Speech: Simon Court

Real Change Now, SkyCity Theatre, 4 June 2023

Isn’t it inspiring to hear that readily available technology can solve some of our most difficult problems… Now, if only we had a government which is practical enough to embrace those solutions.

Before we get to ACTs practical solutions for problems with the environment… I want to share some of what I believe makes New Zealand unique.

We have an environment where we can grow practically anything.

It’s warm enough to swim almost year-round in Auckland where I live.

The most dangerous natural predator is a rare spider whose bite is going to send you in search of another rare Kiwi species… a doctor… but certainly – well, hopefully - won’t kill you.

After 1000 years of colonisation the country is still practically empty of people.  Despite what the government may think, we still have plenty of legroom down here… Ample room to grow.

The few people who do live here love to fish… hunt… hike… sail… ski, grow food and flowers… and make things that are useful.  In our bones, we are a PRACTICAL people.

For DIY tragics like me… Well, we are always proud to have built a deck… laid a concrete path… built a pizza oven… All without sustaining serious injury.

For the green thumbs we are proud to set up a garden bed, or a worm farm.

When it comes to industry and technology… We have a large cohort of practical, skilled and highly motivated citizens.  We may be small, but we have ingenuity.

Bluff Aluminium smelter produces high purity alloys for phones... TVs and satellites with 100% renewable electricity from the Manapouri hydro scheme…

New Zealand produces glue-laminated timber beams that can span almost as much as a steel beam and up to 6 stories height.  Imagine that!

I visited a factory in Warkworth recently where they produce the carbon fibre yachts that won the Americas Cup… As well as supplying the entire Sail GP fleet.

And it is not just flying yachts; we also produce carbon fibre rockets that deliver small satellites into space to track weather… volcanoes… keep an eye on Vladimir Putin… As well as keeping us all connected when cell networks are down…

There isn’t a problem Kiwis have faced that we haven't been able to solve by working together - and we’ll be doing a whole lot more working together with a change of government in October!

Despite ALL our potential, having the technical capability... Highly motivated professionals and businesses looking to invest…  When it comes to the environment we have failed to solve some of our most pressing issues.

How to deliver enough clean and affordable electricity to match the demand of households and industry right around the country?  And how to do it sustainably?

Successive governments have flunked the test.

Last year, I visited the South Island West Coast to look at a proposed hydro scheme on the Waitaha river.

The run of river project was supported by DOC… took nothing from the environment but gave 70MW of electricity to power a dairy factory and the town of Hokitika… Resilient… Affordable AND environmentally friendly.

But guess what?  It was rejected by Labour Enviro Minister David Parker, who predictably caved in to half a dozen kayakers who were insane enough to paddle that gorge in protest… No one else has been in there since.

Labours long awaited changes to the RMA will make it even harder to consent hydro power… including dozens of existing dams… by limiting any water permits to ten years… and allowing the Minister or a council to call in the permits at any time.

Submitters on Parker’s reforms told the Environment Committee that small, useful environmentally-friendly projects similar to Waitaha would be unlikely to get consent.

How about wind power then?

A group of wind energy investors met with ACT MPs in Parliament recently.  They want to build wind turbines off Taranaki and would use foreign investors’ money to do it.

Sounds like a great idea - How can ACT help we asked?

The Government talks a big game on how wind energy is cheap and plentiful... but they still haven’t worked out a consenting process for wind turbines built on the sea floor. We asked MBIE what’s happening - They replied that they hope to have an application form ready in 2024!    Say what you will about this government, they are World Heavyweight Champions when it comes to bureaucracy and form-filling… Doesn’t it make you proud?

The Government department tasked with setting up a regulatory regime is YEARS late… so investors with billions to send to NZ are happily moving to more dynamic economies like Australia… the US and EU to put their money into projects that will be producing electricity in 3 to 4 years. 

Surprisingly, they don’t want to waste their time and money wondering how to apply for a permit… wading through ever-changing forms and regulatory regimes… And then wondering how much they will have to budget for ‘cultural’ reports.  There are good, intelligent reasons why other, smarter government don’t tie investors’ hands like this.  And it’s another example of why we need Real Change Now.

How about improving biodiversity and wetlands then? 

New Zealand ecosystems have endured 1000 years of human activity that started with burning large parts of the South Island to hunt moa and continued until 95% of NZs original vegetation was lost.

You would imagine that any farmer, developer or miner who plants trees… restores a wetland and controls weeds and pests… would be celebrated by Government and councils.  Think again!

