At the start of their virtual pre-election AGM, the Green Party has released a ‘policy vision document’ outlining a wide range of measures they would advocate for in Government, Marc Daalder reports
Three years in Government has yet to temper the Greens’ opposition-style ambition.
On Saturday, at the launch of their campaign and the start of their virtual pre-election AGM, Green Party co-leaders James Shaw and Marama Davidson debuted a 52-page document detailing the policies they would push for in Government, from teaching te reo Māori as a core curriculum subject to reviving the feebate scheme to requiring that new houses and buildings be accessible to disabled people via the Building Code, unless specially exempted.
Many of the pledges in the document are aspirational but light on details – “Rehabilitate and protect wetlands, recognising this is an important part of climate change adaptation”. Others are couched in qualifying terms that make clear the Greens recognise the business of governing is more complex than the business of policy development in opposition – “Oppose Aotearoa’s participation in the Five Eyes spy network” instead of committing to taking the country out of the intelligence-sharing alliance, for example.
Nonetheless, the document is still seasoned with a wide array of specific policy promises. Moreover, the two costed policy plans released by the Greens thus far – one to overhaul the country’s welfare system and up taxes on the rich, the other to transition to fully renewable energy by 2030 and facilitate a massive rollout of solar panels – show the Greens are serious in policy development.
“This document, Think Ahead, Act Now, will serve as the basis for negotiations as we seek to form a new government after the election with the Labour Party,” Shaw said at the campaign launch.
“It’s a reference document that will guide our caucus and our ministers as we navigate the everyday choices that our government will have to make.”
Shaw said the document was a “broad vision for the future” and more, costed policy plans like the welfare and energy reform proposals would debut in coming weeks.
For her part, Davidson referred to former Greens co-leader Jeanette Fitzsimons’ first foray into politics as a member of the Values Party. Fitzsimons died in March and was memorialised at a Green Party event earlier this week.
“I was reminded of the vision that Jeanette and her original Values Party colleagues released in 1975. It was called ‘Beyond Tomorrow’. It was a vision which not only made decisions to benefit everyone then – but thought about future generations. They were thinking about us, here, today,” Davidson said.
“And today I’m really proud to be continuing that Green tradition of asking that we think ahead. And that we act now, for all of us – and for all of us to come.”
Conservation and climate
Many of the specific commitments in the policy document centre around the Greens’ bread and (dairy-free) butter: the environment and climate change.
On animal welfare, the Greens commit to banning or phasing out rodeos, live export of animals, greyhound racing, factory farming, farrowing crates and ‘backyard breeding’ of pets “under inhuman conditions”. A Minister for Animal Welfare and a Parliamentary Commissioner for Animal Welfare would also be established and “free range” and “cruelty free” labelling on products would be reviewed and standardised.
The Greens also want to return to one of their 2017 election issues – water bottling. Commercial users of water would have to pay a resource rental fee and a new allocation system – consulted on with iwi and hapū – would be created to manage water rights. The Greens say they would ensure three waters infrastructure would not be privatised and they also hint at putting limits on dissolved inorganic nitrogen levels in waterways, something the Government has put off for a year in announcing its final freshwater reforms package.
Much of the Green strategy towards conservation can be summed up with two words: investment and funding, both of which show up four times on the conservation page. More money for the Department of Conservation, more money for Predator Free 2050, more money for iwi, hapū, community organisations and private landholders. On top of that, the Greens promise to end all new mining on or under conservation land, with an exception for pounamu and small-scale gold mining.
Vulnerable species at sea would be protected by the Greens under a commitment to speed up the deployment of cameras to fishing boats. That proposal was blocked by New Zealand First in June. A wide range of destructive ocean practices would also come in for a ban under a Greens Government, the policy document says. These include set netting, bottom trawling, dredging, other bottom impact methods, seabed mining and seismic surveying.
Waste strategies would be standardised nationwide, the policy document promises. This means more consistent policies on recycling, a commitment to no food waste or electronic waste in landfills, the development of capability to recycle more products locally and the removal – after a win in banning single-use plastic bags – of fruit stickers, water bottles and other “low-grade plastic products that can be easily replaced with reusable alternatives”.
On climate, the Greens say they would reform the Building Code to make new residential and commercial builds subject to “high standards of warmth, dryness and energy and water efficiency” with an eye towards all new builds resulting in net-zero buildings by 2030. Mandatory energy efficiency ratings would be introduced for all extant buildings as well, and a Rental Warrant of Fitness system would allow prospective tenants to understand how warm their building was.
No specific promises are made on tackling emissions from farming, beyond a commitment to “work with farmers to urgently develop a fair and science- based way to measure and price agricultural greenhouse gas emissions, including recognising the value of on-farm tree planting”.
