Friday, 08 September 2017 10:55

The politics of science 2017

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National and Labour share their views on science. National and Labour share their views on science.

Where do the two main political parties stand on science and the farming sector?

The Science Media Centre put questions on key science-related issues to seven political parties ahead of the general election due on September 23.

Rural News is bringing you the answers from the two main parties, National and Labour, on science issues relating to the farming sector.

The Science Media Centre also canvassed the Greens, NZ First, Maori, Act and TOP and their answers can be seen here.

Q1: Freshwater quality

What policy decisions does your party propose to tackle the issue of freshwater quality degradation in our country’s waterways?

NATIONAL: The Government has set a target of 90% of New Zealand’s lakes and rivers to meet swimmable water quality standards by 2040. This compares to a current standard of 72%.

The goal to improve water quality is estimated to cost the Government, farmers and councils $2 billion over the next 23 years. This is on top of $140m already committed by the Government to be spent on specific river and lake clean-ups.

We are moving to a system which requires councils to improve the swimmability of their rivers and lakes over the year. This is a significant change. Under the new proposal, 50,000km of waterways will be improved for swimming. We will see more places suitable for swimming more often.

The plan is backed up by national regulations requiring stock to be fenced out of waterways, new national policy requirements on regional councils to strengthen their planning rules on issues such as sewage discharges and planting riparian margins, a new freshwater improvement fund and new maps that clearly identify where improvements are needed.

We will require monitoring and public reporting to show progress.

LABOUR: Labour will restore our rivers and lakes to a truly swimmable state within a generation. We’ll help farmers and other owners of waterways with fencing and riparian planting through our Ready for Work programme and we’ll give the regional councils the resources to clean up their waterways through a water royalty. Labour has other policies to stop water quality getting worse straight away and reverse the damage being done. 

Q2: Science funding

Will your party maintain the current level of public spending on science, decrease it or raise it? Does your party propose any significant changes to science funding priorities? What policy measures will your party make to boost business R&D levels?

NATIONAL: The Government significantly increased spending on science and innovation through Budget 2017, adding $256 million of new funding over four years.

This increases total Government spending on science and innovation from $1.32 billion in 2015 to $1.66b by 2021 – an increase of 26%.

The National Statement on Science Investment, launched in 2015, outlines the broader science spending priorities of the National-led Government.

The Government has allocated a further $74.6m in Budget 2017 to meet the rising demand for Callaghan Innovation’s Growth Grants, bringing the total amount available through to the programme over the next four years to $657m.

LABOUR: Labour will prioritise an increase in our public science spend to index NZ to the OECD average over time. We’ll also strengthen innovation through a 12.5% R&D tax credit.

Q3: Climate change

Will agriculture be accounted for in climate change adaptation and mitigation? What are your plans for the Emissions Trading Scheme?

NATIONAL: Under the Paris Agreement, we have signed up to a fair and ambitious target of reducing emissions by 30% below 2005 levels by 2030. We will meet this target through a combination of reducing domestic emissions under the Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS), planting more trees and participating in international carbon markets.

We are also looking at how we can reduce emissions in such sectors as agriculture and transport, but we will not bring agriculture into the ETS until we have viable technology to reduce emissions.

We’re spending $20m on agricultural greenhouse gas research and we are providing up to $200m for international climate-related support.

LABOUR: Labour will ensure a just transition to a sustainable low-carbon economy with decent and secure jobs and, as a key to achieving ambitious emissions reduction targets, will establish an independent climate commission and carbon budgeting. We’ll restore the Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) to be an all sectors, all gases scheme, so that we move away from carbon-polluting goods and services towards low- or zero-carbon options.

Q5: Genetic modification

Is it time to lift the moratorium on the commercial release of genetically modified organisms?

NATIONAL: The Environment Protection Agency is the independent controlling authority and has not approved any GM crops for release here to date. Food imports are a food safety issue but it is possible some imported processed foods could contain GM ingredients.

Development work is proceeding on the genetic modification of vegetables (eg, onions that resist herbicide and potatoes that resist disease).

To date, no fresh produce (fruit, vegetables, meat or milk) originating in NZ is genetically modified. Some processed foods may, however, contain genetically modified ingredients sourced from overseas (eg, soy or corn flour).

LABOUR: Labour will maintain the status quo of new GM techniques requiring EPA approval for use. Labour will also maintain the ability of councils to decide on economic grounds whether and where release and commercial use of GMO plants and animals is allowed. We’ll also protect farmers who do not wish to adopt GM technology by stengthening the liability regime for use of GMOs that cause harm.

Q6: Biosecurity

What will your party do to strengthen our biosecurity preparation and response?

NATIONAL: This year’s Budget included a funding boost for biosecurity of $18.4m, taking total funding to $248m – a record high. In the last few years MPI has employed 50 new biosecurity staff and 20 extra biosecurity detector dog teams, and introduced new x-ray scanning machines, a dedicated border clearance levy to help meet the costs of rising passenger numbers, an inflight video for arriving air travellers, and is building a new animal health laboratory.

About 12 million passenger movements occur annually at our borders, and 175,000 items a day cross our border. Even if we shut down all trade and people movements, incursions can still happen via wind (myrtle rust) and the ocean (bonamia).

LABOUR: Labour will set up an independent biosecurity authority sufficiently resourced and capable of maintaining a robust, proactive and fit-for-purpose biosecurity framework. We’ll also review and spend on improving existing government/industry agreements so that they respond to risks and opportunities.


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