Kevin Hague: Governing for all NZ, nature included


Caring for nature, safeguarding our quality of life, and protecting the natural foundations of te ao Māori are core identity values for New Zealanders. A government that wishes to govern for all New Zealand must also govern for nature.

New Zealand faces massive

challenges: biodiversity, climate and Covid-19. Our political leaders can tackle the crisis for nature in a way that will help New Zealand recover from Covid-19, become more resilient, and reflect New Zealanders’ deep-seated values.

In an uncertain world, by helping nature back to health, our society, economy and wellbeing will also become more resilient.

The Government of the past three years was slower to deliver, and left more policy gaps than New Zealand needs if we are to provide a world our descendants can live well in, but the general direction was the right one, and New Zealanders across the board have given it an unprecedented, collective thumbs up.

Labour and Green ministers spearheaded significant environmental policy and legislative change in the last term. Grant Robertson’s Living Standards Framework instructs Treasury to value environmental, social and cultural “capitals” on an equal footing with economic capital; David Parker’s Freshwater Standards and Nanaia Mahuta’s draft National Policy Statement on Indigenous Biodiversity instruct regional councils on how to care for the environment; Jacinda Ardern’s ban on new gas and oil exploration and her “nuclear free moment” provided the foundation for James Shaw’s ground-breaking Zero Carbon Act.

Eugenie Sage and Stuart Nash brought in vital new protections for Māui and Hector’s dolphins, zero by-catch ambitions for the fishing industry, including better protections for seabirds. Sage also massively stepped up the vital work of the Department of Conservation.

On the flip side, outdated negative thinking was swept aside in the election.

Consider where the fortune of the three Government partners fell: the Green and Labour parties increased their vote, but New Zealand First, the ally of unsustainable extractive industries and self-appointed “policy handbrake” is now a history lesson.

National stood on a platform of opposing action on climate change and freshwater – and lost the regions as well as the cities. There is a lesson here not only for these two parties, but also for lobbyists Federated Farmers, Seafood New Zealand and PEPANZ.

It’s time to move on from old thinking. The voters of New Zealand rejected it. So should they if they want to claw back their relevance.

With 49 per cent of the vote going to Labour, and another 8 per cent going to the Green Party, it is a matter of basic maths that the parties who talked about tackling climate change, cleaning up fresh water and better managing the ocean won a decisive election and they should now work together to deliver on those promises. Such a Government has a strong mandate and moral responsibility to defuse the ticking timebombs of environmental decline, climate chaos and economic recession.

Their success in doing so will depend on the urgency and expertise they bring to this herculean task.

The Primary Industry Council’s vision Fit for a Better World says: “We are committed to meeting the greatest challenge humanity faces: rapidly moving to a low carbon emissions society, restoring the health of our water, reversing the decline in biodiversity and at the same time, feeding our people. We will own our part and lead the change that comes with it, starting now.”

This is the kind of direction New Zealand needs and it’s one the primary sector must now wholeheartedly demonstrate its support for. Forest & Bird has been and remains ready to work with the Government, farmers, foresters, and fishers to make this a reality.

In contrast, the contorted logic being rolled out by Federated Farmers in the face of an overwhelming election win for a nature-centred recovery only serves to highlight how completely they lost the debate. New Zealand voted to keep moving forward and, with the ousting of NZ First, to do so without a handbrake.

New Zealand needs a recovery for people and the planet. Our wellbeing, our economy, our identity depends on the health of the environment. The public knows this and voted for political parties that have talked about doing it. It is now up to the whatever Government that forms in the coming week to deliver on the most important mission any New Zealand Government has ever had.

• Kevin Hague is chief executive of Forest & Bird.

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