The Prime Minister and Finance Minister are saying two different things when it comes to an awkward “communication breakdown” with the Green Party.
On Monday, Chris Hipkins and Grant Robertson announced a $4 billion savings initiative, including spending cuts to existing policies, a direction to agencies to reduce their baseline budgets by 1 to 2 percent and slashing future Budget allowances. As part of this, $236 million for climate policy was culled.
Climate Change Minister and Green Party co-leader James Shaw told Newsroom after the announcement that he had no idea it was coming. He knew the Government was working on a savings programme and had reviewed some of the policies he was directly responsible for, which ended up not being cut. He was also told about a $10 million cut to a waste programme. But the remaining $226 million in cuts came out of the blue.
* Govt cuts further $236m from climate policies
Now, Robertson says he will apologise to Shaw for not notifying him ahead of time, but Hipkins says there’s no issue.
“It appears that there was a communication breakdown around that and so I’ll have a chat with James and apologise. He definitely should have known about that,” Robertson told Newsroom on his way into caucus on Tuesday morning.
However, farther down the hall, at roughly the same time, Hipkins seemed to say there’s nothing to see on this.
“These were savings that were identified by the ministers concerned. If they weren’t in his portfolio, I wouldn’t necessarily expect that [the Greens] would be [informed],” he said.
“Almost every aspect of government activity has an impact on climate change.”
Pushed further, Hipkins stuck with his message that the axed policies – including $50 million for reducing agricultural emissions, $50 million for supporting local councils to build walkable neighbourhoods and cycle networks and nearly $110 million for carbon forestry including native afforestation – weren’t under Shaw’s purview.
“If there was stuff that relates specifically to his area, then he would have been informed about it. Like I said, every aspect of government activity impacts on climate change, that doesn’t mean that he gets consulted on every individual decision.”
Hipkins said there were only three or four initiatives funded from the Climate Emergency Response Fund that were affected by Monday’s announcement. The actual number was eight.
He said it wasn’t a breach of Labour’s cooperation agreement with the Greens, which requires the parties to consult on issues related to the Greens’ ministerial portfolios.
Ahead of Monday’s announcement, the Green Party wasn’t expecting it would contain anything for it to comment on. Shaw himself was only able to speak to Newsroom on the basis of the press release put out by Robertson, as he had nothing else to inform him about the decisions made by Cabinet.
When asked on Monday evening if he was disappointed to see the Government making these decisions without so much as consulting him, Shaw was resigned.
“Well, it’s a majority Labour Government and I’m not in Cabinet. So that’s really their choice,” he said.
Would he have expected to have been notified about this ahead of time?
What would the impact of the cuts be on meeting New Zealand’s climate targets – which are already at risk because of Prime Minister Chris Hipkins’ earlier “policy bonfire”?
“I don’t know. I haven’t received advice on that.”
Asked about the climate impacts earlier that day, Robertson too demurred. He said he couldn’t remember whether Cabinet had looked at the climate impacts when it made the call to slash the $236m in funding.