LI Yong, UNIDO Director General and Mr. Hongjoo Hahm, Officer-in-Charge, ESCAP
The business case for making our economy more sustainable is clear. Globally, transitioning to a circular economy – where materials are reused, re-manufactured or recycled-could significantly reduce carbon emissions and deliver over US$1 trillion in material cost savings by 2025. The benefits for Asia and the Pacific would be huge. But to make this happen, the region needs to reconcile its need for economic growth with its ambition for sustainable business.
Today, the way we consume is wasteful. We extract resources, use them to produce goods and services, often wastefully, and then sell them and discard them. However, resources can only stretch so far. By 2050, the global population will reach 10 billion. In the next decade, 2.5 billion new middle-class consumers will enter the fray. If we are to meet their demands and protect the planet, we must disconnect prosperity and well-being from inefficient resource use and extraction. And create a circular economy, making the shift to extending product lifetimes, reusing and recycling in order to turn waste into wealth.
These imperatives underpin the 5th Green Industry Conference held in Bangkok this week, hosted by the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) in partnership with the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) and the Royal Thai government. High-level policymakers, captains of industry and scientists gathered to discuss solutions on how to engineer waste and pollution out of our economy, keep products and materials in use for longer and regenerate the natural system in which we live.
The goal is to embed sustainability into industries which we depend on for our jobs, prosperity and well-being. Action in Asia and the Pacific could make a major difference. Sixty percent of the world’s fastmoving consumer goods are manufactured in the region. Five Asia-Pacific countries account for over half of the plastic in the world’s oceans. The region’s material footprint per unit of Gross Domestic Product is twice the world average and the amount of solid waste generated by Asian cities is expected to double by 2025.
If companies could build circular supply chains to reduce material use and increase the rate of reuse, repair, remanufacture and recycling – powered by renewable energy – the value of materials could be maximized. This would cushion businesses, manufacturing industries in particular, from the volatility of commodity prices by decoupling production from finite supplies of primary resources. This is increasingly important as many elements vital for industrial production could become scarce in the coming decades.
With these goals in mind, the United Nations is working with governments and businesses to support innovation and upgrade production technologies to use less materials, energy and water. UNIDO is engaged across industrial sectors, from food production to textiles, from automotive to construction. Over the past twenty-five years, its network of Resource Efficient and Cleaner Production Centres has helped thousands of businesses to “green” their processes and their products. The Global Cleantech initiative has supported entrepreneurs to produce greener building materials. Industrial renewable energy use is being accelerated by the Global Network of Sustainable Energy Centres. New business models such as chemical leasing help reduce chemical emissions. And the creation of eco-industrial parks has contributed to the sustainable development of our towns and cities.
In Asia and the Pacific, the UN is intensifying its efforts to reducing and banning single use plastics. The Platform for Accelerating the Circular Economy is implementing programmes to reduce plastics consumption, marine litter and electronics waste, and encourage sustainable procurement practices. UNESCAP is identifying opportunities in Asian cities to return plastic resources into the production cycle by linking waste pickers in the informal economy with local authorities to recover plastic waste and reduce pollution.
The 5t h Green Industry Conference is an opportunity to give scale to these efforts. The gap between our ambition for sustainability and many business practices is significant. So it’s essential for best practice to be shared, common approaches coordinated, and success stories replicated. We need to learn from each other’s businesses to innovate, sharpen our rules and increase consumer awareness. Let’s step up our efforts to build a circular economy in Asia and the Pacific.
World Economic Forum, Towards the Circula r Economy. Available from http:// www3.weforum.org/docs/WEF_ENV_TowardsCircularEconomy_Report _2014 . pdf
Mr. LI Yong is Director General of the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO)
Mr. Hongjoo Hahm is Officer-in-Charge of the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP)
Bryce Edwards’ Political Roundup: Jacinda Ardern’s stardust returns
An important new book is being launched tonight in Wellington by the Prime Minister. Stardust and Substance: the New Zealand General Election of 2017 is Victoria University of Wellington’s collection of 38 perspectives on last year’s fascinating campaign and the formation of the new government headed by Jacinda Ardern. I’ve written a series of essay reviews of the book – you can see the first one here: Stardust and Substance: the 2017 election through politicians’ eyes. And the Herald has published an excerpt from the book – Jacinda Ardern’s chapter: Labour 2017: the Prime Minister’s perspective.
