The Sustainable New Zealand Party will be officially launched during November. The new political party is being founded by Vernon Tava, a former Rangitoto College student who grew up on the Shore. More recently he has lived in the central city and works as a business broker. He regularly appears as a commentator on politics and current affairs on various radio and television shows. Vernon holds a master of laws degree with first class honours in environmental law and was awarded the 2010 Fowlds Memorial Prize for the most distinguished masters student in law at Auckland University. He's obviously clever. Since 2013 he has been elected to the Waitematā Local Board of Auckland Council, serving two terms and not standing for re-election in 2019. He is also a certified Resource Management Act independent commissioner. Channel Magazine's Aidan Bennett caught up with the former New Zealand Green Party member in late October just as he was getting prepared for the launch of the new Sustainable New Zealand Party in Wellington on November 10th.
AIDAN BENNETT: So Vernon, tell us why you have decided to launch a new political party?
VERNON TAVA: We all care about the environment, whether it's as trampers, mountain bikers, kayakers, hunters, fishers, people who like a bush view from their window, all of us, protection and preservation of nature is a core Kiwi value. We don’t want to accept extinctions as a matter of course or a cost of progress. We know we can do better. But until now, if you wanted to vote for the environment, you had to also support a party that would only work with one side of politics and is pre-occupied with many issues other than the environment. This has blunted their effectiveness and excludes too many of us: Kiwis who genuinely care about our country and want to make it the best place in the world to live. The challenges we are facing - polluted waterways, biodiversity loss, extinctions, climate change - are urgent and they are too important to be dealt with by any party that will only work with the government half the time. Sustainable New Zealand is neither left nor right wing but is focused on sustainability. A true sustainability-based party is able to work with parties of the left or right to advance the environment. We can work with either of the major parties to get the best deal for the environment. Sustainable New Zealand’s approach is to work with business to innovate and to correctly price ‘externalities’. We will be led by the science when finding solutions and developing policy. We will work with rather than against our farmers. Sustainable New Zealand’s focus is on being pragmatic environmentalists. At the core of our thinking is the drive to conserve and protect our magnificent natural environment. We favour a regulatory light-touch where possible but with a willingness to act decisively on core issues.
AB: Tell us about the name. How did you decide on the Sustainable New Zealand Party?
VT: Although we strongly prioritise the environment, to be part of a government a political party needs to be able to have a view on any number of issues, some of which couldn't possibly be predicted in advance.This isn't a single issue party. Sustainability is a concept that is already in the law, embedded in business and academia, and has environmental, economic and social aspects. We don't place ourselves on a left-right spectrum; we consider issues from the perspective of whether they are more or less environmentally, economically and/or socially sustainable.
AB: Do you have any mentors or people you look up to in the political game?
VT: I enjoyed a great working relationship with Kennedy Graham when he was a Green MP and he has been a supporter of Sustainable New Zealand from the very start.
AB: It is obviously a big task, what have you had to do to get this far?
VT: It is not easy to start a new political party. First you need to have a clear vision and communicate it through the media to attract people who share that vision. You then need to gain at least 500 financial members to register with the Electoral Commission to be able to run candidates in list positions and for broadcasting funding. This is just the start as you need to build a party structure that can contest an election in about a year's time and attract the significant funding that is required to do this properly. For all that, this feels like a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and I constantly remind myself to enjoy the ride.
AB: You obviously got a bit disillusioned with the Greens?
VT: You could say that. I was a member for five years, holding various senior positions in the party, was a candidate in 2011 (in Northcote), and finally stood as a candidate in the 2015 male co-leadership election. In that race I was the only candidate who was not a sitting MP and my pitch was to ask the party the question whether it is a left wing party or a party for sustainability that is neither left nor right. I got my answer: they are very much a left-wing party and an anti-capitalist project, identifying economic growth as the cause of our environmental ills. I think this is a totally incorrect analysis and the way forward is harnessing the creativity and innovation of free-market competition. The Greens' status as a clearing house for the country's left-of-Labour activist movements distracts them from their environmental mission and alienates the majority of voters who want to see environmental improvements but don't agree that society and the economy must be up-ended and radically re-invented to do so.
AB: What are your ambitions for the new party in the 2020 elections?
VT: I believe this party can achieve over 5% of the vote and earn seats in parliament. We are able to work with either National or Labour so we can be a coalition partner to whichever of the two big parties is in a position to form the government. We will be bringing new ideas to the public square and could ultimately be in a position to be a part of every government.
AB: You grew up on the Shore, when are you going to return 'home' from the dark side?
VT: Soon, I hope! Having been elected to Council for the last two terms in the city, I have always wanted to get back to my roots and stand in an electorate north of the bridge. Of course, I will have to go where I'm needed for the party.
AB: Love the new Hyundai Kona Electric Vehicle you are driving. I am an electric vehicle driver myself. I understand you are about to take a trip throughout the country in it. Tell us about the trip, and the car.
VT: The Kona EV is a great car to drive. I'm very impressed by the range (about 450 km on a full charge), acceleration and handling. The running costs are virtually zero; so far I've done all the charging at free, fast-charge Vector stations. With New Zealand's high percentage of renewable energy this is a great, low-emissions way to get around the country. I plan to tour the country from end to end over the coming year and have already started visiting farms and conservation groups in the Waikato. I am particularly focused on visiting our farmers and horticulturalists to learn more about what they are doing to be more sustainable and how the government can help them.
AB: Complete the following...
VT: In 2023 I want to be ... part of a government that is helping our native plant and animal species to flourish; is working with farmers, towns and cities to clean up our beaches and waterways, perhaps as Minister for Water (one of our policies); and is transitioning our economy to being more sustainable and productive so that we can prosper as we clean up our act.