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Rod Donald: The Time Is Green!

2 June 2001

The time is green!

Address to the 2001 Green Party Annual Conference Tahunanui Beach, Nelson 2 June 2001

Rod Donald MP, Green Party Co-Leader

I enjoy making predictions, especially when they come true! Two years ago, in the face of a one percent poll rating, I said that if we believed we could do it Jeanette would win Coromandel and the party would cross the 5% threshold. We did both.

Last year, I said that we had already established ourselves as the third force in Parliament and that we have the potential to become the third largest party at the next election. I believe we are on track to achieve that goal, and our 10% party vote target.

The time is indeed green! At half-time in the parliamentary term we have notched up a very respectable score. Jeanette has outline our significant achievements in the last eighteen months but the essence of our efforts can be seen in our growing public support, measured by both the opinion polls and increased membership and activism in the party.

A word of caution however... opinion polls are very fickle creatures. Sure, our 5% looks solid - yesterday we scored 7.1% in the NBR poll and we have averaged over the threshold since this time last year, with the exception of the Christmas break - but we can't afford to take our future success for granted.

We've got to work smarter as well as harder. This time next year we must be well ahead of where we were before the 1999 election - back then branches were just getting focussed on the campaign, we had only selected 14 candidates, our local profile was poor, our policy was not yet finalised and we had little money in the bank.

I'm not asking you to go full on every day from now until the election but I do want to inject a sense of urgency, especially for fundraising and policy development. It's much harder to do them at the same time you should be in campaign mode.

In some areas we need to build branches first. I know there are differing views on this but I believe we need an active campaign team in each electorate to support their local candidate. Yes, we are campaigning for the party vote but it will be local knowledge and a local presence that will enable us to maximise our support. With our membership virtually double what it was at the last election we can have an impact in places where we have never had one before.

We certainly can't afford to be inward looking after this weekend. Instead we must focus our considerable energies on reaching out to our networks, our constituencies and beyond.

We will need to. Last time we came in under the radar. Next year both the media and our opponents will be scrutinising us with fine toothcombs, sniffing out any possible shortcomings and exploiting those perceived weaknesses.

They will need to. We are the biggest political threat the grey parties have ever faced. We have a brand which is instantly recognisable, a team of high performers in Parliament, a policy platform which is forward-looking, a party of passionate people and a vision which is both compelling and common sense.

In a recent speech to federated farmers Labour deputy leader Michael Cullen said "if education is the fundamental 'what' of economic transformation, the 'how' and the 'when' are not so easy to pin down. As a country we need to decide (a) what specific goals are we shooting for? (b) what are the key drivers of the transformation? and (c) what time scale are we talking about?"

We're very happy to help Dr Cullen work out the answers. We believe New Zealand's goals should include full enjoyment for everyone. Yes, I mean full enjoyment, not just full employment i.e. work needs to be rewarding as well as remunerative. We believe the young and the old need to feel valued and the sick and the frail need to feel secure.

We believe it is possible to live in style within our ecological means. We believe the marketplace is no substitute for representative democracy. We believe... you fill in the gaps!

The key drivers of this transformation are WE - passionate people with vision and common sense make things happen. We are committed to shifting the economy away from speculation and towards productivity, away from depletion and towards living within the 'income stream' the earth's natural capital provides, away from greed and towards green. We are talking about putting New Zealand on an ecologically sustainable, socially just, citizen driven, peaceful footing. We are talking about an Eco-Nation.

The time scale has already been quantified in some areas - New Zealand could be an organic nation by 2020, we could be a zero waste society by 2010, we could have a carbon tax, and equivalent income tax reductions, in place by the next election and we could get our trade deficit back in the black by Christmas if we promoted self reliance.

This year we have again taken some small steps towards our goals through the adoption by the government of 23 green budget initiatives, worth around $18 million.

Imagine what we could do if we got our hands on $30B? Or even $300 million? To have that level of influence we have to go into government. Last year I said that we must use this parliamentary term to find our feet and gain the necessary experience to take on that responsibility.

At the next election I believe our team will be ready to run with the ball instead of simply offering advice from the sidelines. Whether or not we decide to play the game will depend on the rules.

Before we would go into coalition we would of course need to be asked! That said, experience, both here and overseas, suggests that we would need more seats to make it work. I agree. That is therefore a strong message we need to give to voters. How much influence and input we have in the next Labour-led government is in their hands.

If they want us at the cabinet table greening all portfolios and driving strategic ones towards achieving an Eco-Nation then they will have to vote for us in greater numbers. But this isn't just a numbers game.

