29 Aug 2023

Finance minister apologises for failing to flag climate cuts

From Checkpoint, 5:07 pm on 29 August 2023

Labour was right to apologise to the Climate Change Minister over an apparent snub to avoid upsetting the Greens close to the election, a commentator says.  

On Monday, the government announced $4 billion will be freed up through cuts, savings, delays, and reprioritisations. 

The spending cuts include taking out $236 million from the Climate Emergency Response Fund, which is supposed to be ring-fenced for climate spending, but instead will be returned to the general savings pool.

Climate Change Minister James Shaw knew nothing about it - forcing Finance Minister Grant Robertson to apologise to him - an apology Shaw accepted, while adding the two political parties still had a constructive relationship. 

Former Green Party MP Gareth Hughes who is now a political commentator told Checkpoint it was "a poor process" on Labour's part, however, it looked more like an accident and a communications breakdown rather than "a deliberate poking in the eye" for the Greens. 

"The fact is you probably would want your Climate Change Minister in the room if you're looking to scrap climate change policies." 

It highlighted the limits the Greens have experienced during this parliamentary term to deliver climate policies beyond those supported by Labour. 

"I think in the future clearly emissions revenue raised should be ringfenced and that has historically been the process.

"Once again climate policies have been seen as the nice-to-have and they've been raided for the spending cuts."

Green MP Gareth Hughes in committee asks a question about animal welfare and fireworks.

Former Green MP Gareth Hughes Photo: ©VNP / Phil Smith

Hughes disagreed with Prime Minister Chris Hipkins' assessment that no consultation with Shaw had been necessary. 

While Hipkins might have been technically correct, Robertson had made the wiser decision to apologise over the apparent snub, Hughes said. 

"He's kept his eye on the ball, we're six weeks before the election. You wouldn't want to antagonise your key coalition partner on their key issue, which is climate change, just before the election ... 

"These things happen in politics, particularly if it's been a rushed process and it does look like this has been quite a rushed process  to find these $4 billion in savings." 

As for the cuts announced on Monday, scrapping funding from walking and cycling projects, forestry and agricultural emission reduction projects was far from ideal, Hughes said. 

The UN has said this week the world was "boiling" while New Zealand was among many countries that has experienced weather disasters in the last few months. 

"Given the state of the world and the environment, it's not ideal that climate policies are often the first ones to be cut or raided when savings need to be made."  

Some of the money had been raised through the emissions trading scheme and it was "concerning and disturbing" it was now being diverted for other purposes, Hughes said.

Ultimately, Treasury had predicted it would cost the country between $3 billion and $20 billion if the country has to purchase the bulk of its carbon credits offshore so the kind of cuts announced yesterday amounted to  short-term savings coming at a long-term cost.