David Cunliffe offers personal observations from the Greens’ economic conference, on how to do good — “to do good, first we must win” — and possibly, also on how to win

The convenor fires off two cheap shots, one not quite appreciated by his audience (a snipe about burning coal at Huntly, to air-condition the chilly late-afternoon room) and the other hugely enjoyed, including by butt of the joke Nick Smith. “I’m probably the least green person in the room,” he says, “or maybe,” (glancing at Dr Smith sitting beside him) “the second least green person …”.

He starts as he means to go on, in other words: detached, and even-handed about the politics of sustainability.

Nick Smith’s speech is here. A good and faithful steward of government policy, he alludes to the tendency to talk a lot about 'sustainability' without quite pinning down what it means. “It is not going to cut the mustard to just go on producing copious volumes of soft and mushy words on sustainability,” he says, ostensibly referring to the Ministry for the Environment.

Also, “some in this green growth space naively want New Zealand to shy away from the opportunities for us to grow our primary industries because these rely on use of our natural resources” (referring in particular to farming, but also natural resource industries more generally, as our first best opportunity).

“Nor should those favouring green growth strategies dismiss opportunities for mineral development in New Zealand … There is nothing environmentally sound about rebuffing New Zealand’s own minerals industry while we meet our needs from offshore mines out of sight and out of mind.”

He rehearses his ‘bluegreen’ list of achievements (ie, some blue achievements and some Green ones): pricing carbon emissions by way of the ETS; more renewable electricity generation “after a decade of going backwards” and less deforestation; the waste minimisation levy and recycling; the Warm-Up New Zealand Heat Smart insulation programme; freeing electric cars from road user charges; the biofuels subsidy; water metering for water management. “There will always be calls to do more, but each of these need to be robustly tested.”

“New Zealand is making real progress in this bluegreen space,” he concludes, neatly side-stepping the issue today, of what a truly sustainable economy might mean: is it, in fact, just dressing up the old economic model in some new green clothes, or is the model completely broken.

Later, I watch Dr Smith watching David Cunliffe speak. He looks tired, fiddles with his wedding ring, and I wonder what he’s thinking, behind that small polite tired smile. “I was a lion in opposition, too.” “What a lot of boring nonsense David talks.” “Yeah, right.” Or just whatever Ministerial problems lay on his desk that day — the real business of running the country — while the rest of us waffle idealistically about how to, you know, save the world, or keep busy rearranging its chairs.

Meanwhile, Cunliffe was happily telling how, in his first term, he introduced a member’s Bill for ‘triple bottom line’ reporting for the state sector. His anecdote is a mea culpa — ‘triple bottom line’ reporting has been dismissed in the morning by keynote speaker David Suzuki as “the dumbest idea I ever heard” — but it tells us he means well, always has. He enthuses about his new reading list, and his continuing education into things like keeping bees, and growing veg, and composting.

He says these are his “personal observations made in relation to material at this conference. I will refer to Labour’s proud record in the environmental area, and the way our new policy is developing. But I will also share some personal reflections on the nature of the challenges we collectively face”.

For Labour, “this is the crucial time when we do the strategic thinking that will allow us to lead this country well in government”. The challenge for Labour now is to write a plan that is “environmentally sustainable, economically feasible, and politically winnable,” because above all, “To do good, first we must win”.

He reminds us of Labour’s pedigree: Manapouri, protesting French nuclear testing at Mururoa, establishing the Department of Conservation … and so on, to sundry battered but much-loved 1999-2008 policy trophies. And I think, listening to him: every government does some good things. Hell, Nick Smith is doing some good things. It’s frustrating, this persistent failure by Labour to recognise — or is it just a temporary refusal to acknowledge? — the gulf between sustainability rhetoric and reality that the Clark government in fact delivered.

The other elephant shivering in the corner of the room today is whether growth can, in fact, continue — and on the matter of the role and importance of growth to our economy, some of Clark’s statements in 2002 and 2005 are all but indistinguishable from Key’s in 2008 and 2010. “My government sees its most important task as building the conditions for increasing New Zealand’s long term sustainable rate of economic growth …” she said in 2002.

