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Address in Reply Speech - Jeanette Fitzsimons

Address in Reply Speech

Jeanette Fitzsimons

Green Party Co-Leader

8 February 2000

In the South Pacific it is a tradition going back hundreds, if not thousands of years, to begin a significant speech by paying homage to those who have gone before, and to greet those who are here today.

It is also traditional, and particularly relevant for me today, to greet the Earth.

I want to include, in my homage to my predecessors, reference to tangata whenua who have brought a distinctive environmental ethos and spirituality to this land, and to this Parliament.

I would also like to thank my political predecessors. In May 1972 a meeting at Victoria University, Wellington, launched the Values Party, the world's first national Green Party. It has taken a long time to achieve an autonomous Green Party presence in Parliament, free of any other political agenda, but thanks to 106,560 list voters it has happened.

I pay my respects, as well, to them. They have followed one of our main campaign slogans and made their party vote last for generations. I acknowledge particularly the people of the Coromandel electorate, who have entrusted me with the huge task of serving them and the vast area of land, sea and biodiversity in that electorate. I will do my best not to let them down.

Being Green is much more than being in a political party. It is an attitude. It challenges the culture of greed and of waste. It is a philosophy of long term hope for the sustainability of life.

Mr Speaker, for many decades, centuries even, political parties have been defined by where they sit on a single dimensional line from left to right. All issues have been debated accordingly to ideologies of privatisation or collectivisation; more or less state spending; property rights or human rights; equality or enterprise.

Yet there are many political issues which are obscured by the attempt to fit them into this left-right straitjacket. Historically, neither left nor right has had a monopoly on militarism; on destruction of living systems; on abuse of human rights; on suppression of the wellbeing of communities and individuals for the supposed needs of the whole.

Left-right politics is about who get how much of the cake. That is important, but it leaves unanswered all the questions about what sort of cake we should bake, how large it can afford to grow, where the ingredients come from, and whether non-humans get to the table at all.

Throughout the world a third force is now evident in many parliaments. A force which does not define itself primarily by being right or left, though it has positions on these issues; but which represents a growing movement of people who wish to see other issues and different value systems admitted to the debate.

There are now Green parties in more than a hundred nations and they are represented in the parliaments of most European countries and some others. They are members of government in a handful of states. While their charters and principles are all developed locally and independently they all show a remarkable similarly in their commitment to ecological wisdom, social justice and human rights, democratic decision making at the lowest appropriate level, and peace and non-violence.

It is a very great pleasure for our Co-leader Rod Donald and myself to add New Zealand to that list of countries, as we lead a team of seven Green MPs into the first parliament of the new century.

The Greens have offered the new coalition government our support on matters of confidence and supply. We are not part of that government, but nor are we in opposition to it as that has been generally understood in our parliament; we will not be attempting to embarrass it at every turn with the objective of bringing it down and forming a new one.

While we endorse the Labour-Alliance coalition's mandate to govern, we will also support good ideas in legislation wherever they come from. We have been delighted to see the National Party's environmental consciousness awakening at their caucus retreat after a long period of dormancy, and look forward to supporting any constructive proposals that they come up with.

We have expressed confidence in the new government because the Speech from the Throne offers real hope for a new beginning for this country.

The commitment to reducing inequality, particularly between Maori and Pakeha is long overdue. It is also not achievable in an economy based on market theory, free trade and competition. We commend the government for its commitment to that goal; we welcome statements about co-operation rather than competition, partnerships with the voluntary sector, and specific measures on student loans, state housing rents and superannuation. At the same time we note anxiously that there is little change in the reliance on export led growth and trade liberalisation as the means to achieve these goals - means which have not worked so far.

The Greens welcome the announcement of a broad structural review of the taxation system. We take this to mean the questions of what should be taxed, not just how large the total tax should be. This is an opportunity to consider how the incentives built into the NZ economy to waste materials and energy and conserve labour might be changed by shifting tax from work and enterprise to waste, pollution and natural resources. We look forward to contributing to this debate.

