Election 08: 10 science questions for the Green Party

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?

We have to show young people that science is valued by investing more in science and providing higher baseline funding to Crown Research Institutes so there is a more stable career path. We also have to make the teaching of high school science exciting, emphasising genuine discovery for students.

Creating a sustainable future requires not just adequate science and technology graduates, but a growing understanding amongst all New Zealanders of the natural context in which we live. We also need to change the way we do and teach science from reductionism (focus on the parts) to holistic science (focus on the parts and their context). To adequately prepare science teachers and help them keep in touch with new developments in science, we will:

  • require environmental education and ethics to be part of the school curriculum
  • encourage integration of fields of study
  • create more opportunities for school teachers to undertake research by expanding links between research scientists, technology developers and educational institutions
  • encourage regular visits by research scientists and technology developers to schools

At the next level of science education, we offer more support for tertiary study than any other party. We know New Zealand needs a high quality tertiary system for accessible and affordable lifelong learning. We will fully fund all tertiary institutions for universal access to quality education, with fee maxima.

This includes ensuring that students are not forced to choose their field of study on the basis of study fee rates. The Green Party will give all fulltime tertiary students from age 16 an allowance equal to the unemployment benefit. And we will phase out the student loan scheme where student debt has now reached $10 billion. We will begin with crediting students for a year of loan debt for each year of fulltime paid/unpaid work in New Zealand and we will set the interest rate at the CPI rate.

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?

New Zealand is lucky to be free from many pests and diseases – let’s keep it this way. The Green Party will take strong measures to protect our international advantage by strict border security, quarantine and internal biosecurity regimes and capacity. We need higher standards – including more stringent overseas inspections.

Our Biosecurity strategy will be based on a precautionary approach and promote the lowest practical risk approach because many pest incursions are irreversible.  We will make sure MAF can maintain and constantly improve biosecurity protocols, and that regional councils develop pest management strategies (species and area/ecosystem-based) to cover private and public land. And we will follow WHO advice and global best practice to further reduce the risk of diseases such as BSE entering New Zealand.

The Green Party will continue to ensure Aotearoa/New Zealand’s preparedness for a pandemic, including stockpiling sufficient doses of antiviral drugs, surgical masks, ventilators, syringes, and other medical equipment and resources. We will also update the Pandemic Action Plan to take into account lessons being learned in the Asian Avian Influenza outbreak.

We also need a proactive, nation-wide strategy to reduce the escalating incidence of superbugs and antibiotic-resistant bacteria. The Green Party’s strategy will include: an expert advisory panel, notification of all antibiotic-resistant bacteria caused diseases, annual prevalence studies in human and animal populations and steps to reduce the use of antibiotics. We will require all hospitals and rest homes to use nationally developed and monitored infection control standards.

Finally, our mandatory country-of-origin labelling for food will make it easier to recall potentially contaminated food, help prevent bioterrorism, protect public health and safety.

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?
The economies that will survive, and even flourish in the next decades will be ones that diversify, invest strongly in local communities and regional development and invest strongly in infrastructure that will support us in a post cheap oil world.

The global emergencies of climate change and peak oil mean New Zealand urgently needs a secure and sustainable energy strategy.  More large hydro schemes which destroy our rivers and further increase our seasonal vulnerability to energy shortages are not the answer.  Neither is nuclear power.

In fact, energy efficiency is the fastest, cheapest and cleanest way to give us energy security – starting with our one billion dollar home insulation fund. We also have some natural advantages including wind and geothermal resources, and a lengthy coastline. Wind power is the ideal complement to existing hydro systems to ensure better security of supply.

NZ has excellent wave and tidal resources and a great future for biogas from animal manure and other wastes. Solar water heating and clean wood stoves are also important domestic measures to create a secure and sustainable energy future. In the face of escalating oil costs as supplies dwindle, biofuel from wood waste and algae and electric public transport will help keep New Zealanders mobile (together with travel demand management and urban design).

With smarter choices around energy use and generation, New Zealand will be able to phase out fossil fuels for power generation and have some surplus for transport, which is by far our greatest energy problem.  We don’t need nuclear in New Zealand – renewables are cheaper and safer. Nuclear power would require a huge new infrastructure we don’t currently have.

