Greens link election support to three questions

By Sue Eden

NELSON - The Green Party has laid down a challenge to National and Labour to answer three key questions before the next election and says the answers to these will influence where its support might go.

Green Party co-leader Jeanette Fitzsimons today, in a speech at the party's annual conference, said the political landscape was changing and the Greens needed to begin work now to determine the conditions on which it would work with other parties after the next election.

As it did at the last election, it would establish a process of discussion around the provinces of the various options which would be led by herself and co-leader Russel Norman, she said.

Ms Fitzsimons told the conference that the face of the National Party had changed with the departure of former leader Don Brash.

"What we don't know is whether the heart and mind have.... We still don't know what policies sit behind the charming face of their new leader (John Key)."

Ms Fitzsimons said the public was responding to Mr Key's charm offensive and liked a leader with a more human face than Dr Brash. But it would be demanding firm policies as the election got closer.

In her speech today she had three key questions around a carbon emissions trading scheme, the polluting dairy industry and what National would do to help the people Mr Key had labelled the underclass.

"Where will you set the cap (on emissions) John and how will you allocate the permits to trade, will they all go to the current polluters?"

Ms Fitzsimons said Fonterra had set a goal of 4 per cent annual growth in the dairy industry, which meant 4 per cent more cows, more methane and more pollution.

"John, do you support that goal and if not what are you prepared to do to curb the growth of New Zealand's most lucrative and also its most polluting?"

She also wanted to know what he would do about the people he called the "underclass".

"Will you make a public commitment now that benefit levels will not be cut and the conditions for receiving them will not be made more stringent under any government you lead?"

Her questions to Labour were similar to those to National.

"That tells you something. While there are significant differences between National and Labour, they are more similar to each other than either is to us," she said.

"Without answers to these questions and others, the Green Party cannot make any decisions about where it might stand in relation to any future government."

Ms Fitzsimons also had some advice for Labour. It had since February -- when it announced a goal of being "carbon neutral" and the "first truly sustainable" country -- backed away from the one direction that could save it in the public's mind, she said.

Labour needed to back up its aspirations for a new direction with action, she said.

National's environment spokesman Nick Smith, who has been at the conference in his Nelson electorate as an observer, today told reporters that Ms Fitzsimons had been as "challenging to the National Party as she was to the Labour Party".

"At the last election the Green Party married their soul to the Labour Party and the fact that they are taking a broader look is a positive step forward and opens some doors of opportunity."

On the specific questions, Dr Smith said he would not be creating policy "on the hop" around the way an emissions trading scheme would work. This was an area where it would be good to get "cross-party" dialogue. National had set a goal of a 50 per cent reduction on 1990 emissions by 2050.

National would not be restricting growth in the dairy industry, he said. National believed there were technological solutions to managing the significant environmental impacts.

"Whereas Jeanette might want a government to limit the growth of the dairying, National wants to control the effects."

Dr Smith said National and the Greens did have a "different view of the world" on social issues such as a 90-day trial period for new employees.

Labour's Darren Hughes was also at the conference yesterday as an observer but had to go home to talk to police after his house was burgled.

- NZPA

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