Election 08: 10 science questions for United Future

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?

* Increase the attractiveness of research as a career option and science PhD’s by reducing the costs of study, through our zero tuition fees policy, introducing bonding schemes that reduce student loan debt for those who are qualified in such fields in return for a continuous period of work in New Zealand, and establishing a system of research scholarships between tertiary providers and the private sector.

* Provide opportunities for researchers to gain knowledge of business practices and commercial applications.

* Establish a national awards event for science and technology excellence to celebrate achievement and raise the profile of science and technology in New Zealand

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?

It is crucial that bio-security New Zealand, the Ministry of Health, MAF and other Government agencies are adequately resourced to deal with potential outbreaks of disease or global pandemics. We need to make sure we continually strengthen our border control capabilities as new technology improves monitoring techniques. While we also need to keep updating already existing pandemic planning and procedures to meet anticipated future situations.

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?

Security of supply, environmental responsibility and competitive pricing are UnitedFuture’s key policy goals. We support the current regulatory structure but do not want to see any further regulation of the electricity industry. Line companies should have the ability to build new generation capacity if required.

In the interests of security of supply, we support the maintenance of reserve electricity generation capacity, such as the plant at Whirinaki. The best generation is that which is the most reliable and can be consistently delivered at the lowest cost within full compliance with New Zealand’s high environmental standards.

UnitedFuture does support the growth of hydro-electric generation if necessary; however this policy is tempered by environmental considerations. We will support the development of further hydro schemes only as long as they do not have an adverse affect on the ecological flow of that specific river. Our first priority, however, is to develop alternative forms of renewable energy, and increase energy conservation initiatives.

UnitedFuture wishes to maintain New Zealand’s nuclear-free status, ruling out a move towards the uptake of nuclear 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?

* Increase government funding of Research, Science & Technology (RST) to at least the OECD average.

* Peter Dunne as Minister of Revenue implemented the 15% R&D tax credit this term.

* Investigate ways to increase the amount of privately-funded RST. Government policy is to reduce public funding of research that benefits industry, assuming that producers will contribute directly, but it can be difficult to attract industry funding for projects with a longer-term horizon from industry, as they often seek more immediate benefits in productivity.

* UnitedFuture initiated business tax cuts in the 2008/09 year that will encourage greater long-term investment by companies in research and development.

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?

Not confident at all. UnitedFuture did not support the current ETS for two reasons:

1. We considered that it was going to cost NZ households upwards of $40 per week, which in these tough financial times was too great a burden for many to carry.

2. While we support an ETS if structured properly, we did not support this one as we believe that it needs the broad political support of both major parties to prevent it from being chopped and changed at the whim of every new Government. Any business or industry subject to the ETS needs the long-term certainty of such political bi-partisanship.

Please see our extensive policies on climate change here.

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 definitely acknowledge the benefits of GM and believe it needs to be widely accepted as desirable and inevitable – it is already happening. It is just a matter of degree, and we are also careful of the ethical issues.

* Proceed with caution on all aspects of genetic modification technology using the Environmental Risk Management Authority’s (ERMA) robust case-by-case assessment regime.

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

We support government funding of stem cell research as part of R&D, while taking a ‘proceed with caution’ approach to ethical issues.

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?

UnitedFuture favours a precautionary approach until adequate information and knowledge is gained on the environmental, economic and recreational impact of any major infrastructure project affecting our waterways.

UnitedFuture is concerned with the impact of intensive farming in many parts of New Zealand. Water allocation issues in Canterbury and water quality issues in the Central North Island are obvious examples of poor environmental practice.

There are measures that can be undertaken by farmers to mitigate their environmental footprint including; greater use of nitrification inhibitors, the planting of riparian strips to prevent nitrogen runoff and the imposition of a mandatory best practice standard for water quality. To be achieved as soon as practically possible.

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?

Science and technology plays a big role and need funding and support. A great example of this is the Otago University research released in late October that believes they have identified a gene that makes people more susceptible to death after stroke or heart attack. This is the sort of thing we need to be investing in.

* UnitedFuture would boost funding for Crown Research Institutes to conduct research into the health and wellbeing

* Establish a Diabetes Research fund.

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?

Substantially increase the level of funding made available for robust scientific monitoring over the impact that specific catch limits and fishing methods are have on fish populations and the marine environment in order to ensure sustainability.

Establish a graduated comprehensive system of marine protection for the entire marine environment whereby no-take marine reserves are one of several available categories of protection (the category that affords the maximum level of restrictions).