Did Bill English really say that?

July 18, 2014

On Monday, the National Party held a public meeting at the Kelston Community Center. In attendance were Alfred Ngaro (Te-Atatu Candidate), Paula Bennett (Minister for Social Affairs) and Bill English (Finance Minister and Deputy Prime Minister).

The community members of Kelston had come out in numbers to hear the what the National Party had to say.

The packed hall was presented with a well rehearsed and absolutely on-point political spiel from the National Party members.

Bill English spoke beautifully on the party line with its focus on jobs, education and the economy. All the good stuff. Policy aims and aspirations that made me feel warm inside.

Then the floor was opened up for questions. Bill English was the clearly the pointman for this event. He took all the questions from the floor.

I came with an agenda. There had been no mention of climate change and its implications for New Zealand. This was as good a time as any to bring up the topic with an economics-based question to the deputy leader of the National Party.

My question picked up on the growing awareness of climate change worldwide, and how more and more countries around the world have started acting. I asked Mr English for his thoughts on how a competent economic policy would address the effects of climate change, bearing in mind that in 2007 John Key was quoted saying that "action on climate change is also needed to ensure the prosperity of New Zealand's economy in an increasingly carbon-conscious world”.

His response was tellingly different to that quote. I wasn’t recording, so I started scribbling words down as he spoke.

He claimed that recent reports “show that the way the world is moving is increasingly towards climate change adaptation rather than mitigation”, and said adaptation policy was “more prudent” than mitigation strategies.

As best as I can recall, National’s approach was described as: “Business as usual for us in terms of climate change policy; the incentive to act will only be determined by the effects on the constituents, i.e adaptation when the time comes."

In other words, no genuine effort to reduce carbon emissions - rather, Mr English would have us wait until the effects of climate change are visibly impacting the New Zealand population. Until it’s too late.

Later, my friend Gemma managed to ask another question about the implications of climate change and its impact on Pacific nations, and its effects on the most vulnerable members of our community: the elderly, the young and the poor. How would National act to prevent this impact?

For this, Mr English's response included an apparent denial of the effects of rising sea level: "There is still debate about the evidence of islands sinking in the Pacific.”

Moreover, his response was one that held climate change as luxury political item - one that could only be debated about with privileged intellectuals. In his view, action on climate change is “a luxury that we can't afford," and a “non-issue at the moment, because there are more pressing concerns”.

Hearing our Deputy Prime Minister sweeping climate change under the carpet like this was deeply disturbing.

Prime Minister John Key and Climate Change Minister Tim Groser are both fond of saying that New Zealand is doing its fair share on climate change. But on Monday night, Bill English effectively told us that their policy was to do nothing except wait and adapt. The National Party needs to make it clear to the New Zealand public which one of these is the truth.

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