Looking forward, though, Cunliffe says, blandly, that “Labour is keen to achieve sustainability by exploring solutions that are clean, green and clever. We want to find the win-wins …” and “we are convinced of the need to move to a low carbon clean tech economy,” the challenge being how to get there with minimum disruption.

But, he also says that “The Labour Party now recognises that the neo-liberal economic model cannot provide the basis for navigating the economic, environmental and social challenges of our times.”

And, “We must live within the capacity of the Earth to support us. ... The Earth is not just there for human utility.”

And, “If the situation is as serious as we think, we must do the hard yards to back out of this corner … We have to ask the hard questions; ask what policies are available to get us from a collision course with nature to a future that is both more just and more sustainable.”

Those ideas, if fleshed out and taken up by the party, would be a fundamental change.

He says that for Labour, the environment is not an extra cost but an integral part of thinking about the economy. It cannot be other than an implicit dig at the current government’s persistent “balancing economic opportunities with environmental responsibilities”.

And he reminds us of Phil Goff’s remarks to Forest & Bird earlier in the year: “Labour is committed to being a careful custodian of our environment, because it is embedded in our view of the world that we have a responsibility to care for more than just our own self-interest …”. Again, he’s poking at a blind spot in the present government’s conservation policy, but also, that interest beyond self-interest — or in other words, intrinsic value? — is part of ecological economics.

The Green party will, shortly, decide their policy on governing arrangements going into the next election. The drift of Cunliffe’s remarks, beside Smith’s, may be of interest to them.

Of wider interest, and much happiness, the potential was there on Friday — even if tentatively, with much left unsaid between the lines — for the question of what being true green means these days (as opposed to ‘bluegreen’, in inverted commas) to become an election issue.

Of very much longer-term interest, if the Greens’ truths were accepted in the end and their ideas fully realised, I wonder how the new dawn of politics would look.

Because all parties would have to be Green parties, putting the carrying capacity of the planet first, perhaps dickering about other philosophies beneath that green umbrella. And I wonder if the true test in the end, of the size of Greens’ love for the planet, is whether they would sacrifice themselves politically, to save it.

Comments (28)

by Raymond A Francis on November 17, 2010
Raymond A Francis

"Of very much longer-term interest, if the Greens’ truths were accepted in the end and their ideas fully realised, I wonder how the new dawn of politics would look."

That would mean everybody would have to be a believer

Only "believers" need apply and the results would be like any other country run by fanatics, disaster, only in this case a green one

Love to hear what that would mean for ordinary people

All of us living on a 1/4 acre section, growing our own food and walking everywhere with enough rules to choke a (vegetarian) hog

 

 

by Petone on November 17, 2010
Petone

Are you saying that Gerry was there, huddled into his jacket?  Must have been a cold room.

I went to the government official's replies for the NPS Renewable Electricity hearing last year.  It was one of those (rare) stunning Wellington days.  The sun streamed in the double-stud windows at the town hall, and bounced off the back of the drawn curtains to leave us marooned in the tepid beams of 30 ceiling down-lights.  I remarked on the dichotomy to one of the EECA guys, but he didn't seem to appreciate the irony.

 

by Claire Browning on November 17, 2010
Claire Browning

Are you saying that Gerry was there, huddled into his jacket?  Must have been a cold room.

Well interesting you should ask, actually. I assume you're referring, most unkindly, to the chilly elephant -- but it did occur to me that Nick Smith was sounding awfully like somebody's glove puppet, and my heart went out to him, it really did.

by Petone on November 17, 2010
Petone

Sorry, thought it was a post about cheap-shots!

by Claire Browning on November 17, 2010
Claire Browning

So did Raymond, apparently.

by The Falcon on November 17, 2010
The Falcon

I feel kinda bad about commenting negatively so often, but... the Greens are nuts. Plain and simple. They aren't just eccentric, they are batshit insane.

So yes, the ideal situation is: NZ's political parties adopt some of the less crazy policies (e.g. invest $X into cleaning up parts of the environment), and the Green Party dies along with its nutty policies (e.g. a separate Maori State).

