis of promoting diversity. The Board will also promote diversity in the future by ensuring promising younger party members have access to opportunities to build their experience so that they can be on the Board.

Applicants should submit a CV and cover letter to for consideration by the end of May (5pm 31st May 2019). All applicants must agree to provide a Criminal Records check when asked and The Opportunities Party will reserve the right to revoke membership to the Board on the outcome of this report.

The Process is as follows:

  • The Board is currently forming a selection panel comprising at least two Board members and one other party member
  • Applications close 5pm 31st May 2019
  • Sub committee need to agree and submit a short list for Board approval
  • Issue voting papers and notification of AGM (aiming for 22 June)
  • New Board members will be announced at the AGM (aiming for 20 July)

Policy Committee

The plan is to broaden the Policy Committee to up to 6 members. 

We are looking for members with experience in the following:

  • Good policy making process, ideally including deliberative democracy methods
  • Expertise in environmental issues, particularly climate and fresh water.
  • Expertise in economic issues, particularly tax and disruptive innovation.
  • Expertise in social issues, particularly child poverty.
  • Expertise in cultural and constitutional issues, particularly the Treaty of Waitangi.

Applicants should submit a CV and cover letter to for consideration by the end of May (5pm 31st May 2019). All applicants must agree to provide a Criminal Records check when asked and The Opportunities Party will reserve the right to revoke membership to the Board on the outcome of this report.

The Process:

  • A selection panel is being established
  • Applications close 5pm 31st May 2019
  • Selection panel decides short list (June)
  • Short List have interviews (early July)
  • New Policy Committee members will be announced at the AGM (aiming for 20 July)

Spokespeople/ Candidate Selection

The Opportunities Party will be announcing some Spokespeople at the Annual General Meeting and will make further candidate announcements in early 2020.

Spokespeople need to be able to communicate particular policy priorities in some detail across a variety of media. Candidates will need a more general understanding of our policy and the ability to present in front of a crowd. The ability to fund-raise is also important for both roles.

If you think you’ve got what it takes to represent TOP, let your Regional Coordinator know or get in touch at

In the meantime the best way to showcase your skills is by setting up your own candidate Facebook page and communicating our policy on that. Use your creative communication flair to make posts, videos, write blogs... whatever gets our policies across, showcases your talents and engages people.

The only rule is don't make new policy - just stick to what is already there. Make sure you let us know about your page so we can follow what you are up to! Exceptional content may get shared on The Opportunities Party Facebook page. To make sure everyone has the same opportunity we will use the content posted during June to evaluate candidates.

Mission and Values

To help guide any application, The Opportunities Party core team has been working on a Mission Statement and set of Values to guide our work. 

Our Mission is to engage and equip courageous Kiwis as we build a home where everyone has the opportunity to thrive


1. Courageous, cheeky communication

This means that TOP communication calls it how we see it – the unvarnished truth.

More cheek, less arse.

We tell the truth but it is about the policy not the person.

2. Collaborative Community - Manaakitanga & Whanaungatanga

We are creating a genuinely connected community for changemakers.

We collaborate but don’t compromise where it counts.

3. We take a long term view - Kaitiakitanga

Our children and future generations are at the centre of everything we do.

TOP community is united by purpose of promoting the Children’s Fire or the Harakeke image (where the next generation harakeke - the pepi - are in the middle of the older years’ growth and one must prune the outer leaves with care and precision, to keep the pepi healthy and free to grow)

4. We are Curious about What Works

We will do what is required to achieve our goals.

Our policy is informed by the evidence of what works in the long term.

We welcome debate, and change our mind when the evidence changes.

We aren’t afraid to implement difficult changes in order to ensure the future of our Home.

Our focus is on improving the efficiency of public spending, not tax & spend.

5. Disrupting politics as usual

We aren’t left or right.

We do things differently, inspiring ourselves and others.


We Wouldn’t Treat Animals Like This

My Poppa (my grandfather) was raised in the harsh reality of farming in Depression-era New Zealand. His father (my great grandfather) was thrown into debt at the start of the Depression. He had shipped his butter to England, but the butter was now worthless and the shipping company still wanted payment for transporting it.

In those days, vets were a luxury so sick or maimed animals were quickly “put out of their misery”. As a boy, my Poppa quickly learned that this was the humane option, even though his family often couldn’t even afford bullets to do the deed.

I’ve previously talked about my grandmother’s death in the context of end-of-life care and the tendency of our health system to over treat and under care. However, in the context of The End of Life Choice Bill, I would like to talk about Poppa’s experience.

My Poppa was strong: a Te Kuiti dairy and sheep farmer, who trained dogs and horses. One day, aged 67, he took me (then a 1st XV rugby player at Avondale College) out to round up sheep. He wanted to wrangle a couple of specific ones into a pen for some treatment. The sheep in question bounced me off countless times, while he leaned over the fence and chuckled. When he finally got bored, he strode into the pen and picked up a sheep with one hand.

Twenty years later, Poppa finally met his match: brain cancer. He fought it for a while. Though the doctors said it was inoperable, he took the medication that made him twitch and spasm to buy more time. But soon he grew tired of the side effects and came off it.

This is a fairly typical story for end-of-life treatment, which is part of a much larger conversation around end-of-life treatment and care. David Seymour’s End of Life Bill is just a tiny part of a much greater issue.

In short, our elderly are often offered only one option: treatment. Sometimes they aren’t told about the downsides, and rarely are they offered other options that might be better for all concerned, like spending some money on simply caring for them. Overseas studies suggest that when patients are informed of the downsides of treatment and options such as enhanced care are available, around a third will choose the latter. Given that all medical treatment has a 100% failure rate eventually, this approach seems to make sense.

My Poppa eventually accepted his fate and, as he deteriorated, he was moved to the Te Kuiti hospice. One night, I came up from Wellington to visit and held his hand as the ward grew dark and silent around us. He couldn’t remember anything recent, so I asked him to tell me stories of his youth instead.

During this time, the importance of family really hit home for me. Poppa had six children, most of whom had two or three kids, so he had no lack of support and was surrounded by friends and family in his final weeks. Not everyone is so lucky.

In the end, Poppa couldn’t tolerate the pain any longer and refused any further assistance. He died the next day. He ultimately won the fight against cancer by denying himself food or water.

Would Poppa have taken the option of assisted dying? I’ve talked to my family about this and we don’t know if it is what he would have chosen. All we know is that he wanted to die at his home on the farm. But it bugs us that he didn’t even have the choice.

The fact is that Poppa was lucky. At present, if someone wants to go, all they can do is nil by mouth, or attempt to overdose on painkillers (or a mix of the two). Nil by mouth can be a prolonged and painful death and drag on for up to two weeks. As my Poppa would have said, we wouldn’t treat animals like this.

Allowing assisted dying requires careful safeguards and processes to be in place. It is right to debate this issue and make sure we get it right - I will talk more about the specifics of The End of Life Choice Bill next week. But fundamentally, like most things in our society once the right safeguards and regulations are in place, shouldn’t it be the individual’s choice? My starting point for this sort of debate is that there has to be a pretty good reason to take individual choice off someone. Imposing other people’s religious beliefs doesn’t make that grade.