Bipartisan agreement --- except for NZ First
By Richard Harman (author)
National's decision yesterday to support the Zero Carbon Bill brought plaudits from the Prime Minister and Climate Change Minister James Shaw and what sounded like sour grapes from NZ First.
In a lengthy statement, rather than a speech in the debate, NZ First Leader Winston Peters said ”despite twisting and turning at every step, National has realised the strength of the governing parties’ resolve and notwithstanding attempts to mischaracterise this historic legislation, and empty promises about future changes they won’t be in a position to deliver, folded like lambs.”
In fact, POLITK understands National’s support for the Bill came after Climate Change Minister James Shaw and the Labour Party had accepted some of National's amendments to the Bill, but the same amendments were all opposed by New Zealand First.
The Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, claimed in Parliament that the “government did not vote for them because, in essence, a large majority of them were covered in the legislation itself.”
And strictly speaking, she was correct, but for National, the symbolism of the amendments was critical in terms of keeping their rural base onside.
So they held a late-night caucus to debate whether to continue to support the Bill after the amendments were voted down.
And though there were National MPs who wanted to withdraw support, the leadership prevailed, and the legislation went through with a historic bi-partisan majority.
However, National Leader Simon Bridges made it clear in Parliament what National thought of NZ First’s opposition to their amendments.
“They (NZ First) can't say, over the last two years, that they stand on the side of regional and rural New Zealand,” he said.
“They blocked our amendments last night to this Bill out of ignorance and petty partisan politics.
“But a National Government that I lead will make all those amendments in our first 100 days in office.”
The reason for National Leader Simon Bridges’ insistence on supporting the Bill was on show in Parliament when he made his speech announcing his support.
Sitting in the seat next door to him normally occupied by Deputy Leader, Paula Bennett, was Auckland Central MP, Nikki Kaye.
When Bridges paid tribute to the work the party's former climate change spokesperson, Todd Muller had done to develop a bipartisan consensus, Kaye turned around to face Muller and grinned.
She is considered to be one of the most liberal of National's MPs and with Muller is tipped to be part of a future National leadership team.
The caucus decision to support the Bill was driven by the political need to retain support in urban seats like hers plus the strong call from the agriculture lobby, from Fonterra down, to support the Bill so some certainty could be delivered to the sector.
That was reflected in a statement from Dairy NZ yesterday whose CEO Tim Mackle said the key elements of the Bill, including the establishment of a Climate Change Commission, a split gas approach for methane and the creation of carbon budgets had strong bipartisan support - and the support of the agricultural sector.
“Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of the methane reduction targets,” he said.
“DairyNZ remains firmly opposed to the Governments methane reduction range of 24 – 47% as we believe it is out of step with what science requires and rural economies can sustain.”
National’s Climate Change spokesperson Scott Simpson told Parliament he wanted the Independent Climate Change Commission to review those targets as soon as possible.
“There is a clause in the legislation that enables the Minister to request the to commission to make a recommendation forthwith, and it's my fervent hope that the Minister will listen to organisations such as our primary producing groups, listen to us as an Opposition, and take heed of that opportunity that is available to him
National’s proposal that the Bill be amended to more specifically provide for this review was rejected by the Government --- apparently because NZ First objected to it.
POLITIK understands that both the Climate Change Minister, James Shaw, and Labour may have been willing to agree to the amendment.
But such is Winston Peters’ vendetta against National that he would not countenance it.
Shaw is understood to have been so frustrated by NZ First’s obstinance that he did not mention them in his speech lauding the bipartisan support for the Bill.
Instead, he paid tribute to Bridges, Simpson and Muller.
“Every step of the way, in the face of strong political pressures, they've worked constructively with us to craft a bill that will, I dearly hope, be able to command the support of the whole House,” he said.
At the heart of the bipartisan vote in Parliament, yesterday was a consensus forged in the previous Parliament under the leadership of former Green MP, Kennedy Graham.
He was in the Chamber yesterday to hear the debate that led to the passage of the Bill.
In 2015 he formed GLOBE New Zealand, a cross-party working group that involved MPs from all parties.
Graham chaired it, and members included Scott Simpson, Megan Woods James Shaw, Todd Muller, David Parker and Grant Robertson.
It was a chapter of the Global Legislators Organisation for a Balanced Environment (GLOBE).
The international organisation brings together parliamentarians from over 80 countries, with a focus on implementing laws in pursuit of sustainable development.
In 2017 they produced a report setting out a pathway to "net zero" greenhouse gas emissions in 2050.
The same year the National Party’s Blue Greens group brought the chair of the British Climate Change Commission, Lord Deben, to New Zealand and National agreed to support the creation of a similar body here to advise on emissions reduction budgets and to audit progress towards the overall targets.
National debated their response at the 2018 Blue Greens conference, and at the National Field Days last year, Bridges set out their bottom lines if they were to support the Bill.
Unsurprisingly a leading role for the Climate Change Commission was one of them.
That became a target for NZ First who said they opposed the Commission having what they called “Reserve Bank powers” apparently not understanding that both National and Labour had agreed that the role of the Commission would be advisory and that the final decisions would remain with politicians..
There were other jarring notes in the background yesterday.
National MP Judith Collins agreed to vote for the Bill apparently after a meeting with DairyNZ and Todd Muller in Hamilton on Monday.
She had earlier told farmer organisations she would cross the floor to vote against it unless the methane targets were reduced.
But National allocated her one of their speaking slots; the others were taken by their environmental team.
“Everybody has acknowledged that there is compromise in this,” she said.
“I am deeply concerned by this Bill.
“I am not concerned for the time when we are in Government, and we are able to amend it and make it more sensible.
“That would be a very good thing.”
It looked like a defeat for Collins and her supporters in caucus with her pitch to National's rural base and the party's climate deniers overcome by the front bench with its decision to target the urban liberal vote.
It has been an at times emotional journey for the key players in forging this unprecedented consensus.
It was maybe summed up by National's former climate change spokesperson, Todd Muller, who paid a clearly heartfelt tribute to James Shaw.
“I do want to acknowledge James Shaw,” he said.
“There are certain people that you meet in this place who you can connect with.
“He is one of them.
“He is a man of huge character and integrity.
“There were many times in the last 18 months of this process where things could have turned out differently, but for his determination to see this as an opportunity beyond partisan politics, the credit, in no small measure, sits with him.”
How often does an Opposition MP say that about a member of the Government?
Maybe the idea that Parliament could be about more than point-scoring was what yesterday was about. Unless,it would seem, you are NZ First.