So many Green voters are uninformed about the 5 crazy Green policies for each 1 sensible policy, and if voters were aware of the nutty underbelly I doubt the Greens would pass the 5% threshold.

by Judy Martin on November 17, 2010
Judy Martin

So why was triple-bottom line accounting the dumbest idea Suzuki had ever heard of?

by Andin on November 17, 2010
Andin

"All of us living on a 1/4 acre section, growing our own food and walking everywhere with enough rules to choke a (vegetarian) hog"

You gave yourself a real fright then didnt you!

the Greens are nuts."

And your not a confused individual at all are you? Mr Falcon with a picture of a bald eagle and a US flag. And it does, it says, "god bless america". Please notice I didnt use caps. You annoyed?

Hey you want nuts.. here's one.

God will save us from climate change: U.S. Representative - thestar.com

by stuart munro on November 18, 2010
stuart munro

the Greens are nuts."

And many of them are cereal killers... some may even be secretly plotting to render Gerry Brownlee down for biodiesel...

by Claire Browning on November 18, 2010
Claire Browning

Judy, I myself thought he was a bit rough, perhaps because I have, myself, committed the same solecism!

Also I would have thought ‘triple bottom line’ reporting better than no environmental and social reporting at all, thus not the dumbest idea in the world (GDP, as a measure of progress, is dumber); and also, it was only a passing remark.

But if I understood him right, he was saying it was flawed because it treats the three legs of the stool, if you like, as equal, and has a built-in assumption that you can keep independently growing them all -- which sounds fine, when a stool is the analogy -- whereas he was saying biosphere first, and that sets the constraints for the other two. It’s weak vs. strong sustainability. The pictures here might help.

by Claire Browning on November 18, 2010
Claire Browning

Falcon.

I’ve spent a bit of time this year with and around what Colin James calls in the ODT “Greens and friends” (which is a nice way of putting it), looking at their policies, dealing with them, for Pundit post-writing purposes, keeping an eye on them, and thinking about their stuff. I spent a weekend at their Raglan policy conference last summer -- invited myself -- to see who they all are, and how it goes behind the scenes.

Your observations are offensive and ignorant. Here are some of mine:

  1. Green party members are people first -- all kinds of people, from all walks of life (including business, economics, agriculture, science), any number of whom are sophisticated and smart.
  2. My impression would be that the overwhelming majority are sophisticated and smart, to which you can add thoughtful, courteous, caring … however, haven’t met them all, so couldn’t say for sure. Have you?
  3. As in any political party, or anywhere in life, you’ll find some eccentrics and some fanatics. Haven’t seen anyone so far who is “batshit insane”, as you so eloquently put it.
  4. The Green party in Parliament is a political party, like any other political party. They have angles and spin some stuff; being human, they have blind spots and make mistakes; they have some good policies and some that are less good. They like to think they're a bit different. They are more civilised in the House, but in the end, politics is politics.
  5. The Green party in Parliament is only the public face of a much wider movement. They do a pretty good job of being the front person and the spokesperson. With all due respect to them, they‘re not the brains of the enterprise. They self-evidently have lots of brains, so better explain what I mean by that: I mean, there’s a whole lot else goes on behind the scenes (ie, out of Parliament) that makes it work.
  6. Their policies stand up pretty well to scrutiny, on the whole -- internally coherent, most of them, an impressive record of implementation, and an equally impressive record of the science on which the policies were based being validated over time. It would require you to prise open your mind, which in any event seems a bit small; however, if you spent a while, as I have, genuinely trying to understand the policies, the logic of what you might initially dismiss as inexplicable, plain daft, or, if you must, “batshit insane” would become clearer. You may not agree with the logic, but there is one.
  7. This does not apply to all of the policies, in my opinion. But it is true of many. If you can, as you say, point to five that are crazy for each sensible one, you had better give us the list, so we can discuss it rationally.
  8. The Greens don’t always do the best job of explaining the links between their policies, in my view; they would probably say this is the media’s fault. I have some, but not total, sympathy for that.
  9. They do, as Gordon Campbell's written, cop it from both sides: accused simultaneously of being "batshit insane" and too middle-of-the-road, not left enough, not green enough, and so on it goes. For example, they had some quite loud criticism that Friday’s proceedings were rearranging the deck chairs, tinkering at the margins -- which was really fabulous irony. Either the person in question -- it was only one -- spontaneously combusted around lunchtime, or decided it was a waste of his time, cause I don’t think he was back in the afternoon.
  10. There are some ticklish verging on fraught policy areas -- 1080 being one example. That kind of tension is managed within the party with respect, and a lot of work goes into trying to make sure the responses are evidence-based. If only one could expect the same cross-party courtesy.

