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Party Hard, Party Vote Hard - Donald Speech

1 June 2002

Party Hard, Party Vote Hard
Rod Donald's speech to Green AGM
Delivered at 10.15am

It's election year! Until a couple of weeks ago most pundits were predicting it would be a boring campaign. Well, we've changed all that. Labour's still certain to win. The question is: will it have absolute power?

A day is a long time in politics. Wednesday morning a week ago a senior journalist told me that we would struggle to get traction on the GE issue in the campaign. I smiled, knowing full well that what we intended to do that very afternoon would put GE back on the front page.

Our bottom line call for an extension to the moratorium on the release of GE into the environment and our food chain has been described as a high-wire act, risky and a gamble, and that's from neutral commentators.

The Prime Minister has accused us of practicing Italian style politics, being grossly misleading, shutting the door on science, playing Russian roulette with the electoral system and making New Zealand an international laughing stock. She is wrong on all counts.

We make no apology for declaring GE the bottom line. Once it's out of the lab you can't get it back. Voters deserve to know that they face a stark choice at this year's election: giving Labour absolute power spells the end to a GE free New Zealand.

That's more than an end to something touchy feely. It's goodbye to our billion dollar clean, green, 100 per cent pure tourism and trade brands. There's clearly a strong commercial imperative for extending the GE moratorium on top of all the plain common sense and scientific reasons.

Above all else, our opposition to GE is a principled position; a stand that goes beyond politics. Quite simply, our integrity is at stake. We couldn't keep a government in power that wanted to end forever New Zealand being GE free.

We've been accused of being the tail trying to wag the dog. Remember what tails are for? They're designed to wag so that they can swot away undesirable organisms and also give balance and direction to the body. But far from being the tail on the GE issue, we actually represent a clear majority of New Zealanders while the Government appears captured by a small minority of businesses wanting to dictate our future.

The old grey parties don't know what's hit them (in a caring sharing way of course). They're not used to a political party that stands up for its beliefs let alone its MPs being prepared to risk their seats in parliament on a point of principle. It's time they learnt that we mean what we say.

It's not the first time we have stood up and taken the flak for what we believe. The Greens were the only party to vote against supporting America's military actions in Afghanistan and the only party to oppose sending New Zealand's SAS troops there.

We may have been isolated in Parliament but our position has been warmly embraced by people of conscience throughout New Zealand.

Labour used to take the same stand. The Labour Government was infamous for many things but it resolutely opposed sending New Zealand military forces under US command to the Gulf in response to Iraq's invasion of Kuwait.

Immediately after losing the 1990 election Helen Clark said in Parliament 'the Labour position has not changed. We seek a United Nations response. We reject military involvement. We feel New Zealand's interests are better suited by way of aid, medical teams, refugee assistance, and transportation than by sending fighting ships and fighting men'.

So what changed? Then Labour was carving out an independent foreign policy stance even if its economic policy supported free market corporate globalisation. Now Labour appears willing to do anything to reach the mirage of a free trade agreement with the US.

Labour's Finance Minister Michael Cullen has accused us of punching above our weight and warned that we might get a black eye for our efforts. I would remind him that his forebears also punched above their weight. They had a vision for our nation and a determination to achieve it. We share their spirit.

Pat Booth made the connection in his Auckland suburban newspaper column this week. In an open letter to Helen Clark he says 'history suggests Labour should be cautious about its hot-breathed criticism of people with deeply held convictions which the Government finds a problem at the moment but which history may see differently'.

He reminds her that the founders of the Labour Party were seen then simply as an aberration, or a noisy minority who were more trouble than they were worth and would never be worth anything. But, the welling up of public backing for their views was the beginning of the great Labour movement which changed New Zealand.

He goes on to write '(conventional politicians) probably underestimated the new wave of public concern and belief represented by those men in their cheap and second hand suits. Just as it would be easy now to misread the significance of men with Rasta hair and braces, women with familiar faces from a hundred protest marches. Those men represented genuine concerns and the deeply held beliefs of a large section of their community. Just as the Greens do today.'

We are prepared to wear that mantle. This is a new century, and green must be its colour. Tomorrow you will see an extraordinary line up of candidates. Candidates not just reaching out to students but candidates who are students. Candidates not just reaching out to farmers and business people but candidates who are in business. Candidates not just reaching out to Maori but candidates who are Maori. Candidates not just

reaching out to trade unionists but candidates who are trade unionists. Candidates who are parents, artists, conservationists, economists, community activists; all committed to working together with the people of New Zealand to make Aotearoa an eco-nation.

Seeing them all together for the first time at yesterday's candidate training made me feel proud to be a Green. Their passion, their vision, their commitment, common sense and experience will the difference in this year's campaign.

They are taking time out from families, from work, from pleasure so that the Green message is heard loud and clear in every street, in every town, in every corner of New Zealand.

