Labour is being attacked by both parties it would need to form the next Government after it culled climate and environmental policies with support partner the Greens, and Te Pāti Māori, now calling for it to support their key priority areas.
It comes amid a heated day of politics between the left-of-centre parties, with Te Pāti Māori co-leader Debbie Ngarewa-Packer today calling moves to scale back climate-change policies announced by Prime Minister Chris Hipkins on Monday “disgusting”.
She even took a swing at the Greens in calling for Climate Change Minister James Shaw to resign, saying it was his job to hold the Government to account in the policy area. Shaw himself had also criticised Labour’s policy cuts, which he was not involved in.
The two minor parties have meanwhile revealed to the Herald two policy areas that could become bottom lines if they were to work with Labour after this year’s election, including a Zero Waste Minister for the Greens and support for Te Pāti Māori’s seabed mining ban bill.
The backlash comes after Hipkins on Monday tossed the $568 million clean car upgrade scheme that allowed people to scrap old cars to gain a grant for a more environmentally friendly vehicle, staggered the rollout of Auckland light rail, narrowed the speed reduction programme, stopped the social leasing car scheme and refocused public transport goals in Auckland, Hamilton, Tauranga, Wellington and Christchurch.
Cabinet also deferred work on the container return scheme, which was designed to capture the estimated half of the roughly two billion plastic, glass and aluminium vessels that either go to landfill or pollute the environment each year.
Hipkins said the policies would have only had minor impacts on the country’s emissions reductions targets and there were more efficient processes that cost less.
Shaw, who is not in Cabinet and so was aware but not involved in the decisions, hit out at the Government claiming the policy cuts would only make the country’s future climate targets harder to achieve.
It came as the country grapples with the aftermath of two devastating cyclones made more intense due to climate change, and Kiwis become increasingly concerned about a lack of action. A 1News Kantar Public poll released today showed just 10 per cent of respondents wanted the Government to scale back policy, with 54 per cent wanting more urgency.
Shaw said he felt being left out of the decisions broke “long-standing practice” between the parties and potentially breached the co-operation agreement between them.
The co-operation agreement, signed after the 2020 election, includes any decisions on climate-change policy and environmental issues, including minimising waste and plastics.
“We’ve had a very constructive working relationship with the Labour Party over the course of the last five years. And we hope for that to continue for many years to come.”
On Ngarewa-Packer’s call for him to resign, Shaw said it was not something he had considered while also stating he could still work with Te Pāti Māori.
The rise in tensions between the left-of-centre parties comes as the latest One News Kantar Poll this week had them as most likely to be able to form the next Government.
Labour topped the poll at 36 per cent, ahead of National on 34 per cent, but with just 11 per cent from traditional partner the Greens they would only get to 60 of 120 seats - not quite enough to form a majority. That meant the two traditional left-wing partners would need the support of Te Pāti Māori, which based on the poll would get three seats.
Green Party waste spokeswoman Eugenie Sage said she was “extremely disappointed” the container refund policy was being delayed to an unknown date.
The scheme was planned to be in place by 2025, and would provide refunds of about 20 cents for returning various plastic, glass and aluminium containers. It was designed to slash environmental pollution and waste to landfill while increasing reusing over recycling.
Sage, who helped instigate many of the waste reduction initiatives currently in place while Associate Minister prior to 2020, said Environment Minister David Parker had been making good progress.
“That is why the policy change was such a shock.
“There’s an estimated 2.6 billion containers consumed each year and a 45 per cent return rate through our recycling schemes.
“That means 1.7 billion beverage containers are either going to landfill, or going to be littered, potentially ending up in our oceans.
“So the fact that Labour is deferring this means that they’re not serious about plastic pollution and our view, and it was a fundamental change in the way we deal with waste.”
Sage said giving Zero Waste its own ministerial portfolio would highlight its importance and help recognise the “huge benefits”. She could not say if it would be a “bottom line” but would definitely be part of any negotiations with Labour if they were in a position to form a government after the October 14 election.
Meanwhile, Te Pāti Māori is today sending a letter to Hipkins - backed by a group of more than a dozen iwi and NGOs including Greenpeace and WWF-New Zealand - urging the Government to support Ngarewa-Packer’s bill to ban seabed mining in Aotearoa.
Her members’ bill, drawn from the ballot last year, seeks to ban the practice that involves extracting metals and minerals from the seafloor, including ironsands, which campaigners have long opposed for the ecological and cultural impacts alongside it.
Her bill would ban mining in New Zealand waters, withdraw previous consents and exploration rights and end the ability to apply for new ones.
Ngarewa-Packer was instrumental in leading opposition with her iwi to a proposal to mine the seabed in the South Taranaki Bight. It ultimately led to a hard-fought court battle with Ngāti Ruanui, Ngā Rauru and environmentalists coming out victorious at the Supreme Court last year.
She said bans on seabed mining had already been enacted in Australia’s Northern Territory and New South Wales, and in Oregon in the United States. French Polynesia and California are currently implementing such bans.
“It seems extraordinary that Aotearoa now lags behind these jurisdictions, despite us having given this industry the most detailed scrutiny of any country in the world, and found it wanting,” said the letter.
“On the global stage we could hold our heads high as we advocate for clean oceans, thriving marine life, and giving effect to indigenous rights.”
No date has currently been set for the bill’s first reading but the next date for members’ bills is March 29.