My comment on an earlier thread about the Greens’ biggest problem was wrong. I take it back. It’s second biggest, after bigotry and ignorance.

by Judy Martin on November 18, 2010
Judy Martin

Thanks Claire, I understand where Suzuki's coming from now, hyperbole or not. And if you're after more applause, I just wrote this on my fb page

"Unfortunate title for a fabulous thread about the Sustainable Economics conference. In the comments my favourite columnist comes out swinging for the Greens against "bigotry and ignorance". Everyone should read it and pass it on."
by The Falcon on November 18, 2010
The Falcon

My comment on an earlier thread about the Greens’ biggest problem was wrong. I take it back. It’s second biggest, after bigotry and ignorance.

Quite the opposite. Voter ignorance is the only reason the Greens get any votes - [redacted]. Thankfully for the Greens, most of their voters spend a grand total of 10 minutes deciding who to vote for, and base their vote on some vague notion of "the environment" without scrutinising the batty policies beneath the surface.

The Greens are watermelons, populated by a ragtag bunch of Maori nationalists, hardcore feminists, communists or ex-communists, food nazis, and perhaps a token environmentalist here and there.

The best word I can think of to sum up is "loopy".

by Claire Browning on November 18, 2010
Claire Browning

Falcon, as you and Mark Wilson should know, I don't suffer fools. That is no less likely to be the case on exposure to the Greens, than here on Pundit.

Here are the Greens' policies on Maori issues and the Treaty of Waitangi. Here are all of their other policies. The part of your comment that perpetuates lies has been edited; any further such comments or abusive comments will simply be taken down. If you want to engage further on this thread, I suggest you make sure your assertions are (a) correct, and (b) fully referenced.

Welcome to election year, folks. Looks like David Cunliffe's speech has got some people mighty worried.

by Petone on November 18, 2010
Petone

You're being a bit harsh.  Falcon comes from a disadvantaged background.



''Rarely is the questioned asked: Is our children learning?''
—George W. Bush, Jan. 11, 2000

''You work three jobs? ... Uniquely American, isn't it? I mean, that is fantastic that you're doing that.''
—President George W. Bush, to a divorced mother of three in Omaha, Nebraska, Feb. 4, 2005

''We used to hustle over the border for health care we received in Canada. And I think now, isn't that ironic?''
—Sarah Palin, admitting that her family used to get treatment in Canada's single-payer health care system, despite having demonized such government-run programs as socialized medicine that will lead to death-panel-like rationing, March 6, 2010

''But ultimately what the bailout does is help those who are concerned about the healthcare reform that is needed to help shore up our economy.''
—Sarah Palin, explaining the $700 billion government bailout of Wall Street to Karie Couric, CBS News interview, Sept. 24, 2008

''They are also building schools for the Afghan children so that there is hope and opportunity in our neighboring country of Afghanistan.''
—Sarah Palin, speaking at a fundraiser in San Francisco, Oct. 5, 2008

''The most used phrase in my administration if I were to be President would be 'What the hell you mean we're out of missiles?'''
—Glenn Beck, Jan. 2009

by Claire Browning on November 18, 2010
Claire Browning

Excellently referenced.

by stuart munro on November 18, 2010
stuart munro

@ Falcon,

I don't think you know the Greens very well

The Greens are watermelons,

whatever that may mean - is it a Jim Crow slur?

populated by a ragtag bunch of Maori nationalists,

actually the ragtag Maori nationalists congregate around the fringes of the Maori and Labour parties, Green Maori folk tend to be moderate centrists

 hardcore feminists,

Again, wrong party - the gender warriors are more in Labour - the Greens also have this nice habit of co-leadership that largely defuses internal gender politics struggles

communists or ex-communists,

Never met any in the Greens. Plenty of folk you might describe as Fabian socialist perhaps, but being American of course you wouldn't understand these.

food nazis,

There are a few Vegans, - but Nazis? They struggle to send vegetables to the gas chambers to be made into soap never mind anything else

and perhaps a token environmentalist here and there.

