20 Mar 2018

Watch: Ardern clarifies oil exploration remarks

8:52 am on 20 March 2018

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says her comments on oil and gas exploration relate to the current permit process, but says that's linked to the wider issue of the industry's future.

Ms Ardern yesterday accepted a Greenpeace petition signed by 45,000 people wanting an end to oil exploration, telling protesters she was "actively considering" the issue.

National Party leader Simon Bridges called on the Prime Minister to be clear about exactly what her plans were.

Watch Jacinda Ardern speak to Kim Hill on Morning Report:

Ms Ardern told Morning Report she was referring to the fact that the government is actively considering the block offer, as it had done this time each year since 2012 - but that was part of the wider issue.

"They are linked because in considering block offers you are considering the future of oil and gas exploration in New Zealand.

"What we're actively considering is the thing that decides whether or not we continue to drill for oil and gas and that is the block offer process."

In the annual block offer, explorers compete for the right to search for oil and gas in New Zealand waters. The government has confirmed one option is that no permits are offered at all.

Mr Bridges said he agreed New Zealand needed to transition to a lower-carbon economy, which meant encouraging more renewable energy, but not ending oil and gas permits any time soon.

"That's the approach I was espousing, a careful transition, but not ending oil and gas permits any time soon and it seems to me that's actually where, if she's honest about it, the Prime Minister is rather than this false impression of actively considering the end of oil and gas."

Ms Ardern said there was no question of cancelling existing permits.

"There are a number that already exist that have upwards of one to two decades left on them. What we're not saying is that we're going to cancel anything that's been done in the past. This is all about what we do in the future."

Ms Ardern said there was nothing in the new-look TPP trade deal that would allow other countries to sue New Zealand over how it chose to award oil and gas permits.

"There's no advice I've been provided that suggests .... we would be sued for making a decision such as this. It's the prerogative of a government as to what it does with its block offers."

The government had set a goal of being carbon neutral by 2050 and a move to renewable energy by 2035.

But the issues were complex, and the government would consider such things as the impact on local economies. "We've always said we've believed in a just transition."

Petroleum Exploration and Production Association NZ executive director Cameron Madgwick said he believed the government wanted to take time to carefully consider the issue because it's so important to the economy and the environment.

"To me, Labour Party policy doesn't talk about a ban - indeed a ban would be a lose-lose for New Zealand's economy and it's environment.

"I know the government is aware of the complexities of this issue and signalling or choosing to end oil or gas exploration wouldn't actually change the global emissions profile at all."

Ms Ardern said the Green Party's decision to give National its allocation of questions would make no material difference in Parliament.

Greens' co-leader James Shaw said the deal was intended to limit the number of "patsy" questions the government gets from its own MPs and support parties.

Ms Ardern said it was absolutely their prerogative and amounted to only one or two questions a week. In her view the questions were a way for the government to tell its own story, but the Greens had taken a different position.

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