I felt very humble at the last election as I shared platforms with candidates up and down the country. Most knew they wouldn't end up in Parliament - many were horrified by the prospect - but they still gave their all. This year I look forward to many more joining the Green team in Parliament but the political reality is that most of you are campaigning for what you believe in, without any expectations. Thank you.

I also salute every campaign worker, every staff member, every MP for what you have been doing and what you are about to do over the next few weeks, because that's all it will be, a few weeks. Twenty at the most, seven at the least.

Exactly three years ago I said of our election goals: 'believe them and they will happen.' They did. Not just one miracle but two, not just Coromandel but 5 per cent as well. This election we can double our vote to 10 per cent, Jeanette can increase her majority in Coromandel, Sue and Mike can give National a real fright in Rodney and Nelson. Believe it!

But it won't happen without a lot of hard work. We have a reputation for making our own luck but behind the scenes it only happens because dedicated people like you are prepared to put in the time to raise the money and get out on the streets.

There's a lot more than the future of the Green Party at stake. The future of this unique and precious land rests in our hands and in the hands of all those who share our vision for New Zealand to be the paradise we can make it if we try. Our kids and their kids won't thank us if we don't.

Don't be afraid to be yourself. We may not be the most polished politicians. We don't have the sharpest sound bites and won't have the slickest ads but Kiwi voters are smart enough to cut through the crap and see that we are honest, and that we are committed to making a fair, just society living in harmony with the rest of the natural world a reality.

We don't have millions from corporate backers to spend on advertising but we do have you and all your friends to take our message to the streets. You are our front line. You need to reach out with the Green message at every opportunity.

We can look back over the last two and a half years with a great deal of satisfaction. In 1999 we were a new Party in Parliament with only two MPs with any previous experience. We were thrown in at the deep end in a balance of power situation.

We now have a long list of achievements to our credit, some of which Jeanette has referred to and the rest you've all read in Green Times and Green Week. One of our greatest achievements is the one that has until recently been the least obvious. We have lent considerable stability to the minority Labour-led Government.

We could have done a Winston Peters and held it to ransom at every turn but instead we have worked co-operatively to ensure that the Government runs full term. And on that point, so it should. There is absolutely no reason for an early election. The voters elected us for three years and they should get their moneys worth.

We have had to swallow hard on occasions and, as Jeanette has said, Labour's real agenda has become a serious threat to our self-respect. More than once.

Labour should by now have learnt the lesson that when we oppose something then it is for good reason. We have only voted against or abstained on six bills and on each occasion our decision was the right one. Our stance on the anti-defection legislation has already been proved correct. We said it was anti-democratic and draconian and predicted it would be a disaster. All I can say to its proponents: Helen Clark, Michael Cullen, Jim Anderton, Laila Harre and Winston Peters 'we told you so.'.

We unfortunately make the same prediction about Dr Cullen's superannuation fund. I say unfortunately because it's our money that Dr Cullen wants to gamble on the casino economy. Why he won't learn the lesson that now is not the time to put money on the international sharemarket I simply don't know.

We told him very clearly at least year's conference what we thought of the superannuation fund but he still determinedly forced through the legislation to set it up. Now every week we hear horror stories from the likes of the Westland District Council which lost $900,000 on a $3.15 million investment in overseas equities, and the Community Trust of Otago which has just reported a negative return of 4.6 per cent on their investment portfolio.

Just yesterday a conference delegate told me Environment Waikato are losing $27,000 a day on their shares! What will it take for Dr Cullen to see sense?

We also voted against the Singapore Free Trade Agreement. Why have a free trade agreement with a country that had virtually no trade barriers to begin with? We said New Zealand would lose out. And so it has proved to be. The first full year of free trade with Singapore has resulted in an increase in the trade deficit by $189M to $215M. When will they learn?

Well it seems that they might have over the free trade deal with Hong Kong but the Government is still desperate to get one with the United States. It must be obvious to virtually everyone in the country, bar the Labour Government and the Trade Liberalisation Network, that George Bush is as likely to open up trade for New Zealand agricultural exports as he is to remove the blockade against Cuba.

All this highlights the reality that Labour's agenda is 'corporate capitalism with a heart'. Last week's Budget reinforced that truth. Yes, there were some good initiatives in the Budget but most were half measures rather than serious attempts at tackling fundamental challenges.

Green Budget priorities would have included bringing an end to child poverty, properly funding the education sector, paying full time students a living allowance, creating full employment and health funding focused on preventing illness.

We would have used the Budget to put the economy on to an ecologically sustainable footing, tackle New Zealand's negative savings rate through incentives for subsidised employer superanuation and restructuring the tax system to cut income tax on the first $5000 of income, and pay for that through a suite of eco taxes including carbon, toxic and waste taxes.

