Jeanette Fitzsimons Co-leader Green Party AGM Spch
1 June 2002
Speech to Green Party AGM Jeanette Fitzsimons Co-leader Delivered at 10am
A few days before the end of the last millennium the Greens won their first parliamentary representation under their own name in New Zealand. We all remember the impossible odds, the wry celebration when we reached single figures in the polls, the election night cliff hanger, the 10 days of waiting and the mad, wonderful chaos of the days before Christmas as the whole world seemed to arrive on our doorstep in Parliament to celebrate with us.
We found ourselves catapulted into the balance of power; too late, fortunately for us, to face the question of whether we wanted to join Government. Throughout this term we have supported the Labour-Alliance Government on confidence and supply and most of their legislation. Because they were able to govern only because of our support we need to review from time to time what it is that we are supporting.
New Zealand was more than ready for a change of political philosophy. Had been ready, in fact, since 1993, when, under first past the post, a majority of votes for the left did not deliver a left government. Again in 1996 National survived only because Winston took the votes cast against National and gave them to Bolger. So in 1999 the country was well and truly ready for a change.
There was immediately a new hope and a new attitude. We were proud to support the small social changes of income related rents, an end to the Employment Contracts Act, public accident compensation again, paid parental leave and a recommitment to the right to attend your local school. We were delighted with the biggest ever increase in the conservation budget, a determination to ratify the Kyoto Protocol, cancellation of the skyhawks, support for the arts and world leadership on whaling.
However the full story on trade, economic and foreign policy took a while to emerge and has caused us a lot of grief.
The pretence that the September 11 massacre somehow justified the bombing of a greater number of the desperately poor who had nothing whatever to do with that crime took us all by surprise because of Labour's previous history of more principled and less militaristic foreign policy.
Economic policy emerged as an uneasy mixture of regional development focussed on jobs and a new cargo cult worshipping biotechnology. It goes something like this: we must catch the knowledge wave as that is where the new riches lie. Knowledge = science, science = biotechnology, biotech = genetics and genetics = engineering new transgenic life forms for release into the environment.
No one is listening to the calls that there is knowledge other than science; science other than biotech; and many wonderful uses of genetics, which do not involve juggling genes between species and then eating them.
We are heading for a technocracy where universities are there to serve transnational corporates and other sciences are to struggle for funding. How the rest of us are to make our living is not clear. We are heading even further away from the Green vision of a strong research and science sector which provides the knowledge to underpin sustainability; the science needed to grow organically, manage soil better, replace fossil fuel with renewable energy, understand and manage marine ecosystems not just fish; develop new materials that produce zero waste.
Driving the present Government's approach is the commitment to maximising trade shared by both big parties which links us so inextricably to the US that we must join their wars and let them dictate that we shall grow their GE crops and not label our food.
So despite the refreshing political renewal there have been a few rats to swallow. We have not voted for them - most of them have not required recourse to Parliament; but sometimes voting confidence just seems like lesser evil again.
We have, however, provided the political stability the country needs and this has not changed. Despite the events of 10 days ago we pose absolutely no risk to the ability of this Government to govern full term - as it was elected to do - and any attempt to blame us for an early election should be seen for what it is; an attempt to gain an electoral advantage before Labour goes down again in the polls.
Balance of power does give some opportunities to negotiate policy gains. The Government is claiming that one reason it does not need to impose a carbon tax yet is that a number of foundational policies have taken us well on the way to meeting our Kyoto commitments. The main ones they cite are the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Strategy, which exists because Green legislation created it, and the new Transport Strategy over which we negotiated hard last summer and consequently transformed it.
The organics select committee enquiry, the organics working group and the funding for the small growers certification scheme and a national standard have moved organic farming forward. Rod's STV bill formed the basis of the Government legislation and that form of voting will be an option at the next local body elections.
Nandor's Clean Slate Bill shamed Phil Goff into writing his own. More conservative but still a step forward.
Three years of Budget bids have made real differences to peoples lives with environmental legal aid, the quit smoking programme, the new resources for environmental education, the authors fund to support writers, support for complementary health therapies and many more that there is not time to detail.
The new transport legislation, when it is introduced, will show a much better balance between roading and alternatives - rail, public transport, cycling and walking facilities.
Even on genetic engineering where we have been feeling particularly powerless recently, we must look back and realise how much we have achieved. We are largely responsible for the fact that so far no one has applied to ERMA to release any GE organisms even though the 1996 Act allows them to.
Monsanto was very close indeed in 1999. A couple of days away from lodging their application for GE canola, but withdrew; supposedly because they couldn't get the paperwork done in time for the planting season but actually, I believe, because we the Greens had made it a political issue and they knew the first application for release would not be easy.
Then we achieved a moratorium during the sitting of the royal commission; an extension to the moratorium while the Government made up its mind what to do; and then a new moratorium till October next year. As new adverse reports on GE roll in from overseas we may one day look back and say that the four years that we prevented release of GE were critical in preserving our GE Free future.
But it is not safe yet and the big threat now is the automatic expiry date in the new legislation which has just passed. A new parliament will only be able to stop the expiry of the current moratorium with new legislation.
That is why 10 days ago we left the chamber without voting on the bill which sets up the two year moratorium on release of GE organisms; an exemption from the moratorium for vaccines, both human and animal; and stricter conditions on field tests.
I had worked with the Government during the select committee stages and succeeded in getting some improvements to the conditions for field tests - mandatory monitoring, mandatory consideration by ERMA of horizontal gene transfer, and consideration of whether there is a way to achieve the objectives of the research without field testing.
I think we can justifiably say now that conditions on field tests here are the strictest in the world and while we would much prefer to see them stopped we are not going to achieve that until we are Government in our own right.