The title of the book plays on the phenomenon of Jacindamania that dominated the campaign, together with questions of to what extent Ardern epitomised style and/or substance. That question has re-emerged in terms of her major speech yesterday, which was meant to provide a “re-set” after a troubled month for the government.
The speech was all about shoring up support amongst those Government voters who might have started to have doubts about the unity and coherence of the coalition, especially after the last week of instability caused by Winston Peters and New Zealand First.
Despite the stardust in Ardern’s speech yesterday, there wasn’t a lot of substance in either the speech or the new “roadmap”. As I said on Breakfast about the event, “Stylistically it was brilliant but it was fairly hollow in terms of substance”, and “I don’t think there was anything particularly in this roadmap that couldn’t have been in a National Party roadmap if they were in Government.”
Perhaps the strongest critique of Ardern’s announcement came from Toby Manhire who said the “plan was simply serving up the same ambitions-values-visions-priorities salad from a new bowl. If it felt rather hollow, it was a slick show” – see: ‘Not dysfunction junction’: what was Jacinda Ardern’s big speech really about? Furthermore, “There was nothing discernibly new there. If it was a road map, it was a pretty vague and well-thumbed map.”
Manhire draws attention to opposition leader Simon Bridges’ labelling of the event as “Trump-like”. Bridges has explained the comparison, saying the event was an “attempt to avoid tough questions with a stage-managed pep rally and carefully vetted questions”. And interestingly, Manhire gives some credence to this analysis: “it is nevertheless true that the prime minister has withdrawn from interviews on programmes where interviewers would be asking a host of difficult questions on the same weekend that she appeared before an audience of adoring supporters, who proffered a bunch of preordained, softball questions at the end.”
But Manhire does see the event as having some limited success: “It was an attempt to recapture and reignite some of the energy of the campaign, an effort to put some fresh air in tyres that had started to feel kind of flat. It was a rally. But that’s all it was.” It also “delivered the most valuable image of the day for the government: leaders of the three parties of government standing hip to hip to hip – a remarkably rare sight over the last year.”
Newsroom’s Tim Murphy is less than impressed with the stardust or the substance that was on display yesterday. He admits that “Ardern presented well, as is her way”, but says for “an evangelical gathering” the “atmosphere in the room was warm, but a furnace away from the sort of heat Ardern produced a year ago on the election campaign trail” – see: The Push-me-Pull-you Government.
Murphy also reports that Ardern’s slogan of “Let’s do this!” has been updated to the less-Zeitgeist version of “We are going to keep doing this”. Similarly, Ardern’s summation of the new agenda is “hardly a searing political ambition” – this is: “We want to be the country that we are already pretty proud of.”
In terms of the substance of the plan, he says “it was virtuous and nebulous. Everything to agree with, nothing to oppose. And it was un-detailed and unspecific and unformed and unknown.”
As with other journalists, Murphy draws attention to the degree of stage-managing that took place, especially with the question-and-answer session: “Questions were sourced from known attendees in advance, and from vetted offerings via Facebook. It was almost as if the event wasn’t for the media or the public, the voters, but for the three parties themselves. It was a kind-of-tripartite party conference.”
Watkins reports that Labour and Ardern are clearly bending over backwards to keep Winston Peters happy: “The biggest symbolism of all, however, was in what wasn’t said – like Ardern’s failure to mention even once the words Labour-led Government. In fact, Labour appears to be a dirty word in what we are told is a new era of MMP government, with Ardern’s speech notes mentioning her own party just once during a 25-minute speech”.
Yet, Watkins notes that the favour didn’t appear to be returned by Peters: “After being invited onto the stage for what media had been told would be a speech introducing Ardern, Peters failed to mention the ‘A’ word – Ardern – in his roll call of the Government’s achievements. Even the term prime minister seemed to be another dirty word since it wasn’t mentioned”.
The Herald’s political editor Audrey Young also says Ardern’s address was a success in terms of style rather than substance: “Ardern delivered her speech in Ted-talk-style, like the gifted communicator she can be. And while it was important in terms of setting out priorities, nothing in it was new” – see: Show of unity by Peters was important at Jacinda Ardern’s speech. Furthermore, “The political theatre is of greater value than the substance of the Prime Minister’s speech”.
Nonetheless, Young says that the timing of yesterday’s speech was good for the Government: “It may help to give a sense of coherence to the Government which has been looking fairly chaotic recently.”
