10 science questions for Helen Clark

1. Education: New Zealand is struggling to produce enough science and technology graduates to meet the demand for a skilled workforce. What will you do to improve the attractiveness of science and technology among young students in the education sector?

Having enthusiastic teachers and schools is the key to getting kids interested in science and technology. That’s why we have scholarships to encourage teachers into the fields like chemistry and physics, along with the technology subjects like information technology and graphics and design.

We’ve invested in Modern Apprenticeships and Gateway to ensure young people have options to move from school to work and training. We’ve now taken that a step further with our Schools Plus programme, which will expand horizons for young learners. Senior secondary schooling will be transformed so that staying at school, gaining relevant qualifications, and building on qualifications beyond school, will become the accepted norm over time.

We also understand the importance of setting goals and rewarding leadership which is why we support programmes like the MacDiarmid Young Scientists of the Year Awards. We have world-class research being carried out by dedicated young researchers in areas that are making a big difference for New Zealand and the world and it is important to recognise these leaders of tomorrow.

2. Bio-security: An outbreak of foot and mouth disease could devastate New Zealand’s primary sector on which we are economically dependent. Likewise, a global pandemic, such as Avian Flu could cut New Zealand off from its economic allies. What will your Government do to help prepare the country for a disease outbreak, bio-terrorism attack or global pandemic?

Labour is fully committed to a biosecurity system that defends New Zealand economy, environment, and the health and safety of New Zealanders. An outbreak of a disease like foot and mouth could have devastating consequences for New Zealand and the best method to deal with potential disease outbreaks is to prevention. Labour is committed to ensuring New Zealand has capability to prevent the introduction of exotic diseases and respond to disease outbreaks in an appropriate fashion.

Since 1999 Labour has doubled the size of our border security capabilities and we will continue to ensure strengthened border control measures, surveillance ability, and our capacity to fight incursions. The success of Labour’s commitment to improving our biosecurity capabilities was demonstrated by the well prepared, open and transparent response to the foot and mouth scare on Waiheke Island in 2005.

3. Energy: Our reliance on hydro-electric power as an energy source raises questions about the future security and sustainability of power generation in New Zealand. What policies would you support to meet demand for energy while ensuring an economically and environmentally sustainable future and where do you stand on nuclear energy?

Labour has plans for the future to ensure reliable and sustainable electricity. We’ve got a target of 90% renewable electricity generation by 2025, and have already implemented a 10-year ban on new thermal baseload generation towards that end.

As we move towards a preference for renewables, our electricity supply will be well secured by utilising our abundant geothermal and wind resources. We are well on the way to meeting the renewables target – we need around 175MW of new renewables each year to get there, and 400 MW is under construction right now.

With regards to security of supply, under Labour there’s 1300MW on the drawing board for the next four years. That’s an investment of $3.5b – $4b in new energy generation projects.

In terms of the nuclear option, Labour is, and always has been, strongly opposed to the use of nuclear weapons, fuel and power.

4. Research and development: New Zealand has lagged behind other OECD countries when it comes to research in R&D, particular private sector R&D. What is your approach to encouraging R&D in general and in particular among New Zealand businesses?

RST is at the centre of turning New Zealand into a high-income knowledge-based economy of the future. Labour values the research and science community and we have increased Government investment in the RS&T sector by over 90%. We will continue to invest in its future with stable funding and new services.

To encourage R&D investment from the private sector, Labour has also introduced a 15% R&D Tax Credit. This will support innovative businesses looking to improve their products and grow their businesses. This tax credit, along with the recently announced $700 million New Zealand Fast Forward initiative, will ensure New Zealand businesses and industry remain at the forefront of innovation world-wide. National, on the other hand, wants to put this all at risk.

National is the only party going into the election looking to increase taxes on our most innovative businesses by eliminating the R&D tax credit thereby reducing long term investment in our most innovative companies for a short term gain.

5. Climate change: How confident are you that the recently passed emissions trading legislation will prove effective in reducing greenhouse gas emissions? What other policy measures would you take to tackle climate change?