The big issue though, is the prospect of full release of GE organisms after next year. If that happens, what we do with field tests will be irrelevant.
The stated reason for the moratorium is to allow the research recommended by the royal commission to be completed. But there is no opportunity under the legislation to consider the findings of that research. Regardless of what it shows, or even whether it is finished, the moratorium expires automatically. That shows how interested in good science Labour really is.
So we did not vote on the bill but took the opportunity to announce that there is now nothing further that can be done for a GE Free future through this parliament. We are taking the campaign to the streets and the people can decide at the election. I am asking you at this conference to support a remit from the caucus saying that we will not support any Government that allows that moratorium to expire.
I want to say that I have never felt prouder than that afternoon, standing on the steps of Parliament with all my parliamentary colleagues, telling the media that it is now over to the people to decide.
The reaction was swift. Emails and phone calls and letters have poured into my office and the talkbacks the next day were solidly in our favour. However since then opposing forces have had a chance to organise and the talkbacks are now running against us on the grounds that small parties have no right to stand on principle.
The editorials were predictably vitriolic but the editors of the major dailies were captured by the Life Sciences Network long ago.
The media have confused the issue greatly by reporting repeatedly that the moratorium is on field trials and that our bottom line is also about field trials. It is just journalistic laziness but we are being blamed by more informed people for getting it wrong when we are consistently misquoted. We must take every opportunity to correct this and to educate those who inform the public.
Some people are genuinely puzzled as to why we have made this issue the crunch point for the formation of the next Government. Are we just a single-issue party? Anyone who has watched the breadth of issues we have engaged with over the last few years can see that is not true. Clearly we also care passionately about child poverty, climate change, peace, transport, tertiary education to name just a few.
Is GE the most important issue of all? Probably not, actually. The events in Afghanistan which bring the threat of global nuclear war dangerously closer are arguably more important, as is the global risk of climate change. So what is it about GE?
The difference is that next year an irreversible threshold will be crossed unless we stop it. If we were negotiating a policy agreement for a new government we could make substantial progress towards most of our long-term goals by negotiation; reaching accommodations on timing, cost, and a package of measures that would take us towards our vision. That is not true for GE. Once organisms are released into the environment they cannot be recalled; our GE Free marketing status is lost; the organics industry is doomed.
During the moratorium, the Government is developing new legislation to allow conditional release with buffer zones and controls on bees to supposedly protect organic growers.
We know that can't work. The new European Union report, released this week, finds after two years research in four countries that even 10 per cent of a country or region planted in GE crops would destroy the organics industry - something we and the New Zealand organics industry have been telling the Government for some time.
Labour's reaction was also swift. Helen Clark called us pathetic; said this was a recipe for perpetual elections and, for some reason I don't understand, referred to my organic loo. Media reported our quiet dignified departure from the chamber as storming out and editorials referred to the 'tail wagging the dog'. This is all intended to suggest that a small party should not take a stand on anything and its role is just to rubberstamp which ever of the major parties is the lesser evil. First past the post in drag!
Well, the Greens don't agree.
The political malaise that infects this country is caused by the perception - and often the reality - that politicians have no principles, do not keep their word, and are driven by political expediency. Yet faced with a small party that states its intention to keep its word and not compromise on principle commentators can't cope with the implications that large parties will not get all their way.
When a small country - New Zealand - led by a large party, Labour, stood up to the might of the US and said we will not have nuclear ships in our harbours, New Zealanders and most of the ordinary people of the world applauded a nation and a Government that was prepared to stick to principle.
Yet a small party is not supposed to have principles, or at least not to stick to them. That is an insult not just to us, but to the 112,000 people who voted for us, the 11,000 who made submissions to the royal commission which were largely ignored, the 15,000 who marched down Queen Street last year to keep GE in the lab, and the 62 per cent who have said in polls they do not want GE outside a contained lab.
If the role of small parties is just to rubber-stamp the policies of large parties, that is the politics of the playground bully. Why would we abandon our lifestyles, our families, our previous jobs, our free time and even our long-term health to represent a different view in Parliament if we are expected to just roll over if Labour disagrees?
The politics now is that Labour is trying to take the focus off the question of what they will do in response to our stand, and talks as though the lifting of the moratorium is inevitable and so, therefore, is perpetual instability and constant elections. They do not want to address the fact that all this could be avoided if they just agree to extend the moratorium for the next parliamentary term.
That is not a big ask. It does not cost money, it does not limit science. Only Monsanto and other transnationals are ready to release anything in New Zealand at this stage and it is not in New Zealand's interest to allow them to do so.
This does not have to be a bottom line for Labour. Many of their members and supporters agree with us and would applaud them for accommodating our fundamental principle. Make no mistake, if extending the moratorium is the only thing standing between Labour and the power to govern, they will extend it.
But for that to happen the people have to vote for it. We have told the voters exactly what their vote will mean at this election. If they want GE released into the environment they will vote for a majority Labour Government that does not need us. We will be there with no great influence but we will know we did everything we could.
On the other hand if they want a Government that follows the overall direction Labour has set but that keeps GE in the lab and adds other Green policies, they will give us their party vote and that is what they will get.
Our action, and your endorsement of it does not mean the Greens and Labour cannot work together in the future. The big parties are quite pragmatic in politics - they will work with whoever they have to to keep power. Labour has no great love for the Greens but they know we are a great deal easier to work with than Winston and as of 10 days ago they know we mean what we say and say what we mean.
We still do not know whether the campaign will be short or long. Whatever it is, we are ready for it and I am looking forward immensely to working with you all to double the Green vote and demonstrate Green politics in action.