Numerous commentators, including Young, drew attention to Winston Peters not playing a full and positive role in yesterday’s events. For example, he conspicuously left the stage once Green co-leader James Shaw arrived, which seemed to undermine the message of unity.
This morning, former politician Peter Dunne has been the AM Show to explain why he thinks Peters has become more belligerent and difficult lately: “When he was Acting Prime Minister while she was on maternity leave, he did a reasonable job. In a way that’s emboldened him and I think the contrast between the relatively calm times during her absence and the chaos that’s occurred since, is pretty stark – and he’s playing to that.”
Bryce Edwards’ Political Roundup: Is Labour yielding too much to business?
It might traditionally be the “workers party”, but at the moment Labour is making a serious play of inviting business into the tent, in order to stop their traditional foe lobbing bombs from the outside. That’s the upshot of this week’s major charm offensive from Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern to the business community.
Her speech to business leaders in Auckland on Tuesday came with the announcement of a new Business Advisory Council, which is supposed to allow business interests more influence at the highest levels of Government.
Obviously, the Labour-led Government is attempting to mollify business with this announcement, along with other concessions spelt out in Ardern’s speech. The objective is to turn around the so-called plummeting business confidence surveys that Labour is embarrassed by.
But isn’t this going too far? Does it mean Labour has capitulated to vested interests? Certainly, some are worried that the Government is placing the demands of business interests too high in the policy-making process.
Herald business journalist Fran O’Sullivan points out just how influential the new business group will be: “Ardern says the council’s role will be to build closer relationships between Government and business, provide high-level free and frank advice to the Prime Minister on key economic issues, and to create a vehicle to harness expertise from the private sector to inform the development of the Government’s economic policies” – see: Anointing Christopher Luxon a smart move by Jacinda Ardern.
Ardern herself has said “I want to work closely with, and be advised by, senior business leaders who take a helicopter view of our economy”, and she has invited business leaders to “join us in taking the lead on some of the important areas of reform the Government is undertaking”.
Writing in the NBR, Brent Edwards reports how the head of Business New Zealand, Kirk Hope, is impressed with the new initiative, saying “the new body is important because it gives business a direct line to the prime minister” – see: Prime Minister urged to slow the pace of employment law changes. Hope is quoted saying, “As another conduit to government and as a formal mechanism for engagement with the prime minister over policy I think … it’s probably a smart idea and a really critical channel for business.”
But Edwards notes that “Business New Zealand is already represented on five government-initiated working groups, including reviewing the tax system, the future of work and pay equity.”
Business journalist Rob Stock points out that, in general, business interests are already incredibly dominant in the policy making process, and it is therefore absurd to give them even more power: “I can think of many interest groups who lack a political voice. Business is not one of them. Business has money. It is well organised. Its opinion on anything is easily gauged. It has a powerful voice. It has its business membership groups – a bewildering number of them” – see: The Business Advisory Council is a waste of time; or is it a belated masterstroke?
After listing a large number of powerful business interest groups, Stock then explains their current political power: “Each has a staff of experts, policy officers, lobbyists, and communications people. On literally no topic is it possible for the government not to know what business thinks and wants.”
And, says Stock, these groups have a big impact on legislation: “I hear the voice of business echoing in all government discussion papers. It works like this. A minister announces a review. A few policy options are flagged. Business lobbyists go about their work. When the discussion paper comes out, much of the watering down has already happened… And then comes the whole consultation, and law-making process.”
The same article also includes the analysis of Stuff’s new national business editor Rebecca Stevenson, who is much more enthusiastic about integrating business more into government’s decision-making. She says: “This announcement is a smart one in my view. It makes business feel included, which has been sorely lacking”.
Stevenson lists various ways in which the current Government has apparently sidelined business interests, including when “the prime minister failed to turn up for the Deloitte Top 200 awards in November” and when “business failed to gain even one single mention” in the Budget (“That had to sting”). Therefore, for her, the new advisory council is “the least the Government could do for business. Literally.”
Like Stock, The Spinoff’s Toby Manhire also sees the absurdity of the Government attempting to give business even more power: “There is of course something fairly hilarious about the creation of an advisory group for big business. If you’re searching for underrepresented voices who go unheard in the corridors of power, who lack the resource and networks to put their case in policy making, big business is probably not going top of the list. But that just underscores the symbolism in all of this” – see: Jacinda Ardern takes on the elephants and albatrosses in the business zoo.