Labour is showing global leadership on tackling climate change with its commitment to a truly sustainable nation. As part of that commitment Labour has introduced an emissions trading scheme that is fair to all Kiwis. The ETS is part of a range of measures Labour has introduced to meet the challenge of climate change.

We’re investing more in research and development, energy efficiency, and we’re pushing for 90% renewable electricity generation by 2025. National’s John Key has called Kyoto and climate change a hoax, and refuses to support meaningful action on climate change.

6. Genetic modification: New Zealand research institutions such as AgResearch are applying for permission to undertake increasingly extensive genetic modification trials with the aim of improving agriculture and human health. How will you use policy to balance the benefits of genetic modification with the potential risks?

Labour has taken, and will maintain, a precautionary approach to genetic modification (GM). We have developed a strict system to control the development of GM technology. Labour believes that we should continue to proceed cautiously on genetic modification while preserving opportunities in line with the recommendations of the Royal Commission on Genetic Modification. The health and safety of New Zealanders and the environment in which we live is of the highest importance.

Labour has put this strict regulatory system in place by establishing a case-by-case assessment regime for the use of genetically modified organisms (GMOs). We have strengthened the requirements on the Environmental Risk Management Authority (ERMA) to rigorously assess applications, including enabling public submissions. We have given ERMA greater ability to impose stringent conditions to manage and minimise the risks of GMO’s and imposed substantial penalties for breaking these conditions.

7. Stem cell research: What is your position on government regulation and funding of stem cell research?

Labour recognises that stem cell research is a complex issue that needs careful consideration. Science and innovation are key to Labour’s vision of sustainable development for the 21st century. However, we are also committed to ensuring that scientific research and innovation is carried out ethically and is in line with the values of our community. While stem cell research presents some ethical issues it also has the potential to lead to many beneficial scientific advances. Labour will continue to explore the ethical issues surrounding new technology such as stem cell research and proceed cautiously to preserve our opportunities for the future.

8. Water: Research suggests New Zealand could face water shortages within four years as water held in major catchments becomes fully allocated. What will your government do to ensure adequate water supply and quality to meet the growing demand for water resources?

Water is increasingly becoming a scarce resource and we need guarantees that it is being allocated to provide the highest value. Labour is implementing the Sustainable Water Programme of Action to improve the management of our fresh water resources and protect them into the future.

The programme is designed to build a strategic, nationwide consistent approach to water management, to ensure efficient, fair, and sustainable use of our fresh water while protecting it from contamination.

Under the RMA we are developing national environmental standards for fresh water management that act as regulations and directly support the proposed national policy statement by setting minimum standards related to specific aspects of water management.

9. Health: What role should science and technology play in providing better healthcare and wellbeing for New Zealanders? What policy decisions would you make to improve biomedical research in New Zealand?

Labour believes that research and development plays an important part in our health system. Biomedical research can help us improve treatments, but moreover research and development in health technologies also go a long way to continually improving the health system and allowing it to operate more effectively.

New Zealand’s health polices have allowed the development of technologies such as patient care management systems that have made improvements both here and around the world. Labour will continue its commitment to investing in Research and Development in all areas.

10. Marine sustainability: The world’s fisheries are under immense pressure and evidence shows marine protection areas are not doing enough to protect coral reefs and fish populations. What policies will you implement to help preserve the health of the oceans surrounding New Zealand?

New Zealand has a particularly rich and complex seascape, making it a world hotspot for marine biodiversity, which the Labour is committed to protecting for future generations Labour’s goal is for healthy oceans, managed wisely for the greatest benefit to New Zealand, now and in the future..

Central to Labour’s approach is ensuring New Zealand’s ocean resources are managed in a sustainable manner and we are committed to developing an integrated and comprehensive framework for managing our marine environment. Labour will ensure our ocean ecosystems are safeguarded by implementing a network of marine protected areas right around our territorial sea, and by introducing measures to manage the environmental effects of unregulated activities, like the mining or petroleum exploration on the seafloor, within New Zealand’s exclusive economic zone.