The Government wishes to create a high skill, high employment, high value added economy. So do we. But more than half our exports are still products of the land. We either turn our backs on the people of the land and their rural communities, as the previous government has done, and promote speculative gains through the financial sector, or we find ways of adding value to the products of the land. That is a huge neglected opportunity.

In the past we have added so-called value to our food and fibre through pharmaceuticals, chemicals, processing and packaging. All need high energy inputs and none create that value on the land. The benefits are captured in the laboratory or the factory which increasingly are not owned or even located here.

The market is making it clear where value really lies. World demand for safe food, particularly certified organic food, is insatiable. NZ is well positioned to take advantage of that demand if we act soon, and the extra value will occur on the land and in our rural comunities which are so much in need of new opportunities. We challenge the Government to achieve the high value added economy by becoming a centre of excellence in organic growing and the science that underpins it, rather than a test bed for yet more pesticides and antibiotics banned elsewhere, and for genetic engineering that has seen farmers' returns lowered and markets shrunk in its country of origin, the US.

There are some huge issues we will be urging the government to tackle.

Climate Change has been clearly looming for more than a decade. We have the fastest rate of growth of greenhouse gases in the developed world. We are light years away from meeting our commitments at Kyoto. Our low-lying Pacific neighbours, with whom we often express solidarity, are about to drown. It will take more than rhetoric and more than a review to turn NZ around on this one. We pledge our support for any serious efforts the Government makes to improve NZ's abysmal record. We will be looking for a real government commitment to restoring our natural heritage - conservation funding must rise significantly if we are to be more than spectators to extinction.

Those same rising seas are the source of $1.5 billion of our annual income, home to the largest part of our biodiversity, and part of what gives us our identity as a nation. And they are crying out for help. They are far less well studied and less well protected than our land. We know little about most of the species we fish and even less about the marine ecosystem they are part of. Less than 0.1% is protected in reserves. Areas of stunning beauty and biological diversity have already been destroyed. Management responsibilites are confused under several acts, and it's all so much harder when you can't see what's going on under the water.

A bold new government could tackle this issue as a previous Labour government tackled sustainability issues on land, with the development of the RMA. We need a framework where all marine issues can be considered together, rather than fishing, water quality or recreation in isolation. These issues of climate change, sustainable agriculture and the oceans cannot be sidelined as just "the environment". They lie at the heart of our wellbeing, our health, our livelihoods, our survival.

The Green Party is proud of the role New Zealanders have given us. It is a role created by MMP which New Zealanders voted for because they did not want anyone in Parliament to have absolute power. It is a role that challenges us to apply consensus processes in an arena that is known for its confrontation. Some were looking to us to help ensure a change of government. Others are looking to us to be a watchdog (in the nicest possible way) on that government. We have been told we are there to provide leadership on a range of issues that are rarely discussed in parliament. They want us there to argue that human wellbeing must be measured differently, that social, environmental, emotional and spiritual wellbeing are all essential to human beings and will not be achieved through money and economic growth alone.

We are here not to wag the dog, but to ensure that the wishes of nearly 107,000 people who voted Green with their party vote are not ignored. That entails a delicate balance in our relationship with the Government. We wish to see them succeed, and earn another term. We wish to add some value to what they would otherwise do. We take very seriously our responsibility to scrutinise legislation which may be determined by our votes, and we expect to be consulted and well briefed so we can carry out this responsibility.

We will disagree, sometimes strongly, and those disagreements will be transparent so that we are accountable to the voters. We will negotiate to reach the best possible outcome for our constituents, but those negotiations will be based on principle and the policies we put to the country. We will not vote against our own policy in order to make gains in other areas. We are developing a protocol for conducting the relationship and we are confident that it can provide stable government.

I am proud to be leading the most committed, diverse and hard-working line-up of MPs of any party. We also have the most ambitious agenda. We are here to try to improve the desperate plight, not only of people, but of the earth itself. I promise we will do our best.


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