I have battled with my decision about who to vote for over a fairly lengthy period of time throughout the past few months. At the last two elections I have proudly given both my two ticks to Labour, and quite thankfully too at the last election in particular. At the 2002 election I was fairly unimpressed by the Greens throwing their mental about genetic engineering and the whole moratorium issue. In 2005 I was happy that Labour and the Greens seemed to have sorted out their differences, but because the threat of Don Brash was so great I felt compelled to vote Labour once again. However, I was greatly saddened that in the end the Greens were only a little bit short of what they needed for one more seat, especially when that one additional seat could have meant that them and Labour would have been able to form a government, rather than Labour relying upon New Zealand First and United Future.
I think throughout the last couple of years everyone has woken up a lot more to the environmental issues facing the world. 2006 was the big ‘Climate Change Awareness” year in my opinion, where a huge shift from scepticism to acceptance seemed to happen across society. Rising petrol prices hammered home the concept of peak oil, rising food prices hammered home worries about sustainability and that was reflected in political changes in New Zealand and many other countries. Australia finally joined the Kyoto Protocol last year, the government came up with an emissions trading scheme at long last that should hopefully do something to reduce our carbon emissions, even National finally accepted that climate change is real and environmental issues in general can’t actually be ignored anymore. In many ways perhaps this took some wind out of the Greens’ sails as they initially seemed to lose their point of difference from other parties. As I’ll mention later, this hasn’t actually happened as most other parties (particularly Labour, unfortunately) are great with the rhetoric on environmental improvements, but are yet to walk the walk.
For quite a few months I have found myself tossing up between Labour and the Greens. Transportation is a really important issue to me (as obvious from this blog) and it is one area where the Greens have always been vastly superior in their ideas than any other party, including Labour. Yes, Labour did buy back the railway network and they have invested a lot of money in upgrading Auckland’s rail system. They have also cleared the path for Auckland’s rail electrification to be possible, and this is great. I certainly am thankful for all that. However, for every dollar they’ve invested in public transport it appears as though they’ve put three dollars into roading. I can’t even keep track of how many motorway projects are either underway or about to get underway, even in Auckland alone. While it’s excellent that Auckland’s finally getting the infrastructure investment that it so desperately needs, we are talking about hundreds upon hundreds of millions of dollars that are being spent on roads that – in all honesty – we don’t know will have more than a 15-20 year life-span. Although petrol prices have decreased significantly in recent times, this is ONLY because of the financial crisis. Perhaps the reduction in petrol use will mean that prices take a little bit longer to go through the roof than previously thought, but that does not mean it won’t happen.
Peak oil is not a theory, it’s a certainty. The only debate is when it will happen, or whether it has already happened. A lot of evidence points towards it actually already having occurred, otherwise why didn’t oil-producing countries increase their output when prices were so high in the middle of the year? The simple answer is that they didn’t because they couldn’t. In the space of 3-4 years we saw petrol prices increase from around a dollar a litre to almost $2.20 a litre. I remember as a child having petrol prices of around 90c a litre, which clearly shows how sudden this increase of the last few years has happened. In this situation, when even your own transportation agency has projected lower numbers of car-trips on the roading network over the next 8 years at least, I cannot understand Labour’s continuing obsession with funding roads, roads and more roads. But don’t think this is just a critique of Labour, as National are far far worse with their transportation policies. I’m not sure if they even know what a train is, with their attitudes towards building more roads no matter what coming across as absolutely reckless.
This is not to say that I’m 100% in agreement with all the policies of the Greens. While their economic policies are justifiable, they do come across as fairly radical. Shifting the tax burden from earners to polluters is a great idea, however there is no other country in the world embarking upon something quite so radical, and I worry the Greens can frighten just too many people. It was hard enough for Labour to convince businesses that it could manage to economy when they first came to power in 1999. I’m also in disagreement with aspects of their foreign policy – particularly their opposition to free-trade agreements and New Zealand “doing our bit” in Afghanistan. I’m definitely no war-mongerer, but because we’re such a small country and will never be able to defend ourselves if need be, it is important for us to do our bit on the international scene where it is justified. I think Labour have done extremely well in maintaining an excellent international reputation for our country, particularly by not getting involved in the Iraq war.