Instead of the Government sending a thank you card… Under the Labours ‘Indigenous biodiversity’ policy… they will have restored areas of their property painted with a planning overlay called an SNA - significant natural area - permanently limiting what you can do with your property.

What about fresh water quality?

Aucklanders can look at the Safeswim website to see the black and red flags which show where even wading is a health hazard.

Yet, for all the talk about how Three Waters reform and Iwi co-governance was desperately needed to ‘level up’ infrastructure, Guess what?  Labour is now trying to reform their reform… and delay it for two years while locals are forced to deal with the raw sewage we see overflowing into waterways and onto beaches.

This is the real cost of Labour.

And if the current situation sounds bad, the government’s RMA reforms introduce an even more powerful cultural veto over water for those blessed with DNA which allows them to identify as Māori.  And we can only imagine how that will accelerate if we allow Hipkins to scrape back in, propped up in power by a rickety coalition of Te Pati Māori and the Greens, currently all fighting among themselves like ferrets in a sack.

We can’t let this happen.  We need Real Change, now.

30 years of Environment policy has failed – All we have to show for the cost and wasted time are the shallow, virtue-signalling marketing slogans like 100% renewable -  Zero carbon - Zero waste.  All the while, the waste and carbon piles up.  And if you have the temerity to call them out on their failures?  Well, they just call you a ‘denier’ or a ‘something-phobe’.

Even on climate change, this Government’s proudly declared ‘nuclear-free moment’, Labour has been a failure.

Banning oil and gas exploration has not reduced carbon emissions. Since that 2018 announcement coal imports have skyrocketed, and emissions have flat lined.

The government’s solution is to tax utes to subsidise Teslas. Or spend half a billion on a cash for clunkers scheme which would have paid up to $10 grand for people to hand over an old car. Thankfully that scheme was cancelled thanks to ACT highlighting how foolish and wasteful that was.

Just a few weeks ago threw $140m at a highly profitable Ausi steel maker to upgrade to an electric arc furnace.

All these schemes are tinkering at the edges. We already have a carbon price and a cap on emissions under the ETS which sets the right incentive, we just need to use it.

Most urgently, we should be funding adaptation, so we are better prepared for the extremes of weather that are going to hit us more frequently.

Labour has spent six years rewriting environmental law, and guess what?  their Natural and Built Environments Bill is now like the RMA on steroids… It will allow more randoms and council officials to make objections to how land and resources are used… and how infrastructure is delivered.  Clogging up the system… At the very moment it needs streamlining and speeding up.

Sadly, National had 9 years to reform the RMA… and in exchange for support for some minor tinkering, they did a deal with the Maori Party that forces developers and councils to get ‘cultural reports’ as part of consenting. More pointless red tape.

This isn’t the change we need… Kiwis deserve much better than this.

That is why I spent 18 months researching what a better environment policy would look like – Instead of thinking about the environment as something to limit our potential… and who gets access to resources to be subjected to political whims…

ACT’s solution for building New Zealand and conserving nature is one where New Zealanders are free to make the BEST possible use of their property and our shared environment to live their best lives.  Labour and National say ‘trust the government’ to sort it out… We believe that YOU are the best custodians of your land.

ACTs Environment policy features smart and practical solutions.  Here is just a taste…

Setting environmental limits for freshwater at a regional level… using smart markets to manage water allocation in regions where water is scarce and…. to manage nutrient discharges down to an acceptable level.

Promoting the role of private conservation in protecting and enhancing biodiversity, with a fund available for landowners to work WITH – not against - local government to restore critical wetlands and areas of native bush.

Permitting construction of water storage on private property as of right… and to help deal with the effects of climate change… Allowing transfer of water between properties and irrigation without needing expensive and unnecessary permits.

Requiring hefty bonds to be held in a trust account for high-risk activities like mining and landfills… ONLY to be returned when sites are restored and made safe.

And Under ACT’s EPA, only the most complex and high-risk activities in the environment would need consents… Because most activities like building stormwater ponds, erosions control and working in water courses are well understood.

The simple truth is, there is no need to spend months or years in court debating consent conditions for common activities.

Because there is a simpler and more practical way to deliver the cleaner water, better infrastructure.

We need less 'tax and punish’… And more ‘Ingenuity and innovate’.

We need to adopt a more optimistic, long-lasting mindset that says we CAN solve the problems of climate change and pollution… Just like we have solved every problem before.

Not through trying to shame and regulate ourselves back to the Stone Age… But through encouraging that ‘can do’ spirit which is unique to our beautiful country…

And which we will pass on to our children - and theirs - for decades to come.

That’s what a Government with ACT at its heart will deliver.

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