Nonetheless, Manhire believes Ardern’s charm offensive has probably worked. He says that her main message to business is “We promise you we are listening”, and he thinks “she’s probably done enough to shake something of that albatross” of low business confidence from around Labour’s neck.
Business journalist Jason Walls has also reacted with surprise, saying there are already ample opportunities for business interests to have input into the workings of this government. He questions whether another is needed: “what about the Treasury? What about the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE)? The Reserve Bank? BusinessNZ? Surely they should be doing this type of work already. On top of that, we have a Minister of Finance who has not one, not two but three Associate Ministers as well as a Minister of Revenue and Small Business. And already this year, the Government has already established two other business-led groups to help advise the Government – the Tripartite Future Work Forum and the Small Business Council” – see: Jacinda Ardern’s latest pitch to woo business won’t work – here’s why.
Does business even deserve to have more influence? That’s the question asked by University of Auckland professor of economics Tim Hazledine, who hopes “that the talking at the Council’s meetings is not all in one direction” – see: Business Advisory Council could prick ‘lack of confidence’ bubble. He thinks that the Prime Minister should be using the new council to tell business to get its act together.
Hazledine agrees that New Zealand has a business confidence problem, but of a different sort: “there is indeed a substantive ‘business confidence’ issue in New Zealand: it is about our, the people’s, lack of confidence in them – specifically, in the big business corporate sector. Overall, the corporate sector in New Zealand has been a conspicuous poor performer over the past thirty years.”
Possibly the most interesting and challenging criticism of the Government’s new business working group comes from former Reserve Bank economist Michael Reddell, who has two big problems with the new approach – see his blog post, A country is not a company.
First, “such councils can be a path towards cronyism. On the one hand, attracting sycophants who like to be able to tell their mates they have the ear of the Prime Minister. And on the other, more concerningly, enabling selected business heads to bend the ear of ministers and put pressure on them to make decisions favourable to the specific economic interests of those involved and their employers.”
Second, he challenges the very notion that businesspeople have expertise in running economies: “what do chief executives of businesses know about overall economic management, and the challenges of New Zealand’s longstanding productivity underperformance?”. Reddell argues that “Expertise on economic management, and the particular confounding challenges the New Zealand economy faces, just aren’t the sort of thing that tends to be fostered in the course of a corporate career.”
There were other aspects of the Prime Minister’s speech to business that the audience should have been appreciative of, according to the New Zealand Herald – see its editorial: Two small words from PM should lift business confidence. In particular, they should be thankful to the PM for saying “We won’t” on the issue of relaxing the conservative fiscal policies contained in their Budget Responsibility Rules. And the editorial points out that Ardern reiterated that planned industrial relations reform will not “fundamentally disrupt the employment relations landscape” established by the National Government.
According to Stuff political editor Tracy Watkins, such statements about industrial relations reform show that this government is now shifting away from a more radical and transformative approach, and towards a moderate and incrementalist approach – in the same way that Helen Clark and John Key pragmatically ran their governments – see: Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s plan to bring the boardroom into the Beehive.
Could it be that this Government has rolled over too easily in the face of business grumpiness? Pattrick Smellie writes today that “The degree of political attention paid to the decline in business confidence… is overblown”, and the “Government has let itself be spooked, which may say something about its internal confidence about the cohesion of the economic plan it says it’s pursuing” – see: Magnifying the elephant in the boardroom.
Finally, the capitulation of the Government to business might actually be the opposite of how it looks. Mike Hosking argues that Labour is simply co-opting business leaders in order to blunt their opposition, because “what you are achieving is getting buy-in from them. They are signing up for the plan. They are on board with the government because they are in the pay if not debt of the government… once you’re on a government board you work for the government” – see: Jacinda Ardern’s Business Advisory Council is political genius.
Bryce Edwards’ Political Roundup: The Green Party goes greener
Those who want the Green Party to focus primarily on the environment should be very happy with the direction the party is heading in. Over the last ten months in government – and especially during the weekend – it has become clear that the party is more about the environment than ever before and much less focused on economic and social issues.
The conference in the weekend presented the party at its most green ever. All of the main issues that the leadership and membership focused on were environmental. Unlike last year’s conference where Metiria Turei unveiled an incredibly leftwing welfare policy – and dramatically confessed to welfare fraud – at this conference the talk was all about climate change, conservation, landfill waste issues, and water bottling.