Emissions from cars, however, would be subject to two schemes that Associate Transport Minister and Green MP Julie Anne Genter devised while in Government – a requirement that new car imports meet, on average, a certain emissions standard and a scheme which would raise the cost of high-emitting vehicles in order to subsidise electric vehicles. The vehicle emissions standard and feebate scheme were both scrapped by New Zealand First this year.
The Greens also pledge to “commit to a 10-year programme to upgrade intercity and regional rail, including fast, electric passenger and freight trains, connecting major towns and cities” and “make our supply chains carbon neutral by moving more freight on rail and incentivising zero emission fuels for heavy vehicles, including hydrogen and biofuels”. They say they will create safe walking and biking routes for every school in the country.
A Digital Export Office would be created at New Zealand Trade and Enterprise to help development and sale of “weightless exports” – mostly digital products like software and games.
All of this comes in addition to the Greens energy policy which was announced on July 12.
Social and economic justice
The policy document also has plenty to please the left-wing faction of the party on social and economic issues alike.
That includes a guaranteed annual bump to the minimum wage and the phase out of the “youth wage” exception to paying the bottom rate. The party would move to default union membership upon joining a new job and a restoration of the right to strike for political or solidarity causes. Employers would be required to fund 10 days of sick leave with unlimited top-ups through ACC and the country would progressively shift to five weeks of paid annual leave, up from the current four.
People made redundant would receive a minimum of one month’s full wages. The benefit and welfare system would be drastically overhauled, as Newsroom reported in June, and a tax on assets and two new tax brackets for high earners would fund a guaranteed minimum income for part-time workers and unemployed people.
The Greens hint at changing the longstanding lack of labour rights for workers in the film industry, saying they will “ensure laws support creative workers on big projects to get a fair share of profits and decent working conditions, especially for international film and television projects”.
A Public Journalism Fund would be established to make grants to projects and journalists while ensuring “diversity of voice in media”. A digital services tax on big tech companies would be recycled to fund local media and Radio New Zealand would have its funding boosted, in anticipation of wider layoffs in the private media sector.
The voting age would be lowered to 16 under the Greens and all prisoners, regardless of the length of their sentence, would have the right to vote. A ‘citizens’ assembly’ would be established to make decisions regarding political donations and public funding of elections, taking these electoral decisions away from politicians. The Māori seats in Parliament would be entrenched, meaning it would require more than a simple majority of MPs to scrap them. Local elections would also be administrated by the Electoral Commission instead of private companies.
The Greens promise to fix the Official Information Act, which has long been plagued by problems. The Bill of Rights Act would be amended to include the right to privacy and “the right to a sustainable environment that is protected for the benefit of present and future generations”.
On disabilities, the Greens say they will ensure all Government-funded public transport is accessible and that the Building Code will be amended to ensure new builds are accessible. The Human Rights Act would also be reformed to “remove the exception which allows pay discrimination for disabled people”.
The Greens want to create an Office for Rainbow Communities which would develop policy pertaining to LGBT rights. Conversion therapy would be banned, the Human Rights Act would be amended to bar discrimination on the grounds of gender identity, gender expression and sex characteristics and changing genders on birth certificates would become easier for trans people.
Drug law would also come in for a look under the Greens. Drug checking services which ensure people at concerts and festivals are not taking drugs cut with dangerous goods currently operate in a legal grey area. The Greens would legalise and regulate them and mandate that all legal drugs sold – including alcohol – have health warning labels. Alcohol advertising and sponsorship of events would be significant reduced.
On education, the Greens have a number of goals, such as improving child to teacher ratios, but have yet to lay out a roadmap for getting there. One specific policy is a plan to add te reo Māori as a core curriculum subject through to Year 10.
The Greens also hope to return to the abortion debate by providing for safe zones outside clinics and hospitals in which women are free from protest or harassment. A member’s bill from Labour’s Louisa Wall to reinstate the safe zones was pulled from the ballot on Thursday and would provide the Greens with an opportunity to do just that. Family Planning clinics would also receive increased funding under the Greens and more free period products would be provided in schools.
Elsewhere in the health sector, the Greens want to take aim at sugary drinks by investigating a levy on sodas to fund dental care and supporting a water-only policy in hospitals, schools and sports clubs. Junk food advertising aimed at children would be restricted and further support would be issued for the plan to make New Zealand smoke-free by 2025.
The policy document calls for free mental health counselling to be extended to everyone under the age of 25, with an eye towards universal free provision for all adults.
The review of the health and disability sector concluded in June with mixed recommendations over whether the Government should create a separate Māori Health Authority – a proposal the Greens back in their policy document.
Most – but not all – prisons would also be phased out in the long-term under the Greens, replaced with community-based rehabilitation. The Youth Court would have jurisdiction over all people up to the age of 18, regardless of the crime they are charged with, and young people would not be able to be detained with adults. Specialist courts like Rangatahi and Pasifika Courts would have their funding boosted so they are accessible to all regions of the country.