However, being the strategist that I am, I have worked out that a vote for Green is effectively two votes – one for the Greens and also one for Labour. In recent weeks just about all the minor parties have sided one way or another. In the case of New Zealand First they didn’t really have a choice, but United Future and Act have stated they’ll only support National, while Jim Anderton’s Progressives and the Greens have stated they’ll only support Labour. The Maori Party remains as the only party that could “swing either way”, although because their supporters have strong historic links with the Labour party I would be surprised to see them go with National. Not only surprised, but logically I just can’t see National and the Maori Party being able to work together. Their ideologies come from widely different ends of the spectrum, and even if they did stitch together a deal I don’t know if it would last (NZ First post-1996 election ringing any bells?) This means that there aren’t any parties out there obsessed with supporting the party with the most votes first (not that I’d have an issue with them if they did, as it seems the fairest way to decide which party to support if you’re thinking of swinging either way). Therefore, unlike last time it is not essential for Labour to get more votes than National from my perspective. In fact, I highly doubt they will get more votes than National when one considers that they haven’t led in any polls since some time last year.
This means that one is essentially voting for one group of parties or another group of parties: the ‘centre-left’ or the ‘centre-right’. Which party you vote for within that group only really effects what voices within that group you wish to be heard the loudest, not which group you’d prefer. Clearly if the Greens and Labour are in the same group of parties, then whether one or the other gets my vote is irrelevant: it only affects the balance of power within that particular group. In my general assessment of the Labour government since 1999, and in my general assessment of the policies of the parties within the ‘centre-left’ group that I support, I do think there is a need to shift the balance of power within that group further towards what is proposed by the Greens. We need to strengthen our efforts to battle climate change; we need to ‘walk the walk’ in becoming a world-leading sustainable country; we need to improve even further our efforts to eliminate poverty; we need to do more to prevent health problems and crime and we need to shift our transportation system away from a reliance on oil. I am a big fan of Helen Clark, and I believe that she (and much of the Labour party) would agree with me on all these issues. In the past Labour have been hamstrung by a reliance upon New Zealand First and United Future to form a government and haven’t been able to achieve these issues. With strong input from the Greens I think Labour will be able to achieve many more of their aspirational goals.
I haven’t talked much about the financial crisis I know, and it is worth addressing because it will play a lot on people’s minds tomorrow when they do go to vote. My take is that as a country we’re in a reasonable position to weather this storm, thanks to pretty careful budgeting by Labour over the past nine years. We will get through this, and policies put forward by both Labour and National seem to respond to this crisis fairly well. A few jobs will be lost, but our unemployment is still extremely low by international standards thanks to an effective Labour government. In other words, we will get through this, especially if we turn the crisis into an opportunity to strongly invest in public housing, rail projects and other important pieces of infrastructure. The people who will suffer most are probably those who have been least cautious with their borrowing and spending over the past few years, and I would hope they will learn from the experience and realise that there is not such thing as a free lunch, and if something seems too good to be true (such as forever rising house prices) then it most probably is.
I am more worried about our long-term future. I am worried that we simply won’t have invested in the necessary transportation infrastructure to cope with higher oil prices in years to come. I am worried that one of the three-hundred people per year in Auckland alone who die prematurely because of our air pollution might be me in the long-term. I am worried that when Amalia’s my age we really will be up shit creek regarding climate change, environmental sustainability, biodiversity loss and so forth; that she will have to tell her kids about “the good old days” when we had such things as Polar Bears. I am worried that we don’t have a plan for the huge problems the world will face in the next few decades. However, the Greens do have a plan, the Greens are not living with their heads in the sand. Many of their policies may come across as unpalatable now, but when compared with what our long-term alternatives might be, I think we all need to have some short-term pain for a long-term gain. I have to vote Greens, for my sake, for my friends and family’s sake, for the planet’s sake and for Amalia’s sake.
You do too.