There are a number of different kinds of speeches at Parliament. And various kinds of debates.
Today the first business that Parliament managed after Question Time was a Government Motion.
This one was ‘on notice’ meaning that everyone had it in advance, and so could prepare their responses to it. Useful. Because this one would also be debated.
The motion was put forward by the Prime Minister and was for a government declaration of a climate emergency.
The written motion is longer than its title suggested (scroll down to page nine to read it). It filled a whole page of the Order Paper. But the written motion did not include specific policy proposals, so it may have come as a surprise when the Prime Minister began outlining some.
“So, with action in mind, today, as a government, we are also announcing the Carbon Neutral Government Programme that requires government organisations to be carbon neutral by 2025. We must get our own house in order.”
The specifics included phasing out coal powered boilers in the state sector, and forcing crown agencies to buy electric or hybrid vehicles.
Motions are usually signals of intent and not actual proposals. So the specifics may have caught opposition speech writers on the hop - like the National Party’s new climate spokesperson Stuart Smith.
“We are committed to the Paris Agreement and to achieving net zero emissions by 2050, but declaring a climate emergency is nothing but virtue signalling. Symbolic gestures just don't cut it”
Stuart Smith did take the chance to outline a philosophical underpinning for what National could agree with.
“National believes that success means delivering on our emissions targets without sacrificing the things that help make life worth living. Success means meeting our responsibilities fully and genuinely while still driving the car we want, still leaving the heater running on a cold day, and still taking that once-in-a-lifetime overseas trip. Success means not having the climate change minister telling us how to live our lives to cut emissions—because that means failure in every sense.”
Another new spokesperson was the new ACT MP Simon Court who also brought some practical ideas.
“If the government forces through much deeper emissions cuts than our trading partners and sets more aggressive targets than other countries, we will simply impoverish ourselves. We will push vital economic activity to other countries. That is why ACT proposes New Zealand ties our carbon price to that of our top five trading partners. We can remain competitive as a trading nation.”
He was followed by Green Party co-leader James Shaw, who is also the responsible minister. As is traditional in debates he opened with some rebuttal.
“One of the things I just heard was that we should tag our ambitions to the ambitions of other countries around the world. There's been a lot of movement on that recently, every single G7 nation now has a net zero target for 2050—including all emissions, including biogenic methane—and are therefore more ambitious than New Zealand's targets are ourselves, that we were able to get through this House last year. Even China now has a net zero target for 2060. So actually, we are now in the position of having to play catch up to some of the world's largest economies. I look forward to the wholehearted support of the ACT and National parties as we do try and meet the rest of the world on that.”
And for the Maori Party, new MP and co-leader Debbie Ngarewa-Packer.
“For tangata whenua, this motion is well overdue. Tangata whenua have known long that our environment is totally out of balance, and for decades have understood the urgency of dealing with climate change.”
The Climate Emergency motion was ultimately agreed to with support from Labour, Green and Maori Party MPs and opposition from National and ACT.