Labour's support for deep sea oil and gas exploration on
principle had more potential of dividing the party than the
Dunedin community, University of Otago political scientist
Bryce Edwards says.
Labour leader David Cunliffe said the party supported the
exploration but would pass laws to toughen environmental
However, Labour would not immediately halt existing
exploration programmes such as Texan company Anadarko's
exploration of the Taranaki and Canterbury basins. The
company is soon to start exploration off the Otago coast.
Dr Edwards said the announcement by Mr Cunliffe left two
polarising positions: National, which strongly favoured deep
sea oil and gas exploration with less concern about
environmental protection; and the Green Party which was
Labour now sat somewhere in the middle, favouring the
exploration but wanting tighter controls.
''Labour is feeding into how the public is feeling about
offshore exploration. The majority are in favour, with the
caveat of 'if it is safe'.''
The Labour stance would increase the difference between
Labour and the Greens and give the Greens some space to
criticise Labour without jeopardising a possible future
coalition, he said.
The Greens would not push Labour into a corner on the issue.
The genetic engineering (GE) issue in 2002 caused a major
split between the two parties. Green supporters later
realised the GE bottom-line policy was a mistake of the past
that should not be repeated.
The last 20 years of politics had been devoid of ''bit issues
politics'', such as banning nuclear ships, which was a litmus
test before most people found themselves opposing the visits,
Dr Edwards said.
Labour was founded from coal miners and extraction workers
reliant on exploration for their income. It was looking again
to attract to those voters.
''Labour activists will be uncomfortable and this has the
potential to split the party more than the community.
''Ships doing exploration drilling off our coast will be a
test for the community and the left. Labour has traditionally
been favourable to mining and extraction industries.
''The environmentalists will be disappointed by the policy,''