Instead Dr Cullen's budget reminded me of a recent National one where the finance minister crowed about the surplus while ignoring unmet needs. It's very easy to make a profit when you don't pay your dues. The same criticism I levelled at National must be levelled at the current Government.

And there's the rub. Labour is actually much closer to National, certainly on the economy, trade and foreign investment, than we are to Labour.

Our view of the economy is fundamentally different to both the grey parties. We are the parachute party with a strategy to ensure the economy lands gently rather than crashes to the ground. Unless we green the economy, unless it is built on sustaining rather than destroying the environment, then we have no future. That means living within the planet's capacity to support us and every other species. That means cutting waste and pollution and that means reducing consumption.

As Nandor says on the Green Room Eco Nation CD, 'the rich must learn to say enough so that all can have enough.'

That means challenging both greed and its shadow, poverty because, as Kerry Nettle said last night, environmental protection without social justice is not sustainable. She said that we must always reject the dichotomy of jobs versus forests because we know that by saving forests we can create jobs. We know that is true of energy conservation, where jobs can be created retrofitting homes to make them more energy efficient as well as healthier - a triple gain - because Jeanette has done it in her electorate with the Thames Energy Trust. Being Green can and should be good for business!

We are not a single issue party, as some now choose to portray us. I look forward to tomorrow's Children's Policy launch to reinforce that. I am sure every New Zealander wants every child to have a decent start in life, free from poverty, to grow up in a loving caring family environment and to have a future worth living. That's our commitment, and much more.

And there will be a lot more policy released over the next few weeks. But the election will not be won on policy alone. We will also be strongly promoting our team of candidates - note team, we don't buy into presidential campaigns - and generally highlighting the way we do politics differently.

A classic example of the third dimension the Greens bring to parliament was the way we achieved the changes we wanted to the Health Bill. Following Labour's rejection of our proposals we approached National to seek their support. They indicated a willingness to look at our amendments and also asked us to consider some of theirs. This was on the basis that National said they would not try to turn Labour's reforms, which we essentially supported, on their head if they ever got back into power.

Labour eventually saw the light and voted for most of our initiatives as well as a number of National ones. Not only did all of this happen in ordinary time rather than resorting to urgency as Labour originally intended, but we now have a better and more robust health structure which is unlikely to be turned on its head next time the Government changes.

Our election preparation is way ahead of where it was three years ago. We have over 60 candidates, with 50 selected or lined up for specific electorates. What's more there are campaign teams in place to support them and a campaign manager and committee at the national level. We've even got some money in the bank, but we need to raise an awful lot more!

We've had a great start to the campaign and I am confident it will continue. We've positioned ourselves as the third force in politics and the third party in parliament after the election. This election is now about what role the Greens will play. There is no doubt that National will lose, but will the Greens be in a position to stop Labour gaining absolute power? Will we be able to restrain Labour's worst excesses and steer it in the right direction? Your task is to put us in a position of influence.

Three years ago I said we had to focus 100 per cent on winning votes. This time we can afford to focus one per cent on post election strategies. The other 99 per cent must still be thrown into the campaign.

Here's my one per cent worth. I believe we are ready for the responsibility of Government. It's time to stop offering advice from the sidelines and start playing the game. Whether or not we do depends on the rules and our relationships with the other players in the Government team. That's the point behind the coalition remit to mandate the leadership to negotiate an agreement with Labour. Which then of course needs to be presented to a delegated party conference. I hope you vote for that remit.

I hope we can negotiate a workable coalition agreement with Labour. I know there are enormous pitfalls but we can learn lessons - both what works and what doesn't - from our European Green colleagues in coalitions in their countries. And we don't have to repeat the mistakes of both the National-New Zealand First Coalition or the Labour-Alliance Coalition.

We are not the same as New Zealand First or the Alliance. To start with, we are not led by people who left their parties in high dungeon and set up new parties with the primary objective of destroying their old parties and when that failed went into coalition with those old parties. The personalities are different and we must ensure that the processes are too.

We have learnt in the last three years that it is very difficult to govern when you are not in Government. If we are serious about implementing our policies then we have to take the calculated risk. I'd rather try and fail than never try.

That's my motto, in politics and in my life. I developed that attitude in the Values Party - the world's first green party, and the forerunner of our party today. Values was founded 30 years ago this week. One person's dream became a collective vision which spread throughout the world. Thank you Tony Brunt and all those people, a number of whom are here today, for their vision and determination. We owe it to them and to future generations to put their dream into practice.

We may be, as Chris Trotter said on the recent Assignment programme, the most red Green party in the world but we value the individual as much as society. We are communitarian, internationalist and libertarian all at the same time.

This is the best political conference I've attended since going to the 1975 Values conference as a high school student. Party hard tonight and campaign hard for the party vote day and night from now until the election.

ends

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