All news articles

All our news articles

Delivering news

What's being said

Delivery of policy

Gareth Hughes: Environmental Vandalism - Speech on the Annual Review

Kia ora, Mr Chair. Ngā mihi ki a koutou. Kia ora. I rise to take a call on the review of the Treasury part of this debate. I want to focus, in particular, in page 11, which is the alternatives to GDP - discussion that James Shaw had in the committee, and which is in the report with the Prime Minister.

But I want to start with a bit of a story. At the time that Tane Mahuta, the great kauri tree in the Waipoa Forest was just a sapling growing up north, on the other side of the planet, a great city was being sacked and a new noun was being added to our lexicon. In 455 AD, Genseric, the king of the Vandals, stood outside the gates of the city of Rome, along with his army. At the time, the emperor and half the population fled the city in terror, and for 14 days the Vandals sacked the city. They destroyed and damaged buildings, including the great temple, they carted off loads of treasure, and for ever their name was immortalised with the act of vandalism. They are also famous across the Greek world, because what they would do to get the little bit of lead inside the Greek temples was to dismantle the great marble blocks—just to get that little bit of lead. When we do not measure the real things, when we do not look at the big picture, when we measure only those short-term little inputs or costs, we miss out. This is why I want to talk about the risk of the Vandals today.

That tribe became synonymous with vandals, but 1,500 years on, the vandals are not at our gates anymore; in fact, they are in charge of our country. The vandals do not wear war paint or carry swords anymore; they wear suits and they carry resource consents. These environmental vandals, who do not have the idea on the big picture or the important things that we should be measuring, are wrecking our waterways. They are plundering our forests. They are throwing our clean green brand on a bonfire of ideology. You can see it in the report, when the Prime Minister says: "We're thinking about it. We have been thinking about measuring broader things than just gross domestic product since 2011, but we're not going to do it."

Take what it means in the real world. When you look at our rivers and lakes, our kids are getting sick because they are just so dirty. Everyone knows what the problem is. The problem is that we have got the equivalent of 90 million people releasing their effluent into the environment, and we are treating only 10 percent. We are counting only the economic benefits; we are not counting the economic costs. What we see is that instead of making them swimmable—we are not focused on measuring, counting, fixing, or making them swimmable—what we see is, in fact, a changing of the definition for "swimmable". That is just like someone scratching your car and calling it art as an excuse.

You can see the same with our conservation estate. Rome was not sacked in a single day, and we are seeing the same thing with our conservation estate—death by a thousand cuts. When we do not measure the important things in life, we see what the Vandals did—taking it out. The Department of Conservation is the guardian of our national estate—$20 billion in economic benefit to New Zealand has been estimated because of our clean, green brand. But instead of protection or counting the important things, what we get is slogans—a War on Weeds, a Battle for the Birds—and targets that are so ridiculously far in the future that those who will actually be responsible when their call is due will be ancient history.

You can also see it in the vandalism of our climate, when we do not measure the important things. Then you do things like promoting oil drilling, subsidising it, promoting coal mining, and opening up the Maui's dolphin sanctuary—the shores of Lake Te Anau—to oil drilling. That is what happens. This is worse than fiddling while Rome burns in the midst of a climate crisis. In fact, it is just like pouring petrol on the fire. The Prime Minister, he has had 9 years to address these things—to count the impacts of our toxic rivers, the species going instinct, the conservation estate being degraded. But instead, what we saw was a Prime Minister who stood before us and said: "I came, I saw, and I squandered." How will historians look back at this generation, and the actions and inactions contained in this report? We have all the advice, all the science, all the experts telling us what we could do, but instead of acting to protect our environment, the Government simply made it worse.

I talk about Rome, but we do not have those gigantic, great temples, and we do not have cartloads of gold and treasure. We have got something more important—our natural environment—and that is more valuable than any gold. Our forests and our rivers, they are our temples. The birdsong is our choir. As New Zealanders, these are the important things, and if we do not measure it, we are not protecting it. We can build, protect, and restore. The environment and the economy do not have to be in conflict, or traded off just to get a quick buck like those Vandals did in pulling out the iron between the marble blocks. In this debate, I wanted to talk about what we can do better—we can measure the important things in life.