10 Aug 2023

Campaigns rev into gear over climate, dentalcare and cellphones

From Caucus, 2:00 pm on 10 August 2023
Gisborne's Waimatā River ballooned in size during Cyclone Gabrielle, putting homes and businesses on the line. Forest & Bird are challenging some of the typical practices used by councils to mitigate flood risk.

Gisborne's Waimatā River ballooned in size during Cyclone Gabrielle, putting homes and businesses on the line. Forest & Bird are challenging some of the typical practices used by councils to mitigate flood risk. Photo: Ben Cowper/Gisborne Herald

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Drivers, start your engines. The campaign seemed to get into gear this week with the government making a number of announcements that looked to have at least one eye on the October election. Is this finally going to be a climate election?

Chris Hipkins has now had a week or two in which his Cabinet is the same at the start as at the finish, so he was able to stand in front of a lot microphones talking about the things that he reckons matter to New Zealanders. Front and centre was the $2 billon BlackRock investment fund, to help New Zealand reach the goal of 100 percent renewable energy. He called it a "watershed" in New Zealand's transition away from fossil fuels. But then his predecessor, Jacinda Ardern, said climate change was New Zealand's was having her generation's "nuclear-free moment" back in 2017 and our greenhouse gas emissions are much the same now as they were then. So will it make a difference? 

This week's Caucus drills into the deal and what it means. From a climate point of view, it puts the transition away from fossil fuels at the head of the policy pack. The government stressed it was a "world first" and grabbed global attention. Its hope is that it's the sort of thing that makes you proud to be a New Zealander, in contrast to your justice minister being arrested, which most certainly does not.

For NZ Inc it's a PR win for the country's clean, green image, as it is for BlackRock - a big investor in fossil fuels which is looking to build its greentech investments as well. Getting global headlines for a "world first" (eg Bloomberg: "New Zealand Works With BlackRock in Pursuit of 100% Green Power") and having serious people spending serious money here is always a win for the government of the day. But it's only a drop in the bucket of the estimated $42b the we'll need to spend to get to 100 percent or our $210b infrastructure deficit. 

US chairman and CEO of BlackRock Larry Fink poses during a photo session in Paris on June 22, 2023.

Photo: Joël SAGET / AFP

It exposed some gaps between the major parties in other areas as well. Labour's partnership with American financiers to build green infrastructure stands out in a week when National's leader Christopher Luxon said he would "absolutely" take money from China's massive Belt and Road Initiative for more roads.

Then again, Labour's commitment to the environment was questioned when in the same breath it enthusiastically announced Waka Kotahi's plans for another harbour crossing in Auckland, which included three lanes of roads each way alongside light rail. The Greens called the promises of more roads "bonkers".

They, however, were more focused on chompers this week. They announced a plan for free dentalcare for adults, at a cost of $1.4b in its first year. An estimated 40 percent of New Zealanders can't afford to visit the dentist when they need to, said Greens co-leader Marama Davidson.

"Every year millions of people put off going to the dentist because it is too damn expensive".

The Caucus team thought it was something swing voters could really get their teeth into (sorry, couldn't resist). Though it creates tension with Labour in a week where Chris Hipkins declared he wanted a low-spending election campaign.

Dental medicine and healthcare

Photo: 123RF

Meanwhile, National was focused on getting mobile phones out of the hands of schoolchildren. It declared a cell phone ban covering all schools. It's interesting comparing Luxon's release this week with one from National's education spokesperson Anne Tolley in 2009. Tolley's release promised schools would no longer need to "police" children.

"I believe boards of trustees should be able to make their own decisions... I am confident they will act responsibly." Parents can be trusted to decide "good and bad" and schools don't need increasing bureaucracy" and "regulation for regulation's sake".

Tolley was announcing the end to a ban on unhealthy food being sold in schools. They shouldn't be the "food police", she said. But now National wants schools to be "phone police".  


Join Caucus every week as Guyon Espiner, Lisa Owen, Julian Wilcox and Tim Watkin countdown to Election 2023. The podcast is out every Thursday afternoon and plays on RNZ National at 6pm each Sunday. You can listen and follow Caucus on Apple PodcastsSpotifyiHeart or any podcast app.