National Party 'resetting our approach to environmental issues' – Bridges

ALDEN WILLIAMS/STUFF
National Party leader Simon Bridges speaks during the Bluegreens Forum in Darfield on Saturday.

National leader Simon Bridges has pledged his party will have a strong environmental focus with a broadchurch approach to thinking.

However, he says the Government's announcement to halt deep sea oil exploration is "perverse".

Alongside Bridges, there were people from Greenpeace, Forest and Bird and Oil and gas and former Green Party MP Kennedy Graham addressing the 100 strong crowd at the annual Bluegreens Forum in Darfield, Canterbury on Saturday.

The 2018 Bluegreens Forum in Darfield on Saturday. Selwyn District mayor Sam Broughton speaks.
ALDEN WILLIAMS/STUFF
The 2018 Bluegreens Forum in Darfield on Saturday. Selwyn District mayor Sam Broughton speaks.

Graham's appearance at the conference, to discuss climate change, drew the ire of Green Party staffer Jack McDonald, who wrote "Kennedy Graham is speaking at the BlueGreens forum in Canterbury this weekend. ... No wonder he sabotaged us and Metiria [Turei] when it mattered most."

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But Bridges was not trying to recruit Graham for the National Party, he was seeking out a cross-section of voices for the conference.

The 2018 Bluegreens Forum in Darfield on Saturday. National Party leader Simon Bridges speaks.
ALDEN WILLIAMS/STUFF
The 2018 Bluegreens Forum in Darfield on Saturday. National Party leader Simon Bridges speaks.

"It's important that we are pushing the envelope and that we hear from thinkers from a whole range of perspectives... We want to make sure that in Opposition we're thinking things through and challenging our thinking and resetting things in some places.

"I think Kennedy is interested in ensuring issues like the environment and climate change are being considered right across Parliament.

Bridges challenged his party, staff and supporters with "resetting our approach to environmental issues".

National Party leader Simon Bridges chats with former Green Party list MP Kennedy Graham at the conference.
ALDEN WILLIAMS/STUFF
National Party leader Simon Bridges chats with former Green Party list MP Kennedy Graham at the conference.

He said a strong economy, education, healthcare and social services were not worthwhile "if we've ruined the environment".

"Good environmental practice is crucial for securing the type of future we want for our children and grandchildren.

"My view is that people aren't used to hearing a National Party leader talk like this, but I've said right from the start that the environment is important to me and the National Party ... The environment isn't an optional extra."

Bridges was "proud" of the work the previous government achieved during its nine years, introducing an emissions trading scheme, Predator Free NZ and the Environmental Reporting Act, but a continued and ramped-up effort was needed.

"Climate change is going to be one of the most challenging issues of our time. We've made some good progress in recent years, but we need to do much more," he said.

"We now need to wrestle emissions down, just staying stable doesn't cut it ... We need to incentivise households, businesses, scientists and entrepreneurs to be developing and implementing technological solutions."

He did not outline any specific policies during his speech, but said "what we do have is a 56-strong policy factory in members of parliament" working towards the next election.

The Bluegreens, National's environmental arm, has operated for 20 years since being formed and represented by just a few party members, including former Environment Minister Nick Smith.

Forty-six of its 55 MPs were now signed on. Smith and several other party members were present at the conference on Saturday.

Before Bridges' speech, Bluegreens co-chairman Geoff Thompson said he saw the group as a way to get National back into power.

"We're a well-liked party ... but it's not good enough. Forty-four per cent [in a recent poll] doesn't get us there so we want to expand and we see the environmental side of the party, that's us, as being an opportunity for that expansion."

Bridges criticised the current Government for measuring success "not as tangible improvements to the environment but how closely they can stand by their dogma and reaffirm their own beliefs".

"The really tragic thing about the oil and gas announcement is that, as a nation that cares deeply about the environment, the effects will be in my view perverse.

"Not one emission will be reduced, this will not change our demand for energy."

Earlier this month, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced an end to offshore oil exploration. The 27 fields in New Zealand currently producing oil and gas would keep their permits, the last of which ends in 2030, but production could continue for decades if a discovery is made.

Petroleum Exploration and Production Association of New Zealand (PEPANZ) chief executive Cameron Madgwick, who was at the conference, asked Bridges whether his party would "continue to be a party of open consultation and engagement".

"The decision made a couple weeks ago was with absolutely zero consultation and therefore absolutely zero knowledge of the sector and what it was indeed trying to do to reduce emissions – because that's the critical bit, not the fuel," Madgwick said.

Bridges said the decision was "the worst example of process" and failed to deal with people's consumption of energy.

"That's why I was convinced as a minister that the answer did lie with the electrification of our fleet. It does lie with public transport. That's how you drive behaviours and make a difference.

"I hope the government sticks with some of the things we were going to do there. We were going to transform the Government's fleet to electric vehicles. That would've had a real effect on the market here as those second-hand EVs came out into the fleet."

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