Can capitalism and the environment co-exist?

The AM Show 11/11/2019

The leader of a new conservation-focused political party believes the environment and capitalism can co-exist.

Vernon Tava, who once ran for the Green Party co-leadership before jumping ship to arch-enemy National, now heads Sustainable NZ. He formally launched the party on Sunday with a promise to put an extra $1 billion into conservation over four years.

He told The AM Show his new party would embrace economic policies the Greens won't.

We can't ban and tax and protest our way to prosperity.

"Our vision is not only can we protect and regenerate the environment, we can actually make money while we're doing it."

The Greens have been criticised by National as being more 'red' than green, saying its original mission - to save the environment - has been overshadowed by its growing interest in social justice issues and left-wing economics.

"This idea that economic growth and capitalism itself is somehow the enemy of the environment is incorrect. That's a core assumption that we're really challenging," said Tava.

Capitalism done badly, of course, is a problem.

"But... not all economic growth is the same. Some economic growth is environmentally destructive, but there's other economic growth - in the clean tech sector and innovation in agriculture... you can actually make more money to pay for all of this."

Supporters of the Greens would say economic and social justice is intrinsically tied up with environmentalism, and are largely opposed to doing a 'teal deal' with National. Tava said if Sustainable NZ was in a position to choose the next government, they'd start by talking to the party that received the most votes - likely to be National, considering at present they have a near-monopoly on the right-leaning voter bloc. 

Vernon Tava. Photo credit: Newshub.

"That's not an exclusive commitment," he insisted. "I'm very wary of repeating the mistake that I've seen other parties make - which is to pledge fealty to one party or the other, allowing yourself to be taken for granted by them, and largely ignored by the other side."

He's not sure yet where Sustainable NZ will stand candidates, but said they'd rather breach the 5 percent threshold required to get into parliament without an electorate seat than cut a deal with National.

"Given we're a new party, we don't have an existing voter base to look at, so we need to work out where our party vote is likely to be strongest and you always want to stand candidates in those seats."

He is yet to talk with National leader Simon Bridges about a potential deal following next year's election. Despite Bridges' low favourability ratings, National remains the single party with the most support from voters. But the only party presently in Parliament willing to deal with them - ACT - has for many years only had a single MP.

Tava, who spent six years on the Waitemata Local Board, quit the Greens after failing to win the leadership contest in 2015, saying the party was becoming "too socialist".

He unsuccessfully stood for the National nomination in the Northcote byelection of 2018, defeated by Dan Bidois, who went on to win the seat vacated by Jonathan Coleman.

The AM Show / Newshub reporter Dan Satherley