Peters is back, the headlines shouted.
Well, not quite. Winston Peters may have stepped into the political limelight again, after a spell in political darkness – but he and his party are a long way from Parliament. And even though he looks fit and well, can he – at the age of 76 – find the spark which will fire up the NZ First engine again?
His disciple, Shane Jones, is firmly convinced he can. Furthermore, Jones believes the party can forge a new crusade out of the “perfidy” of what the Climate Change Commission is doing to NZ.
Jones sees the commissioners as “ideological termites”, who hold sway over the government with “mad ideas” of the sort that could required us all as if we are all going to ride bikes
Jones cites the example of 10,000 bikers in Birkenhead exerting their power on the government to build a bridge for them over the Auckland harbour.
He told Radio NZ the country is going to hell in a hand basket, importing vast quantities of carbon from Indonesia because the government has banned coal mining in NZ.
The climate commission, says Jones, is miles away from the way New Zealanders live.
Clearly Peters and Jones have divined a mood in the constituency they see as their political heartland against the rigorous measures which the Climate Change Commission is insisting must be imposed to meet NZ’s climate change obligations under the Paris agreement.
Whether the proposals of the commission are seen as no more than a road map, or as a programme which must be followed in every detail is yet to be determined. But even at this point ordinary New Zealanders may be asking themselves why NZ, with its relatively tiny volume of carbon emissions, must be setting the pace in the battle against global warming.
Even the commissioners understand that nothing NZ does will materially slow global warming.
Already some of the early measures the government has framed have triggered confusion and controversy. The $700m Auckland harbour bridge for walkers and cyclists is one: the “feebate” scheme for EVs, which will favour the “haves” against the “have-nots”, is another.
And coal miners are stunned their industry is being shut down, while 2 million tonnes of coal is being imported from Indonesia.
Where there may be fertile ground for NZ First to work over in its comeback bid is in the apparent belief embedded in the Climate Commission’s report that New Zealanders must radically transform every aspect of how they live their lives.
Critics argue the commissioners – in effect – are setting a new kind of economic framework for what Kiwis know to be the NZ way of living their lives. Richard Prebble called this socialist quackery.
Even a relatively simple goal of reaching the target of generating 100% of NZ’s electricity from renewable sources entailing investment in, for example, 13 giant windfarms calls for massive investment.
The idea that NZ’s dairy herds will have to be reduced by anything up to 13% implicitly carries the message that the exports on which the country depends will shrink. The Climate Commission’s proposals for farming have been slammed as being “unfeasible and unfair”.
Looming over NZ is an external issue equally massive. It lies in what the “Economist” has called “Bunged Up: how the green boom could get stuck”. It sees supply-side problems, such as scarce metals and land constraints.
“Far from being transitory, these bottlenecks risk becoming a recurring feature of the world economy for years to come because the shift to a cleaner energy system is still only in its infancy”.
It points out that only 22% of the world’s emissions are covered by pricing schemes and those schemes are not joined up.
That presents NZ First with a platform which could resonate with voters. NZ does have an emissions trading scheme – and it cannot fail to deliver net zero emissions whenever the government decides to set the cap at zero. As designed, the ETS could not fail to deliver the outcome required, almost certainly at the least cost.
Way to go: is this Winston‘s route to recapturing the heartland?