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?

Research and development is absolutely critical to New Zealand’s future. Our priorities include: climate change, environmental issues, biotechnology (non-GE), organics, renewable and efficient energy, sustainable transport, waste minimisation, conservation, alternative economics, multi-disciplinary applied social research, work and technological change.

The Green party will change the funding model for research to:

  • split ‘Public good’ research into base (public sector-only) and contestable pools
  • emphasise multi-disciplinary environmental and social issue projects
  • publicly fund fundamental and applied science research, with privately funded resultant technologies development.
  • have clear ethical investment guidelines for venture capital funds.
  • encourage businesses to invest in R&D.
  • facilitate pooling of small and medium enterprises’ R&D funds.

And we will advocate for a new science community structure to:

  • increase the career security of scientists.
  • de-bureaucratise the administration system.
  • establish greater links between researchers and society.
  • widen the range of stakeholder groups influencing Crown Research Institute directions
  • allow independent researchers to access contestable science funding.
  • maintain core support services.
  • encourage innovation and the development of small-scale appropriate technologies.
  • hold publicly funded research results in the public domain, reinvesting proceeds in research.

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?

The Emissions Trading Scheme will help a little by putting a price on carbon, but we need to do much more. We need energy efficiency codes and standards, better public transport and cycling facilities, better technology transfer and more research into agricultural emissions.

If we do nothing and we carry on with business as usual, then we will face irreversible runaway climate change as ecosystems switch from net absorption of carbon dioxide to emitting carbon dioxide. This means we must drastically reduce our greenhouse gas emissions as quickly as we can. The Green Party offers the solutions to transform into a low-carbon economy – and in a way that is fair and enhances, rather than threatens, biodiversity.  Our target must be a 30% reduction below 1990 levels by 2020. This will be a massive challenge given that we are currently 25% above them, so we need to start urgently.

A good ETS is part of the solution, but many more complementary measures are required, including putting climate change emissions back in the RMA (which the current government has opposed), and the actions of community groups and individuals to ‘be the change’. We need to work for a much stronger global post-2012 agreement to replace Kyoto.  We will gradually phase out coal mining by not opening any new mines, and explore low intensity animal farming which can be just as profitable as high stocking numbers.

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?

We support the development of genetic technologies based on ethical screening and the precautionary principle on a case by case basis – as long as they are contained within the laboratory and are not applied to food production. But we remain committed to keeping the Aotearoa/New Zealand environment free of GE organisms. New information is constantly coming forward showing that the risks have been understated.  We urgently need legislation to make sure liability for any GE contamination falls on those responsible.

It is also ridiculous to use international food problems as an argument for GE because to date it has not increased yields overall, and it cannot address the main food issues of wastage and poor distribution. GE is threatening third world agriculture in some countries by patenting seeds and forcing out family farmers for the benefit of agricultural corporations. The ultimate aim of New Zealand genetic engineers and their international backers is to make it untenable for organic and other non-GE crops to flourish. They want to turn this country’s agricultural industry into a gene transfer laboratory. Resistance to a simple code of practice and traceability for separation from non-GE crops suggests they have little to offer New Zealand.

All our efforts over the years to get some generic protection against the risks of GE technology have been countered with the claim that the current government deals with GE on a ‘case by case basis’. Yet AgResearch’s single application to genetically engineer a wide range of animals, plus human and monkey cells, totally side-steps this case by case process. AgResearch could develop unlimited numbers of GE animals without telling us which specific genes and associated genetic material they intend to use, and without going back to the Environmental Risk Management Authority (ERMA) for further approval. AgResearch has already refused to tell ERMA where in New Zealand its outside experiments are likely to be.  We are opposed to AgResearch’s application which risks turning New Zealand into a giant GE laboratory at the expense of our long-term food markets, and with no account of the huge risk of something going wrong.

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

We do not have a specific policy on stem cell research, but in general we support ethical research (with community involvement and access) that enhances our quality of life.