Actually the environmentalists are pretty thick on the ground - you'd only meet more in Forest & Bird. But you left out plenty of teachers, scientists and engineers, a swathe of artists, and a surprising number of farmers and business people.

You need to get your head around the fact that the environment is a big deal in New Zealand. An essentially Green party got nearly 30% of the vote a few decades ago. Which is why,in spite of concerted media efforts and dirty tricks like the National/Exclusive Brethren leafleting scam, the Greens remain New Zealand's most consistent third party. ACT, by contrast, in spite of endless promotion, endorsement, and corporate largesse lives on or below the margin of error.

by Petone on November 18, 2010
Petone

Stu:  Cereal killers cracked me up, very good

Watermelon -  green outside, red inside.  Think its a yankee thing, they have some red phobia despite it being the Republican colour.  And a bad habit of dividing the world into left and right.

For the Greens I know a decent bottle of Hawke's Bay red would be a more suitable allegory

 

 

by The Falcon on November 18, 2010
The Falcon

My first editorially modified comment... such a proud moment. Fair call Claire, their policies don't seem to specifically mention a separate Maori state, although I could have sworn this was different back at the start of the year when I conducted some research.

But I wouldn't say Cunliffe's speech has gotten anyone worried. Everyone knows 2011 is in the bag, 2014 is the issue. And by 2014 Labour won't have the luxury of proposing outrageously left-wing policies (e.g. xenophobic investment policies, described today as North Korean). My estimate is that by 2014 Labour will have become a lot more centrist, in order to stand a chance.

@Petone

Nice quotes. Did you get them off one of those wall posters they sell at Rebellious Teens Inc.? Also it's hard to see how quotes from an economically liberal yet socially conservative party are relevant to the current debate. I guess you just smugly crank out George Bush quotes in every situation, and are one of those people who will continue to do so well into the 2030s?

@Stuart

Here are some nice quotes from Green Party MPs to illustrate my points.

Maori nationalists - "Then there’s the flag on the Harbour Bridge debacle. How can we trust Transit to build bridges when they can’t even fly our two nations' flags together?" (Delahunty, 2007)

Hardcore feminists - "Sometimes there is such an utterly overwhelming testosteronal stench in the [Select] committee, it makes you want to gag" (Turei, 2007)

Communists - http://liberation.typepad.com/liberation/2009/05/sue-bradford-the-greens... (among many, many others)

Food Nazis - a colloquialism referring to the Greens' widely acknowledged desire to control what people choose to eat.

Actually the environmentalists are pretty thick on the ground - you'd only meet more in Forest & Bird. But you left out plenty of teachers, scientists and engineers, a swathe of artists, and a surprising number of farmers and business people.

The Greens have 9 MPs currently. None of them have a background in anything other than political activism. Born-to-rule professional politicians. How likeable.

Nice to hang the Greens with the noose they created with their silly comments over the years.

by stuart munro on November 18, 2010
stuart munro

Falcon,

You'd be surprised how little another rag flying from the Auckland Harbour Bridge would concern most New Zealanders.

Metereia's comments were to the women's council of the CTU - audience appropriate, and not remarkable given the persons she was referring to. It's not quite the same thing as policy.

Actually Sue isn't a communist, and she's much more scary as a social issues activist than as a communist. NZ had a few communists you know, it was legal here. But again, you confuse leadership with party - Sue was not especially typical of the base, but she did a respectable job -except perhaps on the smacking bill- not to everyone's taste.

Food Nazis - actually, the Green concern is to prevent others from determining what we must eat- labelling GE stuff, for example. Being an American, and not having read Upton Sinclair's The Jungle, you might not understand the role of government in food regulations in westminster descended democracies. Which is why your citizens still eat prion protein contaminated beef.

Most NZ politicians are 'professional' if it comes to that, it is a role that requires some kind of training. The Greens at least provide a democratic alternative to the rule of lawyers that so concerned de Tocqueville.

I'll take the Greens occasional ' silly comments over the years' over the unremitting gross stupidity of other NZ parties any day of the week.

by Luke Stewart on November 18, 2010
Luke Stewart

Yes some of the Greens MPs have a background in politics. Go figure... but all of them have done more with there life that political activisim, in fact most of them. All but Catherine have at least one degree.

