Accounting for climate brings rivals together

An animated analyst, Dr David Clark. PHOTOS: PARLIAMENT TV
An animated analyst, Dr David Clark. PHOTOS: PARLIAMENT TV
Politically, David Clark and Michael Woodhouse do not have that much in common.

But personally, as a former Treasury analyst and former accountant respectively, they share a passion for bookkeeping far stronger than what the average person can muster.

Their geek bravado was on full display in Parliament just before the recess, when Dr Clark’s Financial Sector (Climate-related Disclosures and Other Matters) Amendment Bill had its first reading.

The Bill, if passed — and on behalf of National, Mr Woodhouse said his party was optimistic it could support it at all stages — would require about 200 organisations enter a brave new world of accountancy and disclose any financial activity which might contribute to climate change.

An effervescent accountant, Michael Woodhouse.
An effervescent accountant, Michael Woodhouse.
"For those of us who are passionate about markets — and I suspect there’ll be a few, but maybe not everybody in this place — we will, I hope, universally extol the benefits of these measures in this Parliament," a revved-up Dr Clark said.

"We will be the first but we will be one of many that move towards making sure we have better information, more standardised information, from markets so that we have more efficient allocation of capital, for a better future for all citizens in this country and around the world," the Labour Dunedin MP and Minister of Commerce and Consumer Affairs said.

"This is a meaningful thing that we are doing here today."

Dunedin National Party list MP (and Chartered Accountants Australia and New Zealand fellowship recipient) Mr Woodhouse was only slightly less enthusiastic about the Bill — "this is an accountant’s dream", he trilled.

So, what rouses a bean-counter to such frenzied heights?

The Bill will require a range of financial organisations, such as banks, insurance companies and investment scheme managers, to disclose annually how carbon negative, neutral or positive their activities and investments might be.

The Government is very serious about it too: misreporting in a criminal manner could land an individual with a term of imprisonment for up to five years and an entity with a fine up to $2.5million.

The theory is that there will, inevitably, be a league table drawn up by someone somewhere of how clean and green the firms required to lodge climate disclosures are, and that no-one will want to be at the dirty end of that dog fight.

The new regime will be administered by an external reporting board, which will be set up after the Bill passes.

The board will frame and then issue the climate standards the firms have to meet, and audit their performance against them.

While Mr Woodhouse was all aquiver at the thought of such thrilling developments in accountancy practice, he did sound a few notes of caution.

"It is important that we get it right so we’re not imposing even very large companies with the burden of reporting on matters that are quite esoteric or difficult."

He said the new rules needed to be "clear, consistent, and comparable" — echoing Dr Clark’s speech — and the framework needed to avoid demonising individual companies which might, despite their best efforts, still have net-positive carbon emissions.

Although Mr Woodhouse and Dr Clark were in fiscal dreamland, Dunedin Labour list MP Rachel Brooking was determined to claim some of the thrills inherent in the legislation for the legal profession.

"Perhaps I’m not as passionate about markets as the other two members from Dunedin who spoke before me, but I am very passionate about climate change and very focused on addressing climate change, both the adaptation piece and the mitigation piece, and this Bill tries to do a bit of both," she said.

With a select committee process and more parliamentary scrutiny to come, there will be plenty more chances for Ms Brooking, as well as accountancy enthusiasts, to have their say.

Deeply personal

Taieri Labour MP Ingrid Leary delivered a telling, personal speech in Parliament the other Wednesday, on the justice select committee’s report on the Protection for First Responders and Prison Officers Bill.

The Bill, which Parliament rejected, would have imposed harsher sentences on anyone who attacked the likes of ambulance officers and Fire and Emergency New Zealand staff.

Ms Leary shared the story of her one-time boyfriend Paul Anderson, a lighting technician who was the first of double murderer Graham Burton’s two victims, by way of evidence that simply locking the door and throwing away the key does not work.

It was a sensitive, emotional moment which, sadly, the next speaker, National’s Simon Bridges, completely misread.

"The member for Taieri, I think it is, gave possibly the most namby-pamby, soft-on-crime speech I’ve heard in a decade," he said, before going on to say Ms Leary seemed to believe that "hugging a hoodie" would somehow make things better.

Fair enough to express disagreement with Ms Leary on policy, but Mr Bridge’s language choice was sadly lacking in compassion.

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