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Greens Realising the potential of the 21st Century

Greens Realising the potential of the 21st Century

Speech by Jeanette Fitzsimons at launch of Green Party 2005 Election Campaign

When the Greens entered Parliament in our own right, with 7 MPs in 1999 dissatisfaction was boiling over after 9 years of National. A new Labour-Alliance government relying on the Greens was elected for the new millennium, led by Helen Clark, NZ's first elected woman prime minister.

The country was full of hope. It seemed like a new beginning. And it was.

The Greens strongly supported Labour's moves to scrap the air strike force, introduce income related rents, get rid of the appalling Employment Contracts Act, bring back apprenticeships.

Working with Labour the Greens sped up the end of the logging of our old growth forests, introduced the Energy Efficiency Act, started work on a new sustainable Transport Strategy, prodded them into the Clean Slate Bill, gained funding for environmental legal aid, environment centres and environmental education in schools.

Working despite Labour, and with the nation wide GE Free movement, we have created a climate where release of any GE crop will be extremely difficult because public opinion is so strongly against it.

At this election, many of those gains are threatened.

We face the risk of a National-led government that has said it will abolish environmental legal aid and turn the RMA into a fast track for developers to screw the environment, put all transport funding into roads, so there will be none for public transport, cuddle up to the US military, sending our young people to fight in Bush's war without end, and use the money that should go to improve our health and education and environment for tax cuts for the well to do.

We could also expect eventual moves to get rid of our nuclear free status, tilt employment relations unfairly against workers, and tell the poor that their poverty was their own fault and they should be punished for it.

That's why the Greens have said clearly that we will work with a Labour led government, not a National one.

During the 2002 election campaign, our two parties were, rightly or wrongly, portrayed by the media as being at war. There was the GE impasse and then the low of Corngate.

While I don't regret taking a stand on an issue of utmost importance to our country's future, and I will not resile from our position of total opposition to GE release, I do regret the effect it had on our relationship with Labour.

In the last three years, Helen Clark, Rod and I have worked hard to build bridges. We are now ready to go to the country and say: together, we can govern New Zealand, and make it a better place for all Kiwis.

Six years in power has meant Labour has had to make a lot of compromises, and I believe the time is ripe for us to be proud again of where we are going as a nation. The Greens stand ready in 2005 to provide vision, bold ideas, and practical solutions to Helen Clark's third term that will complement and bolster what Labour has to offer.

We have, of course, our disagreements. If I agreed with Helen on everything, there would be no point in my leading a strong, proud, independent-minded Green Party.

We disagree, for example, on free-trade. While Labour has a determined free-trade agenda, the Greens believe trade agreements should only be signed where doing so is in our country's economic interest and where environmental and labour safeguards can be meaningfully enforced.

We disagree on foreign investment. While Labour sees it as a boost to our economy the Greens want to stop the sale of our land to any except NZ citizens and permanent residents who actually live here. That's not about race or prejudice, it's about entrusting our land to people who are committed to this country and who make it their home.

On energy and transport we have more agreement with Labour than anyone else. While they haven't had the courage yet to abandon coal, they have turned to wind , and I believe we can demonstrate they don't need coal if we put enough effort into wind and solar and energy efficiency.

Likewise, while they agree with us about public transport and school travel plans and cycling and walking facilities, and the funding for these and the use of these has increased massively, they haven't yet got the courage to trust that we don't need to build big new roads as well. This confidence will grow as we have a chance to demonstrate our ideas in action.

However, what is different now is that we have developed processes for handling differences, discussing what we're both trying to achieve, and reaching an agreement about how we can move forward together. Kiwis are sick of the perpetual squabbling between politicians and want a government made up of parties who know how to work together. The commitment we are making this election is that we will not play politics with your future.

Compare that with the parties of the right. Winston Peters keep saying he doesn't believe Brash is Prime Ministerial material, so one can imagine how well they'd work together around the Cabinet table. National and Act, meanwhile, have been locked in a legal dispute over billboards. These are parties at loggerheads; how could they run the country?