Russel Norman has a PhD in Political Science. Yes politics but academia is different from the real world which is why Bryce gets it so wrong on Liberation, amongst other reasons.

Metiria was a lawyer before coming to parliament

Sue K has worked in the Media and for the UN

Kevin Hague was previously the CEO of West Coast DHB

Kennedy Graham was a lecturer and before that a diplomat.

David Clendon a lecturer and Business advisor

Keith Locke an academic and a business owner.

Gareth and Catherine have a strong and proud history of activism and have both worked outside of politics.

by Luke Stewart on November 18, 2010
Luke Stewart

And if I could edit I would change there to their showing my Physics/Math/CompSci background...

by Paul McMahon on November 18, 2010
Paul McMahon

What no, the [party I disagree with] are [pejorative term] only [people I deem inferior] vote for them because [I am right they are wrong].

[Assertion] [weasel words] [assertion] [confirmation bias].

My argument is so powerful I don't even need to say anything.

by Andin on November 18, 2010
Andin

"Food Nazis - a colloquialism referring to the Greens' widely acknowledged desire to control what people choose to eat."

*sigh* you didnt eat your veges when you were young did you, and I bet you threw tanties.  I'm calling Godwins Law on that one.

Oblivious to you own faults, cause you'd much rather point out failings you magic up in others.

"widely acknowledged" really? You dont get out much do you.

by Simon on November 18, 2010
Simon

Claire,

As you say, its "easy to be a lion in opposition". Did anyone ask Cunliffe for some real climate change policy committments for Labour? E.g. will Labour introduce a real cap into the NZ emissions trading scheme? Will they introduce auctioning of emissions units instead of gifting to them to past and future emitters such as Solid Energy's lignite proposals?

If he just emphasises whats politically feasible and winnable, then we need to recognise that as a "no". And that Labour's climate change mitigation intentions are hardly different from National's "Bluegreen balanced business-as-usual". With Nick Smith and Gerry Brownlee asking "would you like fries, oh we mean free allocation of NZ emission units, with that".

Then there is the issue of what NZ ETS bottom-lines the Greens will be seeking from Labour in their support/coalition discussions. This might come down to what can Labour get away with. Even if Labour and the Greens are not in a position to form a Government next election, it would seem very likely that they would discuss such issues before the 2011 election. I would hope the Greens have been reading their James Hansen, as much as Jeanette has been, and that they learn from having voted with Labour for a very weak uncapped emissions trading scheme in 2008, only to see it even further weakened by National in 2009.

 

by Claire Browning on November 19, 2010
Claire Browning

As you say, its "easy to be a lion in opposition". Did anyone ask Cunliffe for some real climate change policy committments for Labour?

Simon: no, apart from anything else because he was explicitly not there to offer commitments yet from Labour. I share your scepticism but, one step at a time. When I plant seeds, I don't stamp on the wee green growing things, soon as they poke their heads up. I cultivate them a bit, try to help them along.

by Charles Drace on November 19, 2010
Charles Drace

"Because all parties would have to be Green parties, putting the carrying capacity of the planet first, perhaps dickering about other philosophies beneath that green umbrella. And I wonder if the true test in the end, of the size of Greens’ love for the planet, is whether they would sacrifice themselves politically, to save it."

This doesn't necessarily follow. As the Greens are the only ones showing leadership on this, the most important challenge we face, it's more likely the Greens will continue to lead and the other parties sacrifice themselves because of their failure to catch up [or follow].

[And]

Greens wanting to control what people eat? Forgetting, of course, that it was the Greens who led the charge against forcing people to have folic acid in their bread.. who else was standing up for people's right to choose. No, the Greens aren't interested in telling you what to eat. Their interest is in helping to insure your food choices aren't dangerous to your health and are farmed with sustainable and humane practices.

by DeepRed on November 20, 2010
DeepRed

@The Falcon: Ever read Eric Schlosser's Fast Food Nation? And don't forget San Lu and Peanut Corporation of America, either.

And to my knowledge the Greens don't engage in passport fraud (a known terrorist tactic), or call for eugenics, or make misogynistic and drunken homophobic remarks.

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