For the best account of how the party has returned to an environmental focus, see Henry Cooke’s Bruised Green Party go back to basics at annual conference. He points to the two major announcements on water and waste, saying these “catered entirely to the more environmentally-focused wing of the party”.
Cooke suggests the focus is strategic: “With the party facing a raft of criticism from the commentariat that it was forgetting the ‘Green’ in the party’s name, launching some solid environmental policies made sense. The water testing stuff, clearly aimed at big foreign water bottlers, was some of the most populist policy the Greens have had in years, and will be well-received across the country.”
Of course, the Greens have always been a complex coalition of many different factions and philosophies. This was expressed colourfully on Friday in Matthew Hooton’s column, in which he detailed the historic divisions in the party, and how they appear to be resurfacing – see: Cracks in the Green revolution.
Hooton argues that the party has traditionally done very well to keep the various factions working coherently together, but multiple fault-lines in the party are becoming harder to paper over. He suggests the current co-leadership duo are less able to work together in the yin-and-yang fashion that Russel Norman and Metiria Turei achieved. Furthermore, he believes Marama Davidson’s more radical supporters are in the ascendancy.
It seems, however, that the opposite is the case – that the environmentalists are now firmly in control – and, indeed, there’s a much more moderate atmosphere in the party. This has led some to warn the party about losing its radical edge, or even some of its voters. Former MP Catherine Delahunty emphasised how important it is that the Greens don’t become perceived as just being “‘Labour Lite” – see Lucy Bennett’s Uncomfortable discussions to be had at Green Party AGM.
Sue Bradford, also a former Green MP, commented during the weekend that the party was becoming “less and less the party of choice for people on the ecological and social justice side of the Greens”.
So, is the party vulnerable to losing its more leftwing members and voters? Henry Cooke reports that “A new movement called Organise Aotearoa, to the left of the Greens, has sprung up to soak up some of those who might be less comfortable with the compromises.”
Walls says this imbalance isn’t currently a problem: “there is nowhere for New Zealand’s more socially progressive voters to go apart from the Green Party”. However, “if a socially progressive party were to rise, it could plausibly siphon votes away from disenfranchised former Greens supporters and ultimately lead to the Party’s demise.”
This is also a position held by leftwing political commentator Gordon Campbell: “Before 2020, the Greens will need major gains that set them apart from Labour. Especially on the social justice front, where it risks looking entirely redundant” – see: On National’s obsolescence and the Greens’ dilemma.
Campbell is uneasy with the Greens’ continued endorsement of Labour’s conservative fiscal policies: “The Greens did not have to sign up last year to the Budget Responsibility Rules that continue to restrict the government’s ability to meet social needs. They chose to do so back then, and they’re choosing right now not to revisit that decision.”
A damage-control conference
The Green leadership will be very pleased with how the conference went at the weekend, because in the end there was very little infighting or pushback from the membership’s leftwing. Instead, the MPs were able to convince assembled activists that the progress made and concessions won within government far outweighed the compromises and shortcomings.
Davidson and Shaw were able to point to a list of environmental wins, including the current process of crafting climate change legislation, establishing the Interim Climate Change Committee, the ban on plastic bags, setting up a Green Investment Fund with $100m, more funding for public transport, and most of all, the ban on new permits for oil and gas exploration.
This doesn’t mean there weren’t challenges for the MPs and leadership, who had to answer some questions about selling out its ideology and principles – especially on their support for the so-called Waka-Jumping Bill.
A number of commentators have pointed to the Greens getting fewer policy wins than the New Zealand First party, and the fact that they haven’t been able to make more of the environmental wins they have achieved. For Guyon Espiner it’s a case of the MPs simply needing to use the “weapon the Green Party appear reluctant to use: Its voice” – see: The Green Party needs to speak up.
Many are pointing to the need for Davidson, in particular, to speak up more. And although Espiner agrees, he says others should too: “As a backbencher Ms Davidson is completely free to speak her mind. Even the Green ministers are largely free of the constraints of collective responsibility, in that it only applies to their portfolios.”
Similarly, Sam Sachdeva has said the Greens need louder voice in government. He argues that “The party may need to fight its corner more often if it is to survive and thrive”. In particular, “A dead rat or two may be palatable, but the Greens must show they can choose their own cuisine when they want to.”