Ultimately for me the quality of our relationship with Labour, and perhaps the Alliance, will determine whether we go into government or maintain the status quo. If, within the context that we are competing parties, we have not built up working relationships which are healthy before the election then a coalition is unlikely to be a success after it.

That is more important than policy agreement. There are clearly some areas where we strongly disagree - look no further than what we believe the shape of the economy should be - but if we haven't built sufficient mutual trust and respect then forget it.

One policy lesson from Europe is 'get it down in writing'. I had been a fan of the current coalition agreement until I went to Europe last year. I still believe it is groundbreaking, because it allows the partners to 'agree to disagree' and has led to a softening of cabinet collective responsibility in the cabinet manual. We will have a very useful discussion today whether that goes far enough for a multi-party environment.

But the strong message I got from the French, the Belgians and the Germans - reinforced by the Finns, the first second-term Green Party in government, - is that you must negotiate your joint programme at the time you negotiate your coalition and you must get your policy and programme achievements spelt out in the coalition agreement, for all to see, and know what initiatives are Green. According to Tim Bale there more detail is the norm - the Labour-Alliance one is the shortest in the world.

Portfolios are also important - both ours and theirs. There are pivotal ones we would want which we could use to steer the ship of state in the right direction, - energy, transport, agriculture, community economic development, trade, tourism, environment and fisheries. We also have the talent in our team to make an excellent contribution to health, foreign affairs, justice, conservation...

In the same way Labour would want to discuss who we would want in particular portfolios, we would want to discuss with them whom they are proposing. There is not a lot of point putting in a lot of effort to achieve sustainability and self-reliance if your coalition partner's trade or biosecurity minister is undermining your efforts!

There are more issues to discuss, which I know we will do tonight when we hear from Tim Bale on the successes and challenges facing Greens in government in Europe. A key one of course is the parliamentary wing's relationship with the party. First and foremost, any decision to go into coalition should be made at a delegated conference - where an agreement negotiated by caucus would be adopted or rejected. Beyond that, close communication throughout the term is crucial, to seek advice, explain decisions and ask members to brief the public.

Whatever we do it is vital that we maintain our distinctiveness while contributing to stable government. I believe we have done that extraordinarily well over the last 18 months but the pressures in coalition are greater. One idea worth considering is if either or both of our leaders go into cabinet then they would step down and be replaced to ensure a strong green voice outside cabinet.

Moving to the immediate we have an excellent opportunity to succeed at this year's local body elections. The party profile is better than ever before, we have a lot of local talent, candidates have already been selected in a number of areas and we have important local issues to campaign on. We also have numerous national and global issues, which need local action.

I want to highlight two - check out the Global Greens charter, which defines what it means to be green for the new millennium, for the rest. Our second Green bill - STV proportional representation for local body elections - is now law. It is both a campaigning issue for this year and the launching pad for a strong green presence wherever the local community or council chooses to adopt it.

The other issue is local procurement. It sounds boring but it's all about councils being able to achieve economic development in their region by spending your rates on locally supplied goods and services. In a nutshell, free trade agreements, like the one signed last year with Singapore and the proposed one with Hong Kong, attempt to ban councils from buying local. This is a ready made campaign for us - come to Sunday's workshop for more details.

If you are standing this year make the most of our secret weapon - apathy! Voter turnout is only around 50%. If we can get our people on the roll and out to vote we stand to win seats beyond our dreams. Please make the most of the 'Get on the roll' poster to turn those dreams into reality.

Many will be pleased that lack of time prevents me from doing my usual rave on trade issues. It's enough to say the government is still trying to fly on one wing - exports - and continues to ignore import substitution, self-reliance, buy NZ made, to end seven consecutive years of trade deficits.

Meanwhile PDL's announcement yesterday that it is moving 30% of its electrical production from Christchurch to China, with the loss or redeployment of 300 jobs, is an ongoing reminder of the downsides of free trade and the stupidity of this government's globalisation policies.

Economic commentators say we have a Swiss economy - it's full of holes! Despite the low dollar, record exports and regular fixes - interest rate cuts - the economy isn't performing. Wake up and smell the roses. The present economic system is morally, ecologically and financially bankrupt and the sooner we green it the better.

Colin James said at a recent National Party conference that the party which gets the political language right will be in ascendancy for the next 20 years. We are that party.

James talked about freedom and security in his speech as the defining themes. I would add prosperity. They should be the themes of next year's conference. Of course we need to redefine them but stop and think about it.

Which party is talking about the real security issues - safe food, biosecurity, climate change, full employment? Which party is offering an economic direction, which leads to genuine prosperity for everyone, here and overseas, now and into the future? Which party is promoting real freedom for all citizens in a peaceful, just world?

This is our time, the time is green!


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