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Jeanette Fitzsimons Speech to Campaign launch

7 July 2002

Speech to Campaign launch
Jeanette Fitzsimons
Green co-leader

There is a saying I often take comfort from that every great truth is first ridiculed, then violently opposed, then accepted as self-evident. That was how the earth was eventually accepted as being round; it was how slavery was abolished and votes for women were accepted. in my lifetime I have watched the process lead to acceptance of civil rights for blacks in South Africa and the USA; the inclusion of Maori in rugby teams; and the understanding that New Zealand has better options for electricity than nuclear power.

Our vision is that one day it will be similarly accepted that you can't catch international criminals by bombing thousands of innocent civilians; that the world must wean itself off its dependence on fossil fuels; that every child has the human right to grow up with healthy food, a healthy house, accessible health and education, non-violent role models and quality time with its parents.

I look forward to the day when it is accepted as obvious that we will not build a knowledge economy if students have nothing to live on while they study; that it does not make sense for each individual when they move around a city to cart a tonne of metal with them; that enough food for all can be grown without pesticides; and that New Zealand does not need or want GE outside the lab.

Our position on GE is already moving into the third phase. It moved past the ridicule stage some time ago and we have seen it violently opposed by big business and corporate science with scare mongering about Luddites, New Zealand becoming a banana republic, and the Greens being anti-science and, god forbid, emotional.

It entered the third phase when 15,000 ordinary New Zealanders turned out in this city last September and marched for a GE Free food and environment. It is now accepted as self-evident by a majority of New Zealanders who have said, in every poll that has asked the question directly, that they agree with our position. Let me remind you of them:

The royal commission's own poll: 73 per cent disapproved of GE in processed food, 70 per cent in farm animals, 66 per cent in research animals and 56 per cent in commercial crops.

The May 2000 AFFCO poll: does the future of farming lie with GE or organics? 70 per cent of farmers said organics, 15 per cent said GE, only four per cent thought we could have both.

TV3 last month: should the moratorium be extended? 56 per cent yes, 34 per cent no.

Last year's Consumer Link poll - should outdoor field trials and farming of GE crops and animals be allowed in New Zealand? - 54 per cent no, 28 per cent yes. And interestingly, 80 per cent of those with a view were opposed to putting human genes in cows and sheep.

This year's Consumer Link poll: should living GE organisms be kept in a contained lab? 64 per cent yes, 24 per cent no.

Only when you ask a fudgy question, like whether you support a policy of release with 'strict controls' without specifying what you mean, can you get a majority for Labour's position. We are representing the majority and that gives us an extra right to stick to our principles.

This week the GE debate moved another step into that third phase with the launch of the Sustainability Council - five well known and absolutely mainstream New Zealanders, not associated with the Greens, who are saying "keep it in the lab". They are calling for a five year moratorium because too little is known of the effects of releasing GE organisms and they believe it will seriously damage our international markets for our food exports.

In my view it is particularly significant that one member of that group is a leading New Zealand professor of biochemistry, himself a genetic engineer who has been prominent in the development of GE insulin. Having been a member of an ERMA committee, Professor Cooper says he is not confident that the Authority is equipped to protect New Zealand.

The Government believes that its knowledge economy and biotech strategy for growth will be in tatters if it does not allow commercial release of GE. This seems to stem from a strange equation that says "we must have knowledge; knowledge = only science, science = only biotech, biotech = only genetics and genetics = engineering transgenic plants and animals, growing them outside and eating them".

This is patently stupid. A scare campaign is running that scientists will leave New Zealand if we continue the moratorium. But Professor Cooper says "European scientists have been working under a de facto moratorium on commercial release for nearly four years. Biological research has not shut down in Europe as a result".

He further debunks the science vs emotion claim by ending:

"It's a fairly emotional topic. But I'd have thought the economic survival of the country should be a fairly emotional topic too."

To borrow a phrase from the Labour party, who is it that's really holding the country to ransom here? We who are taking the precautionary approach and trying to use the democratic process to protect our health, our environment, our farming and our markets, or those who are trying to use their influence behind the scenes to scare the government into allowing release when there are still so many scientific questions?

The last people to enter the third phase and accept our truth as self-evident will be Labour and National because they have staked so much of their reputation on the release of GE it is hard for them to reconsider. That's what the election is about - making them reconsider.

In the end what the people decide is what will happen. If voters give Labour an outright majority then the issue will be out of the hands of parliament and the peoples' elected representatives and into the hands of an appointed bureaucracy with a record of saying yes to everything so far. If the voters force Labour to negotiate with the Greens, then that is what they will do.

At the latest count, 11 per cent of New Zealanders want the Greens to be in government, not calling all the shots, but using our influence to steer New Zealand in a new direction - protecting our unique social systems, bicultural society and physical environment, creating our own destiny in the world as a peacemaker, and ensuring that everyone has enough of the essentials of life to create their own destiny too.

We have an impressive line up of candidates, some of whom will be your new MPs. I want to thank them from the bottom of my heart for being prepared to join us in accepting the ridicule and the violent opposition so that eventually our truths may be accepted as self-evident by everyone.


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