According to Gordon Campbell, a return to a more principled-focus is necessary because “much of the Greens appeal has been based on the notion that its core values are not up for bargaining. That’s one reason why the deal on the waka jumping law has been so harmful.” He says that “the Greens are going to need to display a backbone. If it is to survive, the self-declared party of principles will have to demonstrate a greater willingness to fight for them.”
Finally, recently the Green MPs have become more aggressive and dissatisfied with how the media is covering the party. For example, Conservation Minister Eugenie Sage retorted to one journalist asking hard questions: “If you want to sit in this seat, then perhaps you should stand for election.” And for the latest push back against the media, see RadioLive’s Reporting on Marama’s speech ‘disgraceful’ – James Shaw.
Headline: Bryce Edwards’ Political Roundup: Why this isn’t A transformational government
Bryce Edwards’ Political Roundup: Why this isn’t A transformational government
Jacinda Ardern’s promise to lead a “transformational government” is looking fairly hollow at the moment. That’s because it’s insisting on running the same sort of economic regime as the previous government, while somehow expecting a different result.
Ardern’s administration continues to commit itself to many core National Party fiscal policies – including running budget surpluses, keeping the size of the state small, and paying down debt in a hurry. This self-imposed commitment to broadly retain National’s tax and spending policies will severely restrict the ability of the new government to make big enough changes in areas of urgent concern such as housing, poverty, health, and education.
Increasingly, commentators are pointing out that in order to run budget surpluses, Labour is essentially running austerity economic policy. That means it will continue to underfund areas like health and education, as well as leaving major infrastructure problems in Auckland unfixed. For example, Bernard Hickey says today that “the 2018 Budget won’t property address the systematic under-spending on infrastructure that has led to this man-made crisis in Auckland that is spreading to the likes of Hamilton, Tauranga and Wellington” – see: The case to borrow and invest.
At the centre of Labour’s fiscal conservatism is the Budget Responsibility Rules that it signed up to during the election campaign, along with the Green Party. I explain the conservative impact these rules are now having in my Newsroom column today, Labour’s budget rules are holding it back.
Labour’s dogmatic adherence to these self-imposed rules is being challenged by commentators from across the political spectrum. That’s because “There is an increasing awareness that in obsessively seeking to create Budget surpluses, damage is inflicted elsewhere. That’s the lesson in the Middlemore rotting building debacle – that cost-cutting in order to balance your budget can come at a great cost.”
Ironically, this is exactly what the new Government is accusing the last government of at the moment. But this “blame game” is not washing with many commentators, with plenty of questions being asked about why Grant Robertson is running National-lite economic policy in the face of the need to urgently fix underfunded infrastructure and public services.
One of the hardest-hitting critiques comes from leftwing commentator Gordon Campbell, who has responded to Jacinda Ardern’s claims of an almost-crisis like state in health and education, saying: “So….since there are expensive needs lurking in every nook and cranny, why is Labour sticking so steadfastly to the right wing ideological dogma enshrined in the Budget Responsibility Rules (BRR) that – for no good social reason – require Crown debt to be reduced to 20 % of GDP in the next five years. (Currently, the figure is sitting at a low by world standards figure of only 23%.)” – see: On Labour’s timidity.
When this question was put to Finance Minister Grant Robertson, Campbell reports that “Robertson had no real answer, beyond saying that Labour has already signalled its readiness to accept a slightly longer debt repayment path than National”. This isn’t good enough, according to Campbell, and he warns that the problem isn’t going away for Labour: “This issue will remain a live one – because it goes to the heart of (a) just how radical the coalition government is prepared to be in dealing with the socio-economic problems it has inherited, and (b) the extent to which Robertson and Co remain beholden to the economic orthodoxy of the past few decades.”
As to the idea that the Government has no choice, Campbell responds: “The coalition government is well placed to take on more debt affordably, to address these legacy problems. It is choosing not to”; and “Any attempts to reduce say, child poverty are likely only to be token if they don’t address its structural causes”.
Economists are also increasingly criticising Labour and its Finance minister for their economic choices. Shamubeel Eaqub has been the most vocal. He was reported back in February as calling for Labour to be more ambitious in its reforms, spending, and borrowing – see Bernard Hickey’s The case to throw off the fiscal straitjacket. In this, Eaqub bemoans that Kiwibuild simply isn’t bold enough to meet the scale of the housing crisis, adding “If I was the minister, (and I’m not), my ambition would be to build 500,000 houses, not 100,000”.
