Greens launch climate change policy

ANDREA VANCE
Last updated 14:39 01/06/2014
Lucy Lawless in Greenpeace Arctic prote
GREENPEACE

IN SUPPORT: Actress Lucy Lawless flew down from her home in Auckland this morning to hear the speech. She's seen here during protest action calling for the release of the Arctic 30.

Russel Norman
KENT BLECHYNDEN/Fairfax NZ
GREEN PARTY CO-LEADER: Russel Norman
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The Greens have launched a controversial new climate change policy - a carbon tax.

In the audience for the announcement was Hollywood actress and environmental activist Lucy Lawless.

Co-leader Russel Norman wants to scrap the current carbon pricing system - the Emissions Trading Scheme.

In its place would be a tax of $25 per tonne of carbon on industry polluters.

Norman told around 200 delegates at the party's Upper Hutt conference that in Government, the Greens would aim for carbon neutrality by 2050.

The Greens are also proposing a Climate Change Commissioner, costing about $2 million. This will be funded by administration savings from scrapping the ETS.

New Zealand, once a world leader in climate change reduction, is now on track to be ''the worst performing developing country,'' he said.

''The Government's current response is indistinguishable from business as usual... as lines go it is flawed and dangerous.''

Critics of the tax claim the tax is a burden on households, who pay higher electricity and fuel costs.

However, the Greens say their levy would be offset by a ''climate tax cut'' on the first $2000 of income. 

''We can reduce our emissions without hurting household budgets,'' he said. ''Households will be on average $319 better off every year under the Green party policy.''

The revenue from the tax would be $955m per year, which would be used to fund the tax cuts. There would also be room for a company tax cut.

Agriculture - which is currently exempt from the ETS - would pay a reduced rate of $12.50 per tonne. This works out as an 12.5 per cent hit on farmers' income. This includes 2 per cent on the working expenses of the average farm. A Berl Economics report, released with the policy, said dairying will be ''adversely affected.''

But it adds: ''However, at the currently projected pay-out for milk solids, even dairy farms in the lowest decile would remain well above break even in the face of tan emissions levy.''

Other gas-emitting industries - such as electricity and road fuels - are less likely to be affected because they would be able to ''pass-on any production cost increases to households.'' 

Forestry would be credited with $12.50 per tonne, to keep planting trees. 

Air travel will not be subject to the extra tax, Norman confirmed

Lawless flew down from her home in Auckland this morning to hear the speech.

She was given details of the policy days ago, but admitted she doesn't understand the details.

"But I think it's very energising. It's a great relief to me that someone is taking some leadership towards mitigating the effects of climate change," she said.

"I think fair has got to be fair."

She admitted she flew down at the last minute but doesn't fly "frivolously."

She came as "a mother" but is not a party member. Lawless wouldn't say if she will play a role in the election campaign.

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"Somebody has got to say these hard truths and the Green Party is doing it."

Australia is moving to dump its contentious carbon tax later this year. But the Greens say their policy would not be unpopular Polling commissioned from UMR Research shows a ''personal tax cut funded by a charge on climate change polluters'' would make 32 per cent ''a little more likely'' to vote for the party.

For 44 per cent it would have no impact, and 13 per cent wouldn't be likely to vote in favour.

The policy has received a mixed reaction.

BusinessNZ Chief Executive Phil O’Reilly said the levy may threaten jobs. 

“Our approach should be unlocking business solutions rather taxing business more," he said. 

As a "small open trading economy" New Zealand should participate in international emissions trading schemes.

Federated Farmers president Bruce Wills said the tax will make dairy farmers "less competitive" in international markets.

But conservation lobbyists Forest & Bird back the policy.

Advocacy Manager Kevin Hackwell said it was "common sense" and right to end "subsidies for major greenhouse gas polluters."

National's climate change issues minister Tim Groser described the policy as "extreme" and part of a "relentless attack" on the dairy industry by the Greens.

From Samoa, Prime Minister John Key said the Greens wanted to charge consumers and  ultimately businesses more, "making New Zealand less competitive and costing jobs."

He said in the end you could have a debate about the merits of a carbon tax versus the emissions trading scheme.

"This is just an expensive impostion on businesses and households."

He said the reality would be that the Greens would take more than they gave back elsewhere.

"Most New Zealanders would be left out of pocket as a result of the policy."

A spokesman for Labour said the party isn't commenting on the carbon tax proposal.

- Fairfax Media

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