John Armstrong is the Herald's chief political commentator

John Armstrong: 'Green Wave' shows party is serious

Russel Norman. Photo / APN
Russel Norman. Photo / APN

We've had Bill Birch's Think Big, Roger Douglas' free market, Jim Bolger's Path to 2010, Helen Clark's Knowledge Wave (which morphed into Economic Transformation), John Key's Job Summit and Don Brash's 2025 Task Force.

And that is just to mention a few. When it comes to failed, fruitless and forgotten industry development strategies, New Zealand's economic landscape is strewn with more corpses than you would trip over in a production of Macbeth.

Now comes - for want of a better term - the "Green Wave". On a roll in the polls and having largely shed their image as a bunch of bicycle-clip-wearing eco-obsessives, the Greens have made their strongest pitch yet to be treated as serious participants in the debate on economic policy.

The party's economic policy - released yesterday in the guise of a plan to create 100,000 "green" jobs - deserved better than the ritualistic slagging offered up by John Key and Associate Finance Minister Steven Joyce, who fronted in Bill English's absence.

Sure, the plan's central element - the creation of up to 81,000 jobs through building a new $6 billion to $8 billion export industry in renewable energy technology - should be treated with the same healthy scepticism as other claims of pending nirvana. But can those scoffing at the Greens come up with anything better?

The Greens' argument is that someone stands to make a lot of money out of such technology. Given the widespread use of geothermal, wind and other renewable sources of electricity, why not New Zealand?

The party would put taxpayers' money where its mouth is by boosting the funding of research and development to the tune of an extra $1 billion over three years.

The Greens argue this is not a matter of choice. New Zealand is now falling so far behind other countries in R&D spending that it is a matter of necessity.

The 21-page booklet detailing the Greens' economic plan - no doubt heading for your letter box - is refreshingly low on dogma and high on innovative ideas.

For example, the Greens argue that the three state electricity generators earmarked for partial privatisation should remain under complete state ownership. No surprises there. But the reasoning is not so predictable. The party argues those SOEs are large enough to be players on the global market. They should establish partnerships with private entrepreneurs to develop renewable energy solutions for export.

As an added incentive to spur research and development in this field, the Greens would set a 2030 target for New Zealand to achieve 100 per cent renewable generation.

The Greens argue part-privatisation will inevitably weaken Government control of the SOEs as the state would have to kow-tow to the dividend demands of the minority shareholders. Worse, those SOEs would inevitably end up being sold off completely and fall into the hands of foreign investors who would have little interest in seeing the generators as a means of transforming the New Zealand economy.

What all this - alongside much else in the Greens' economic plan - really adds up to is the party crossing some kind of Rubicon.

The Greens are now much more comfortable with economic growth - as long as it is based on clean technology, of course.

National might still claim the Greens do not understand economics. The purpose of yesterday's policy release was to demonstrate the Greens do understand - and are deadly serious about remedying the economy's structural weaknesses, though not in a fashion National would favour.

- NZ Herald

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John Armstrong is the Herald's chief political commentator

Herald political correspondent John Armstrong has been covering politics at a national level for nearly 30 years. Based in the Press Gallery at Parliament in Wellington, John has worked for the Herald since 1987. John was named Best Columnist at the 2013 Canon Media Awards and was a previous winner of Qantas media awards as best political columnist. Prior to joining the Herald, John worked at Parliament for the New Zealand Press Association. A graduate of Canterbury University's journalism school, John began his career in journalism in 1981 on the Christchurch Star. John has a Masters of Arts degree in political science from Canterbury.

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