Economy, environment not mutually exclusive

Labour deputy leader and environment spokesman GrantRobertson rejects Chris Trotter's interpretation of one of his recent speeches.

In his column last Friday, Chris Trotter ascribes all kinds of motives and hidden meanings to phrases in my recent speech outlining Labour's views on the environment, but fails to look at the whole speech and the direction Labour believes New Zealand should go to protect and preserve our environment.

As David Shearer has made clear in speeches since becoming leader, the Labour Party is committed to growing a sustainable economy that doesn't try to find some mythical "balance" between the economy and the environment, but rather one that sees them together as the core elements of a clean, green and clever future for our country. An economy that still has an important role for the primary sector, but not one where we try to quadruple the number of cows we have, but one that leverages off our skills and talent and our beautiful environment.

The idea that the environment and the economy are locked in some kind of battle still pervades the policies of the current government, evidenced most recently by Steven Joyce's out-of-hand rejection of the report of the Pure Advantage business group which is seeking a path for green growth for New Zealand.

My speech makes the case for the fact we have to change that attitude, not just for the sake of economic success, but also because New Zealanders have an intrinsic belief in protecting our environment for its own sake as well. This is woven into our national identity. It is what brings many New Zealanders home, and links Maori and non-Maori New Zealanders in a way that few others issues do.

In order to get this change of attitude, we as politicians have to take the people of New Zealand with us. In my speech, I make clear that we need to move on from the word that is most associated with the environmental issues being "No". While there is much to be stopped or opposed, we must all present a positive vision for how we can protect our beautiful environment and develop a strong, sustainable economy if we are to get New Zealanders behind the ideas.

It was this part of the speech Chris Trotter zeroed in on, in particular my view that we need to avoid "uncompromising dogma" in some environmental areas where evidence and science does not back up concerns. The specific area I mentioned was "inside the laboratory" genetic modification processes. I have heard from green businesses frustrated by not being able to undertake work because of the rules that govern this aspect of genetic modification.

These were rules introduced by Labour, and I continue to back a cautious approach to GM. But to continue with rules that are not supported by evidence and are blocking safe science that will actually improve our environment just does not make sense to me.

Labour has a positive vision for our environmental future. We think that in addition to protecting our pristine land, rivers, lakes and streams, we also need a greater focus on the health of our urban environments. Eighty-seven percent of New Zealanders live in cities, and this is where the environment intersects with most of our daily lives. We need to focus on the energy, transport, planning and building aspects of cities to ensure we are creating a healthy and sustainable environment. That is a major focus of Labour's policy development.

It's always possible to lift one phrase from a speech and build an argument around that. But the point of this speech was to outline Labour's vision for the environment, not to send a signal to the Greens or anyone else.

That vision is one where we protect and preserve the environment for its own sake, and as part of developing a sustainable economy and country for generations to come.