NZ Election 2017: The environment election

Luke Tipoki used to swim at the Turanganui river near his home south of Martinborough, as this old picture shows. Last ...

Luke Tipoki used to swim at the Turanganui river near his home south of Martinborough, as this old picture shows. Last year, he explained how he wouldn't let his son Grayson swim there because it's polluted.

For decades, it has been an also-ran.

Never in the top-rank, seldom even in the second rank of election campaign "issues".

But finally, in 2017, it seems the environment is having its day.

When Stuff, with the help of Massey University, ran a series of election surveys over recent weeks, we asked for volunteers to take part in a focus group. There were hundreds of offers.

A group of 150 was selected, including: 35 planning to vote for National, 35 for Labour, 45 undecided, 15 Green, 15 NZ First and five others. The participants came from a broad spread of gender, age and household types. They are gathering online to talk about election issues, prompted by facilitators from 'The Thinking Studio', a research company.

The group's first gathering gave a clear message: No matter who we are voting for, we are worried about the environment. Like, really worried.

There was almost universal agreement not enough is being done to protect the country's waterways, the facilitators told us.

"A lack of leadership from the Government to maintain New Zealand's clean green image impacts tourism, premium pricing for our agricultural sector and more importantly means New Zealanders aren't able to swim in our rivers," their report said.

"All tend to agree water is a finite precious resource (much like oil) and requires a lot more management in order to protect it for future generations."

For some, the primacy of the environment at this election is probably just an intensification of something they were already worried about.

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Bonnie, a young voter from Marlborough, does not sound like a recent convert: "A massive negative which I think is era-defining is our willingness to let our beautiful environment be commodified, taken advantage of, and downright destroyed."


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But for others, it sounds like environmental concerns are edging into a worrying picture of the country's economic future. 

"We need to clean up our waterways and protect our clean and green image," said Jeremy, from Wellington.

"Farming is hugely important to the economy but the scale seems to have tipped too far in their favour."


Many panellists were concerned about the impact of polluted waterways on our tourism industry and whether their children and grandchildren would be able to swim in the rivers and lakes they did as children, the group's facilitators reported.


The environment has always held the potential to be a lightning rod election issue. We can all see the environment, touch it, smell it, taste it and boast about it overseas. It's economic, it's emotive and it's a matter of national pride.

So why is it any more urgent at this election than it was before? What makes this 'the environment election'? What are the political implications for the parties, their campaigns and promises?

We're going to explore these questions in a series to run on Stuff during the campaign.

We start today with a closer look at the discussion of our focus group. And Vernon Small asks: At a time when the environment is front and centre of political discussion, why are the Greens in trouble?

We want to see and hear your ideas too. We're publishing a series of pictures via our Instagram account which celebrate our beautiful environment - we'd love to see yours with the hashtag #enviroelection.

Post a comment on our stories or better still write an entire article via the Stuff Nation platform.

We're not advancing any particular agenda. We've simply recognised the environment is having its moment with this election and we're ready to lead that discussion via the largest news site in the country.

 - Stuff


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