Attack on Shaw unlikely to stop historic compromise
By Richard Harman (author)
The attack on Climate Change Minister James Shaw yesterday may delay the unveiling of the programme for the implementation of the Zero Carbon Bill, but an historic compromise between the Government and the Opposition over the Bill still appears to be on track.
POLITIK understands there are still some issues to be resolved; the most notable would appear to be the degree of political independence of the Climate Change Commission.
It would seem that NZ First and National may be at odds on this.
Though NZ First’s Manifesto seemed to call for an independent Climate Change Commission (which is supported by both Labour and National), it is understood NZ First want Parliament to be the ultimate setter of any climate change targets.
National has a different vision.
It sees the Reserve Bank as a model and wants the Climate Change Commission to stand above politics.
Privately National MPs will say they want to avoid a situation in the future where the climate change targets could easily get hijacked by a Government dependent on the Greens for survival.
But their Climate Change spokesperson, Todd Muller, was unwilling yesterday to comment on progress on resolving what may be an impasse over the independence of the Commission.
“That's all part of the conversations that are going on and have been since last October,” he told POLITIK.
It is evident that the discussions are still delicately poised and Muller was totally unwilling to go anywhere near discussing the independence of the Commission.
“I have always been committed to a good safe process, and I commend James Shaw for how he has run it.
“And part of the way we have run it is that the points of detail that at times we have grappled with are not for public debate.
“We've got to run the negotiations in good faith; land or otherwise in a position and then there'll be plenty of time to talk about how we got there.
“But in the middle of that process and on any particular point of detail I'm not discussing that publicly. “
However, Muller's public support for Shaw and his refusal to debate the matter in public might also suggest that he is not unhappy with the direction that Shaw is headed in with the Bill.
He is perhaps less certain about what the Government will say in its formal response to the Productivity Commission's report last August on the transition to a low emissions economy.
Of particular interest to National and its agricultural base is the question of how methane (the gas that cows belch) will be treated.
The report argued that because methane is a short-lived gas, it should be treated differently from the long-lived gas, carbon dioxide.
It proposed the advent of a methane quota system which would operate like the fisheries' quota system and under which quota would be tradable.
While all this is going on, Muller has asked National Party members for feedback on the party’s overall climate change policy.
But the statement on methane in the party’s discussion document leaves little room for debate: “It remains our view that the agricultural gases of methane and nitrous oxide are best managed down by improved farming efficiency and direct investment in new technologies as they appear.”
That is why the party is now promoting GE technology as a way of producing grasses that will lead to less methane production.
Ironically, NZ First's preference for the issue to be the property of Parliament is also stimulated by a desire to reduce pressure on the rural community.
However, Muller told POLITIK that the Zero Emissions legislation would contain considerable technical detail.
And because of that, he is asking National Party MPs to be patient when they finally get to see the legislation.
“There may be sections in the bill that are not as easy for National Party members to swallow as they would be if the Nats were producing the bill,” he said.
“Well it's a function of negotiation, and it's a complex piece of legislation that has to be written on a blank canvas.
“You need to have a sense of does this fit with the principles that we've applied as opposed to you know we have every line and every point of detail.
“And so invariably with a negotiation, you are never going to be happy with everything.
“So you have to assess it against the broad principles that are important to you.”
Muller remains optimistic that he and Shaw at least, can agree on the final legislation.
If they can, it will be an historic achievement to surely rank alongside legislation like the 1993 Electoral Act or the 1988 Reserve Bank Act as an example of Parliament at its best, working on a bipartisan basis on an important piece of legislation.