What’s good for politicians isn’t good for the regions
Shane Te Pou worries that environmental policies designed for Twitter environmentalists could devastate our regional economies
I’m worried for my friend. He's worried, too, but less about himself than for his wife and kids. Whether he can provide as he promised he would. As he has always done.
Public policy at its best lifts people up and expands the net of opportunity. But when public servants and politicians lose sight of the impact of their plans on families and communities, the disconnect between Kiwis and their government grows ever deeper. Despondency takes hold. Solutions seem further and further out of reach. Sadly, this is exactly what is taking place in Taranaki as a result of the ban on New Zealand gas - a policy that won't redress climate change, but will inflate energy costs and increase reliance on imports.
My mate is one of thousands caught in the middle of this jarring policy shift.
He's always been a good worker but he never really settled down until he started a family.
When the first kid came along, he went out and got a qualification through the previous Labour government’s modern apprenticeships programme. That led to a job with a small business in Taranaki that helps locals connect to our own, famously abundant, natural gas.
Some of his coworkers have been there for decades, working on projects like Maui, which began supplying gas to New Zealand in the 1970s – and is still going today.
The small company they work for is re-writing its plans, and there probably won’t be jobs for them all any more.
This is a decline story not a growth one. For the workers whose jobs depend on growth and expansion, the outlook is closer to 10 months than 10 years.
Imagine the stress they face today. Keeping up with mortgage payments. Buying groceries. Keeping the car on the road. Today they do all that from their own earnings - no need for government top-ups.
Back in April, when the Government banned exploration for any further supplies of natural gas from offshore New Zealand, ministers assured my mate and his coworkers that no jobs would be lost.
Just a few months later, the businesses involved are saying hardly anyone is planning for a new plant or equipment any more.
It's not just existing plant closures, but investments that won't see the light of day. Just last week, we heard that Ballance doesn’t look likely to go ahead with a billion-dollar agrochemicals plant. We will import fertiliser instead and export the jobs, like my mate’s. Turns out the job boards do have listings for qualified tradies who build gear for energy - but they’re in Australia.
Methanex signed a new contract - but it is only for half the gas they currently take. This is a decline story not a growth one. For the workers whose jobs depend on growth and expansion, the outlook is closer to 10 months than 10 years.
Jobs downstream are disappearing today. No more work will be forthcoming for some of the companies that build and replace equipment - or for the families whose livelihoods depend on them. Frankly, it was cynical of our leaders to pretend otherwise.
My mate is a worker, he gets paid well and is a good whānau person, he does not want a hand-out, he just wants to do the mahi he loves and give his kids a better life than the one he had.
So now he’s looking for a job in Auckland. He’s worried about the higher cost of getting a house there - and it’s hard to see why everyone is being pushed to live in Auckland when there aren’t enough houses.
He’ll have to live a long way out, and drive into town, paying more for petrol – lots more. This is what gets me the most. He's sacrificing quality of life for his family so we can relocate regional workers to an already congested Auckland? For a climate change policy that only reduces emissions for environmentalists with a Twitter account.
Ironically, he’s expecting that - on top of higher costs for his petrol and housing - he’ll be paying more for home heating too. So will you, because the most important feature of using gas from New Zealand is that it's cheaper for consumers - and the businesses we work for and buy from - than the imported alternatives.
The hit is not only being felt in Taranaki. West Coasters rallied on the weekend because their mining industry is next for the chop.
New Zealand has brilliant regions. We should be showcasing them as vital economic destinations. But we can't all write screenplays from the shores of Lake Taupo or impress tourists with our latte art. We need to produce well-paying industrial jobs that offer Kiwis a chance to get ahead and provide for their families. We need to use our own resources instead of paying more in everyday costs, sending our young families away to Auckland, or overseas, to make a dollar.
My mate is a worker, he gets paid well and is a good whānau person, he does not want a hand-out, he just wants to do the mahi he loves and give his kids a better life than the one he had. Surely that’s not too much to ask