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 are 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.