National MP Judith Collins says she will vote against the Zero Carbon Bill in its present form thus apparently pre-empting her Leader and caucus who have made no final decision on what to do.
Her statement is being interpreted to mean that she would be prepared to vote against National if they agree to support the Bill.
And in making her pledge she is leaving National Leader Simon Bridges facing a political dilemma which could see him lose support whichever choice he makes.
Bridges told POLITIK last night that after a meeting of senior National MPs last Wednesday night “we have resolved not to resolve it (our position on the Bill) yet.
“We still need changes,” he said.
“We may well vote against it, but that remains to be seen
“Another option is to make clear what we will change in Government.
“Much depends on the level of changes we achieve.”
Collins has briefed agriculture lobby groups on her decision and confirmed it to POLITIK last night.
At present, says Bridges, the party’s overall position remains the one he outlined in his speech to the Mystery Creek field days last year.
He said then that in order to drive long-lasting change, broad and enduring political support was needed for New Zealand’s climate change framework.
“Stability is required to allow people and businesses to plan and respond,” he said.
“It requires a consensus between the major political parties on the overall framework through which we address climate change issues.
“Today, I have written to the Prime Minister and James Shaw, offering to work with them to establish an independent, non-political Climate Change Commission.
“I want to work with the Government to make meaningful bi-partisan progress on climate change.
“This will be challenging. It will require compromises on both sides.”
And the-then Climate Change spokesperson, Todd Muller, told the party’s Blue Greens Forum in February this year that when they saw the final legislation not to see the singular thing that “if you held the pen, you would not have put in.”
“But instead helicopter back up and have a look at the principles that the National Party has stated here today and look for them to be echoed back to you.”
The bipartisan consensus broke down though when the Government agreed to put the 2050 upper methane reduction target at 47 per cent.
The number emerged from talks between New Zealand First and Labour which initially were presided over by Heather Simpson, Helen Clark’s former Chief of Staff.
The Ministry of Primary industry proposed a 33% upper limit, but POLITIK has been told that advice was over-ruled by the Prime Minister who favoured the higher target.
Generation Zero, the youth climate change lobby group, who are clearly on the same wavelength as the Prime Minister on climate change, said in its submission to the Environment Select Committee that the methane reduction target should be at least 35%.
Federated Farmers told the Select Committee that the economic, social and employment repercussions of the 2050 24-47% reduction target for methane were “eye-watering for farmers” and average dairy farmers’ profits could be cut by up to 60% and 12% of dairy farmers would be unable to meet their annual debt obligations by 2040.
That pressure from farmers is reflected in a tweet which verges on climate change denial yesterday from National Northland MP, Matt King, and which repeated an American conservative attack on climate change mitigation.
”If I wanted New Zealand to fail … I’d use our schools to teach one generation of children that our factories and cars and cows are causing runaway Global Warming, and I’d muster a straight face so I could teach the next generation that their parents are to blame for killing the planet,” the tweet said.
“And when it’s cold outside, I’d call it Climate Change instead.”
Interestingly, Collins is due to address a function in King’s electorate next week.
But ultimately the decision National has to make will need to balance the opposition to the methane target from its farmer base against the need to not give Labour a weapon to use during the election campaign.
Painting National as climate change deniers would be easy if they voted against the Zero Carbon Bill and could resonate in the urban electorates where voters generally support action to try and reduce global warming.
But the pressure from the rural base will be intense even if Bridges tries to explain to them that there is a long time between now and 2030 when the higher methane targets will begin to apply, and during that time National could well be back in government and able to change the targets then.
But the modd among farmers is hardening.
There is already considerable frustration over what many perceive as a hostile suite of Government moves; particularly the methane targets and the forthcoming nitrate limits.
National’s agriculture spokesperson, Todd Muller, said he had recently spoken to two farmer meetings in Mangaweka and Taumaranui, and he found the mood was “one part anger and one part anxiety” because of what he says is a real frustration that the Government — and the country as a whole – did not seem to understand the day to day realities of farming.
“I have not seen this level of anger for a very very long time,” he told POLITIK.
“This is something quite different.”
If Collins elects to try and exploit this mood among farmers, she could pose a real threat to Bridges though how willing the party’s rural MPs would be to support her is a big question.
Nevertheless, the farmers’ pressure and her politicking are going to make it difficult for Bridges to support the Zero Carbon Bill; but the price for not doing that might be a that National loses support in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch.
Labour will be rubbing their hands at the dilemma the National Leader faces. This is not going to be easy for him.