Barry Coates: Setting NZ on a path for transformative change

NZ waterways pollution ... a bold Green plan for change, including cleaning up the rivers. Image: TDB

OPINION: By Barry Coates

There’s a lot at stake in this New Zealand general election tomorrow. We face huge challenges ahead, including tackling climate change and building a more equal society. The Greens have put transformative proposals on the table.

If we succeed in forming a government with Labour, we will usher in an era of progressive change for the benefit of all New Zealanders.

The climate change package is bold. It sets a target of zero emissions by 2050, embodied in legislation and an independent Climate Commission to set carbon budgets. The discredited Emissions Trading Scheme would be replaced by a transparent carbon tax (the Kiwi Climate Fund) that would phase in agriculture. We will provide incentives for planting 1.2 billion trees, including funding for an expansion of our indigenous forests.

Revenue will be returned to the public via a dividend to all New Zealand adults.

The climate package is supported by a far-reaching change of direction for our transport system. The funding priority will switch from road to providing public transport options. Transport in our cities will be re-shaped – we will have frequent, affordable and connected up rail, light rail and rapid busways, safe walking and cycling, and we will reduce the costs of EVs.

Our cities will have less congestion, less air pollution and a better quality of life in our communities.

Our energy system will be no longer be dominated by fossil fuel and the “gentailers”. We will get to 100 percent renewable energy by 2030, and will allow no new coal mines, deep sea oil and gas exploration, or fracking.

Cheaper, cleaner, smarter electricity
We will use the disruptions in our electricity system coming from solar, wind and storage options to provide a system that is cheaper, cleaner and smarter. Low income households will be supported for up to 75 percent of the additional costs of winter energy bills, along with energy efficiency and home insulation.

We aim to revitalise manufacturing and innovation, supported through a Minister of Manufacturing and the re-introduction of R&D tax credits. Clean technology and renewables will be scaled up through a Green Infrastructure Fund, and supported through the introduction of a Capital Gains Tax (excluding the family home) that reorients investment from speculating on assets towards the productive economy.

We will support the living wage, raise the minimum wage to 66 percent of the average wage (initially to $17.75 in 2018) and expand vocational training.

The Greens are also bold on the environment. We will clean up our polluted rivers. Polluters will pay if they pollute our rivers, in the cities and in rural areas. We will introduce a levy on nitrate run-off from dairy farms and recycle the funding back into riparian planting and smart farming.

These policies will support the transition to high value farming, rather than intensive production of low cost commodities. We will restore our clean green reputation, enhancing our exports, tourism and our sense of pride as New Zealanders.

Our most precious freshwater resources need better protection. Commercial water users are extracting the purest water for profit, without any payment for the use of our resources. The Greens will tax water bottling and use the revenues to support mana whenua and local communities through councils.

Our native species also need protection. One third of our native birds face extinction, along with a wide range of plants, fish and marine life. We will restore the role of the Department of Conservation as a defender of our wildlife and wild places, and increase their funding so they can manage protected areas. The drive to eliminate predators by 2050 will be supported through a $20 charge on incoming tourists, along with funding to Councils for infrastructure to manage the impacts of tourism.

Marine sanctuary
The Greens will create New Zealand’s largest marine sanctuary in the South Taranaki Bight to protect Maui’s dolphin, Antarctic blue whale and other marine life. And the Greens will put a price on plastic bags and a deposit on drink bottles to stop plastic from polluting our oceans and entering the food chain.

The Greens will end child poverty, lifting incomes and opportunities for all in our society and starting the transition towards a more equal society. The welfare package announced by the Greens is bold and ambitious, aiming to eliminate child poverty in New Zealand. The package increases all benefits, including student allowances by 20 percent, increases the amount than beneficiaries can earn before their benefit is cut, increases Working for Families, and extends the parental tax credit to beneficiary households.

These allowances and a reduction in the lowest tax rate (from 10.5 percent to 9 percent) is partially paid through the creation of a higher income tax bracket of 40 percent for those earning over $150,000.

Even more importantly, the Greens welfare policy would repair the broken social safety net. The Greens will end the punitive and compliance-oriented social welfare system so that it supports rather than punishes those who need help. It moves the system towards an adequate guaranteed income, following the model of unconditional basic income provided through NZ Superannuation.

These policies are supported by a package of measures to provide affordable housing for those on low incomes. Our Home for Life policy includes a rent-to-buy plan that helps those on low incomes get into their own home and supports community housing providers to offer affordable local housing.

The Greens would aim to help young Kiwis buy their own homes, and strengthen renters’ rights to create secure homes. We will tackle house speculation through a Capital Gains Tax (apart from the family home) and a ban on non-residents buying existing residential houses.

The basic public services of health care and education have been under-funded by the government over the past 9 years. The Greens are committed to working with Labour to re-invest in our public services. We have specific proposals to introduce free access to counselling for under-25s and to provide more support for community-based initiatives on mental health.

Boost for education
In education, we will significantly increase funding for special needs and invest in professional development for teachers. We will join with Labour in providing three years free tertiary education, increase student allowances by 20 percent and extend them to post graduate students.

The Greens are committed to upholding the principles of te Tiriti and will ensure that te reo is taught in all primary schools. We will entrench the Māori seats and improve the Treaty settlement process.

Internationally, we will uphold human rights and the Sustainable Development Goals, so that we act as a force for good in the world. We will send humanitarian aid and peace-keepers to the Middle East, not troops, and will push for peace and disarmament through a reformed United Nations.

We oppose the attempt to revive the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement and similar treaties that give rights to foreign corporations and remove our government’s right to regulate in the public interest. We will work with like-minded countries to promote fair and sustainable trade.

This is the Greens programme. We have a MoU with Labour and look forward to forming a strong and progressive government that will set our country on a path to realise our hopes and aspirations for ourselves and for future generations. Party vote Green!

Barry Coates is a list Green Party MP. His Daily Blog column is republished with permission.

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