Emissions Trading Scheme

Note: this post originally appeared on ‘Douglas to Dancing’, a blog I maintained from 2007-9 on the ACT New Zealand political party. The blog was an extension of the thesis I wrote about the Act Party in 2007, From Douglas to Dancing: explaining the lack of success of ACT New Zealand and evaluating its future prospects (PDF).

One of ACT’s centrepiece policies of this election pledges to repeal the Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS). As I understand it, the ETS will require businesses to purchase “credits” for carbon they wish to emit from other companies which have a surplus (e.g. foresters). There is an official diagram which explains this further. The ETS enjoys support from both Labour and National. But ACT opposes it.

My concern here is not so much the workings of the ETS, but the way ACT has promoted its opposition to it. There is no question that the party sees it as a key policy plank; last week it organised a stunt in Cornwall Park, located by One Tree Hill in Auckland. I watched the 3 News video on this and saw a “farmer” hauling an oversized $5bn cheque made out to Russia being whipped by a “witch”. This was the second such stunt recently organised to exemplify ACT policy – the first was the display of 77 coffin lids outside Mt. Eden prison to supposedly represent victims who would be alive under ACT’s crime policy.

Obviously I can see what ACT was getting at with its stunt at Cornwall Park. But I have some criticisms of it. Opposition to the ETS should be a policy aimed at farmers; the costs to them are what ACT points out the most. ACT should be interested in winning rural votes. So why launch the policy in an Auckland park? Why not, well, a farm? Come on – there are plenty not that far away from Auckland. By staging it in Cornwall Park, ACT keeps its slick urban look – which is not wanted here.

Even better would have been to take the policy on the road – why not the King Country, where a decade ago ACT had its best ever election showing (albeit a symbolic one), when it won 24% of the party vote in the Taranaki-King Country by-election? National has had the rural vote under lock and key for long enough, but just as formerly New Zealand First and latterly the Maori Party have managed to siphon off the Maori vote, a good chunk of the rural farming vote is winnable for ACT. Especially if farmers realise that National is going to cost them money!

Then there is the staging of the stunt itself, which I felt was alienating. To be frank, the witch whipping the farmer seemed to me more like something Brian Tamaki would come up with for a Good Friday procession. I don’t think the connection to the ETS was at all clear.

But above all I question the whole packaging of the opposition to the ETS. The ETS still counts as a technical term; it needs to be explained before understanding what ACT is even opposing. Let’s make it clearer: ACT sees the ETS as a form of rural “red tape”. This is something easily understandable. So why not package it as such? ACT surely opposes other forms of regulations introduced which it sees as hindering other rural dwellers; its “beef” is surely not just the ETS alone, but regulation in general. So: stage a rural campaign in a genuinely rural setting, invite some real farmers along and package it as “cut rural red tape”.

Or another option could have been to keep it under ACT’s climate change policy. The “Smart Green” policy was something that Rodney Hide seemed genuinely interested in during 2007 and something on which he could claim credibility due to his academic background in environmental issues – something which I imagine would still surprise most voters. I doubt that this slogan would have won ACT that many votes, but “Smart Green” is still more saleable than “dump the ETS”. Still, there are still plenty of climate change sceptics out there – John Key is/was one of them – so it would have been worth a try.

There is a reason why National was so successful in 2003 with its campaign against the “fart tax”. The words “fart tax”. And there’s a reason why the opposition to the Child Discipline Bill did not disappear quickly – the pithy label “anti-smacking”. A saleable label is what ACT needed with its opposition to the Emissions Trading Scheme.

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