The Prime Minister has dismissed Labour leader Phil Goff's call for a moratorium on deep sea oil drilling because of the Rena disaster as "pure politics".
Mr Goff reacted to the disaster yesterday by announcing that Labour would put a stop to deep sea drilling until it can be proved safe - a totally new policy for the party.
But Prime Minister John Key said today that the National Government were not "environmental bandits" and were intent on deep sea drilling, which, he said, was entirely different to a shipping crash.
Amid increasing political division over the spill, Mana Party leader Hone Harawira called Mr Key a “bloody liar”
- Click on the video tab to watch Mr Key defend drilling and Mr Harawira call him a “bloody Liar”.
Mr Goff's newfound opposition to deep sea drilling has found support from Greenpeace, with campaigner Steve Abel saying they were “surprised and very, very pleased” that Labour had decided on the moratorium.
There is an increasingly heated political row over the Rena disaster with fears about deep-sea drilling from Labour, the Greens, New Zealand First, and the Mana Party who all say deep-sea drilling should not go ahead.
Mr Harawira said the Prime Minister is “telling a pack of lies” in saying there is no link between the effects of a shipping disaster and deep-sea drilling.
“He's a bloody liar, quite frankly. This is about oil spills and our ability to handle it…You ask any New Zealander in the country right now, have we handled this one well? And I bet you we get a 100 percent ‘No we haven't’,” Mr Harawira said.
John Key said this afternoon that his Government has always tried to balance “economic opportunities” with “environmental responsibilities”.
“We're not environmental bandits. If we don't believe drilling can take place in a way that is environmentally sustainable and wouldn't put at undue risk the environment, we wouldn't go with it.”
Deep sea drilling is currently at the exploration stage and recent attempts by oil companies on the East Coast’s Raukumara Basin was met by strong opposition by local iwi Te Whanau Apanui and Greenpeace.
There is also the possibility of deep-sea drilling in the Great Southern Basin and off the coast of Taranaki.
The Gulf of Mexico disaster was a deep-sea oil well and gushed out a massive 627,000 tonnes. By comparison, the Rena spill would be a maximum of 1700 tonnes of oil if all of it was to leak into the ocean.
Mr Goff spontaneously announced his party’s new stance on deep-sea drilling yesterday, saying deep-sea drilling is too dangerous.
“There shouldn’t be deep-sea drilling until we know there are safeguards in place that can be absolutely relied upon,” he says. “I’m not confident that there is.”
Mr Key has brushed off the concerns from his political opposition, saying it is just being used to create politics.
“This is a ship that has crashed on a reef. We need to address those issues and we need to make sure that we do the best job we can to limit the environmental damage. I think they should be focussing in that area to be honest.
“I just think that's pure politics. This is a ship that's crashed for reasons that are yet to be determined onto a well-documented reef,” Mr Key said.
Greenpeace’s Mr Abel responded: “John Key isn’t fooling anyone if he thinks there is no correlation between the risks of deep-sea oil drilling and what we are seeing here in the Bay of Plenty. The point is that it is about oil in the water – we are just incapable of dealing with the effects of an oil spill.”
Mr Abel said “if the Gulf of Mexico was a 10 litre bucket of oil, then in proportion, Rena would be two teaspoons of oil”.
Environment Minister Nick Smith said he found Labour's new position "hypocritical". He said Labour was the only party that didn't support a proposed law to manage the environmental effects of activities like petroleum exploration within New Zealand's Exclusive Economic Zone when it was introduced to Parliament earlier this year.
“I do find it particularly ironic that the only party in the Parliament that voted against the EEZ legislation [was Labour],” Dr Smith said.
“We've had an oil industry in Taranaki for 30 years without a significant incident in taranaki for 30 years and for us to shut down that industry as some are suggesting because a particular ship is irresponsibly managed and ends up on a reef would in my view be an ill advised reaction to the events of the last fortnight.”