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Promotion or knee-capping? Bridges moves Muller from climate change to agriculture

Tuesday 30th July 2019

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The National Party MP most involved in negotiating with the government over climate change policy, Todd Muller, has been moved out of that portfolio and given responsibility for agriculture in a move that both Muller and his leader, Simon Bridges, insist is a promotion.

Muller catapults up the ranks of the National Party caucus from a lowly 31st to rank 17th following a minor shadow Cabinet reshuffle created by Nathan Guy's decision to retire from politics at the 2020 election. Guy was the primary industries minister in the last National-led government and an MP since 2008.

"It's a significant promotion," Bridges told BusinessDesk in a text message. "He, I think, would say he has wanted primary industries for some time."

Muller - who held senior roles at Fonterra and Zespri before becoming an MP - has suffered politically from his support for Amy Adams rather than Bridges in the leadership contest that followed the 2017 election and was perceived by political pundits to be taking a more conciliatory line on climate change than core parts of the party's rural constituency.

However, Muller said the promotion to agriculture portfolios was both logical and entirely consistent with his previous engagement on climate change policy. 

"From my perspective, the entire conversation with our base in the context of climate change is land use change and the implications of nitrous oxide and methane being placed under new market signals."

Around half of New Zealand's greenhouse gas emissions are produced in the form of those two gases, which are produced by farmed livestock, making New Zealand's GHG profile unusual by the standards of most industrial countries, which have fewer animals and much higher levels of fossil fuel use in their electricity systems. Around 85 percent of New Zealand's electricity is produced from renewable sources.

"For me now to assist in framing that up and what the role of government is, I'm so excited about getting into that," said Muller. A key area of debate in the current round of submissions on climate change legislation currently before Parliament is whether proposed methane emissions targets are too onerous, let alone potentially unachievable.

Acknowledging that parts of National's rural constituency either feared or opposed action on climate change, Muller said he would maintain his consistently held position on the issues.

"We have the most emissions-efficient farmers in the world and that should be celebrated, but we can't stand still," he said. "The industry/government conversation around how to manage climate change on-farm and getting to the point where we can measure and manage it, all that stuff remains true. I'm not going to suddenly fall mute."

Muller gives up the climate change portfolio to environment spokesman Scott Simpson, ranked 12th in the National caucus.

Climate Change Minister James Shaw said Muller was "a constructive, thoughtful and responsible climate change spokesperson for the National Party" and thanked him for his willingness to engage in bipartisan talks during the Zero Carbon Bill's development. 

"I hope National’s new spokesperson on climate change, Scott Simpson, is open to similar cross party cooperation that can ensure New Zealand has climate legislation which will endure changes of government and provide the certainty New Zealanders need to invest and commit to a low emissions future for generations to come," Shaw said in a statement. 

National's Todd McClay picks up the Workplace Relations and Safety portfolio that Simpson previously held.


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