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 one of the Green Party’s major campaign issues. International research shows that freshwater has become the new ‘gold’. Yet in New Zealand, dirty dairying is gaining world-wide notoriety. Despite Labour promises, the country’s waterways are more polluted than five years ago according to a recent Forest and Bird report. And we have had 50% growth in commercial water use over the last decade, with about three quarters for irrigation of intensive agriculture. Climate change will also affect water – with decreased glacial storage, changing rainfall patterns, and greater frequency of droughts and floods.

Clearly, our environmental, social, and economic health will rely on wise and sustainable water use, with safe, affordable water for drinking and sanitation enshrined as a basic human right.  Our Green Party policies include:

  • developing a National Policy Statement on water under the RMA and set a National Environmental Standard with targets and time frames for water quality.
  • placing stricter targets for improving water quality with more effective penalties
  • introducing a resource levy on all commercial water use (and use revenue to reduce rates and income taxes) with mandatory metering on all water takes.
  • ensuring key decisions on urban water supply, assets and operations stay under elected control
  • encouraging councils to require land use resource consents for conversion to dairying or intensification of land use, and to set limits on nitrogen and phosphate run-off
  • placing a moratorium on major water takes until regional water use studies are completed
  • independently review the dairying industry’s clean streams accord
  • supporting councils to use water meters for each residence and commercial property, to monitor and record water use for conservation promotion and demand side management
  • allowing councils to adopt a progressive charging system for water – with reasonable personal consumption free and funded from rates, and special support for large low income households
  • ensuring large-scale storage schemes are in public or community ownership and management, and do not merely prop up high water uses in water short regions.
  • financing local authorities to encourage existing home owners to put technical water saving measures and require technical water saving measures installation in new houses.
  • introducing a compulsory water conservation rating (like Australia) on water use appliances

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?

We should focus on better preventative health strategies and ways of reducing illness through healthier environments. Green Party health policy gives top priority to preventative healthcare, health promotion and early intervention – including gradually increasing investment in preventative health to 10% of the total healthcare budget.  Reducing pesticide use through safer alternatives will reduce environmental causes of illness. We also need better tools to address mental illness. Health services need to be accessible when and where New Zealanders need them, regardless of our ability to pay.

Science and technology clearly has a role in improving New Zealanders’ healthcare and wellbeing.  The Green Party is supportive of all research which protects the common good and the environment, and is based on ethics and the precautionary principle. We want to see more links between researchers and the private and community sectors in proposing, assessing and using research.

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?

The Green Party will resource and underpin fisheries management with consistent and integrated administration, sound scientific research, and Maori knowledge of the sustainable management of fishing resources. New Zealand needs an integrated marine ecosystem management to make sure fish populations are maintained at ecologically sustainable levels (rather than the current single species stock management), and introduce environmental impact assessments for fishing technologies.

We want to see enough marine reserves to ensure protection of a network of reserve areas representing all marine eco-system types, including coastal, seamount and deep water areas which are critical for the maintenance of biodiversity and the replenishment of fisheries. Currently, nearly a third of New Zealand’s land mass is protected in the conservation estate, but just 0.3% of our coastal waters and EEZ are protected. We will pass the Marine Reserves Bill, currently before Parliament, in the first 6 months in office. This will include amendments for the co-location of reserves and Maori traditional management areas.

We will review the fisheries legislation and quota management system, to ensure it is predicated on a precautionary principle. The Minister of Fisheries must be able to lower catch limits when fish stocks are in decline. Most quotas are set without any scientific evidence of the level of harvest that is sustainable. The QMS is too blunt a tool to manage our fisheries sustainably, as evidenced by the degradation of fish stocks such as orange roughy, blue cod in Marlborough, and the long fin eel. Some species should remain recreational and customary only, such as kingfish, kahawai, and long fin eel.

Freshwater pollution that threatens both freshwater and ocean environments must be addressed, especially industrial and sewage discharges which pollute habitats and endanger shellfish beds. We also want to see an Oceans Strategy which includes and funds a process to enable mana whenua to exercise their kaitiakitanga over the marine environment, including their customary and commercial fishing resources.

We must leave our children a marine environment that they can rely on for their sustenance and enjoyment. The health of the oceans is yet another reason to limit climate change as dissolved carbon dioxide is increasing acidity and threatening the basis of marine food webs.