Election 2023: How ACT Party sparked controversy at debate on protecting the planet

The ACT Party provoked plenty of controversy on Tuesday evening at a debate in Auckland on protecting the planet.  

The party has been accused of sending the debate "down the gurgler" by Te Pāti Māori while Greens co-leader James Shaw said its crucial ACT is kept in its box to ensure adequate safeguards.  

Representatives from Labour, the Greens, Te Pāti Māori, National and Act went head-to-head on key "natural world" issues. 

The debate moderated by the Environmental Defence Society started off fairly polite.  

Moderator Gary Taylor began by asking politicians is there a climate emergency?  

"Not because politicians said there is," ACT's environment spokesperson Simon Court said.  

"We didn't support the debate on the term," National's MP for the Coromandel Scott Simpson said before Taylor said, "That's not what I asked, is there a climate emergency".  

"There's a climate issue," Simpson said.  

"Yeah and I think you only need to ask the people who are still displaced from their homes in Tāmaki Makaurau," Shaw said.  

Labour's David Parker was emphatic with his answer saying "Undoubtedly yes".  

Before the debate turned to ocean protection. 

"If bottom trawling is to be banned in the inner Gulf that just means it's pushed further out around to the eastern side of the Coromandel then I've got some serious issues with that," Simpson said.  

Shaw said he wants New Zealand to get to a point of having a "distinct Ministry for the Ocean". 

"ACT doesn't support setting up another bureaucracy to just look at oceans. There is great potential in New Zealand, our EEZ (exclusive economic zone) contains lots of different types of minerals," Court said. 

"When you think about the opportunity for New Zealand to take advantage of its resources and to do it in an environmentally sensitive way that benefits Kiwis that's where we should be focusing."  

Moderator Taylor quickly chipped in "You don't want to keep digging on that" to the laughter of the audience.  

That was the only time Court was left speechless. Here is his party's plan to fast-track offshore wind. 

"Look at what Denmark has done, they've been doing offshore wind for decades. Simply cut and paste their permit application system, put a Te reo Māori title on it and let anyone who wants to apply for it," Court said.  

This saw his panel mates getting peeved. 

"In fact, most of the issues we are going through we kind of end up dealing with this clown show," Shaw said.  

Te Pāti Māori president John Tamihere also wasn't impressed saying "This is going down the gurgler". 

Before the debate went back on track to chat conservation. 

"Further resourcing of conservation," Tamihere said before Shaw added, "As John just said it's 30 percent of the total land mass on less than 1 percent of the government's total budget".  

"What I want to see is that the money that is allocated to DoC (Department of Conservation) is used appropriately and for purpose and I'm not convinced 100 percent of it is currently," Simpson said. 

There are about 50 people in the room at this environmental debate in central Auckland but there are 650 tuned into the livestream. Most of these people are already well-acquainted with the intricacies of environmental policy and what political party's plans are for it. 

"Most people only look at the headlines, they don't look at the details that came out tonight and that's the problem," one spectator told Newshub.  

Another spectator urged others to take notice too. 

"I'm terrified of the idea of ACT getting in because you can't look after the natural world and you can't look after the social fabric with a business model," another spectator told Newshub.   

In a campaign dominated by the so-called cost of living crisis, the costs and the crises faced by the natural world are fighting for a place in the debate.

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