On Sunday, Eaqub’s column again took Labour to task, pointing to the contradiction of promising more without spending more: “There is no way to square the circle. If we, as a nation, want to truly invest in fixing the chronic under-investment in housing, infrastructure and social services of many decades, public spending and investment will need to increase a lot. Timid moves will not be enough, which is where we seem to be headed given this Government’s commitment to keep spending and borrowing in check” – see: Timidity and blind side-picking gets us nowhere.
And other economists seem to be in agreement. Former Reserve Bank economist Michael Reddell has blogged today about the same issue, saying it’s “a curious spectacle to see a party campaigning on serious structural underfunding of various public services and yet proposing to cut government spending as a share of GDP” – see: Labour’s fiscal commitments.
In terms of Labour’s firm adherence to fiscal conservatism, Reddell says “I don’t know any economists who are particularly wedded to the current fiscal (debt/spending) tracks”, and he points to what he thinks is a relatively low, and possibly declining spend by the Labour-led government on health and education. He questions that “Labour campaigned on continued reductions in government operating expenditure as a share of GDP, all the time claiming that core services were underfunded.”
For Reddell, the problem is Labour’s Budget Responsibility Rules, and he warns them against continuing to dig the hole they have put themselves in any deeper, suggesting they should just admit they were wrong.
Interestingly, rightwing political commentator Matthew Hooton is also criticising Labour for their rigidity, suggesting they need to spend more – see his column, Fiscal anchor sinking Labour. He says “The government now finds itself struggling to meet the demands of nurses, teachers and other key Labour constituencies for pay rises, let alone make the significant new investments in health, law and order, and transport and other infrastructure that the median voters who switched from National to Labour expect.”
It certainly seems hypocritical that the new Government is still labelling “National’s underfunding” as “grotesque”, but spinning their own version of underfunding as being “responsible economic management”.
Finally, it was just over a year ago that Labour and the Greens made the crucial decision to commit to their Budget Responsibility Rules, which might come to be seen as a turning point in preventing their subsequent government from being any sort of radical transforming one. For a reminder of what this was all about, see my column from the time: Have Labour and the Greens sold out?
New Zealand’s first fully battery powered electric bus hit the road today, thanks to a joint initiative by Tranzit Group, EECA (Energy Efficiency and Conservation Authority) and Auckland University of Technology.
The 35-seater bus became part of AUT’s fleet, servicing the university’s North-City Campus and South-City Campus bus routes.
As well as providing sustainable transport for hundreds of students every day, it will operate as a mobile research tool providing vital data to understand the economics and performance of electric buses on New Zealand roads.
“Through the government’s Low Emission Vehicles Contestable Fund which encourages innovation and investment in low emission vehicles, EECA is supporting this demonstration of EV technology to create awareness and influence change in the sector,” said EECA’s Transport Development Manager, Elizabeth Yeaman.
The $738,500 joint funding from EECA and Tranzit Group has covered the cost of the development and build, charging infrastructure, and the upskilling of Kiwi engineers, meaning New Zealand’s first battery electric bus is also built on home soil.
Kiwi Bus Builders in Tauranga constructed the body of the bus, with electric engines and chassis built by Times Electric Group in China.
Tranzit Group’s Managing Director Paul Snelgrove said the project was an important step in the evolution of bus transport in New Zealand.
Green fleet viability “There are more than 9500 large diesel buses in New Zealand and, in order to replace these with a greener fleet, we need to demonstrate the performance and viability of electric buses,” he said.
As well as providing a sustainable transport option, AUT will be researching the potential impact of EV buses on the electricity grid and gathering other key information.
This includes energy consumption, battery capacity, battery charging rate, duration and number of trips, mileage (km), average speed, charging duration and electricity consumption, regeneration and braking data.
PhD students Jun Su and Syed Muhammad Arif under supervision of Professor Tek Lie will be using the data collected to investigate the impacts of the bus.
“We’re proud to be the first university in New Zealand to launch a bus with zero tailpipe carbon emissions.
As well as a green transport option, this bus will provide the transport sector with vital usage, impact and environmental data and research to help shape the way forward,” said AUT’s associate director (facilities support) Sonia Simpson.