The Green Party's message to voters over the next five weeks must be that we can add a great deal of value to a Labour-led Government. By party voting Green, you can have everything Labour has to offer, but also a whole lot more.

On tertiary education, we complement Labour's interest-free student loan policy with a comprehensive plan to tackle the root causes of student debt.

On energy, we complement Labour's commitment to Kyoto with bold plans for making New Zealand more energy efficient and to go solar.

On poverty, we complement Labour Working for Families by extending the help to the children of beneficiaries.

We will work with Labour to protect the things that make us uniquely kiwi - not just our nuclear free stand, on which they have been strong, but GE Free, protecting our unique species like the royal albatross and the Hector's dolphin from careless fishing, protecting our clean air and water from pollution and standing up for the Treaty which defines our relationship with the first people of this country.

We are standing on four platforms at this election and you'll hear more about them as the afternoon goes on.

We will be unveiling a number of "Green Solutions" to significant issues facing New Zealand and I'm proud to announce the first of them today. It aims to prevent many of the illnesses that afflict Kiwis before they eventuate.

We've always believed it makes more sense to keep people well than to wait until they are sick before intervening. New Zealand spends $10 billion every year on health, nearly all of it on treating sickness. We need to tackle the root causes of ill-health and treat the whole person and their environment, empowering them to take greater care of themselves.

While our full health policy will be announced shortly, today I'm announcing Green Solution no 1 - to give every New Zealander a free yearly medical check - a wellness check.

We know that New Zealanders have high rates of obesity, undiagnosed diabetes, skin cancers and STDs. We know that screening for some illnesses can improve our chances of survival. The annual wellness check will provide an opportunity for a health professional to check for risk factors, like potential skin cancers and high blood pressure and cholesterol, carry out appropriate testing, including fitness and nutrition checks, and provide advice and make referrals where necessary.

It's a chance for you to get advice on any concerns you have - like diet or managing chronic pain, or depression.

For goodness sake, we demand an annual warrant of fitness for our cars, why not take the same precautions with our health?

This 'Wellness Check' will far more than pay for itself over time. We know that a few tens of millions a year now on early diagnosis and treatment of type 2 diabetes can save many hundreds of millions in ten years' time on treatment, not to mention the human agony that goes with it.

It is difficult to work out the upfront cost, because it is hard to predict how many Kiwis will take advantage of their free wellness checks. Our best estimate is that it could be about $200 million a year, saving billions in the future.

We're excited about this idea. It's a real Green Solution, because it takes the long-term view.

There will be several more to come in the weeks ahead.

Our policies look to the future, recognising that it will not be like the past, and prepare to use the coming changes to build a better way of life. They are not like a worm's eye view, sightless, unable to predict and plan, sensing only a millimetre ahead of its nose, unaware of what is coming.

Under MMP Labour cannot govern alone. No party can. This is the system that forces parties to co-operate, just as NZ wanted when it voted for proportional representation.

Which leaves us with the choice facing voters who want a Labour-led government. Either you can have a Labour-led government held to ransom by the divisive, erratic, politics of fear with Winston Peters, or you can have a Labour-led government infused with Green ideas. Unless the Greens are there in sufficient numbers the next government will be hostage to Winston.

We have five weeks to ensure Nz understands now best to use MMP. I've lost count of the number of green voters I've met in the last 2 weeks who say they want to vote Green but feel they have to vote Labour or Brash will win. They are hugely relieved when I explain that a vote for the Greens is just as effective in keeping Brash out, and much more effective in making sure NZ First doesn't call the shots.

You need to explain that too, to the people you have coffee with, the people at your work place, the members of your family.

New Zealand is a great country. It's time to make it even better. It's time to fulfil the promise of the 21st Century, the hope we all felt in 1999. It's time put a Green heart in the middle of Helen Clark's government.

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