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Jeanette Fitzsimons: The Challenges of 2006

The Challenges of 2006

Speech by Green Party Co-Leader Jeanette Fitzsimons Green Party Policy Conference, Whangarei, 28 January, 2006

I hope you are all emerging from the summer break refreshed, healed and re-inspired. We need to be all those things, to face the challenges 2006 presents us with.

It challenges us to work effectively for sustainability, peace and justice with just 6 MPs where we had 9; with fewer staff and less resource; and without the energy Rod used to contribute. The election was a reminder that 5% is never guaranteed and the party has to be in a condition that it can carry on and fight another campaign even if at some time we lose all our MPs.

Sometimes I think we have forgotten what it was like to be a political party that had to rely 100% on our members. We did it for 25 years, counting the Values experience, with leaders, spokespeople, press releases, travel, conferences, and campaigns. We achieved 5.2% of the vote in 1975 with no MPs to help, and almost 9% of the vote in the seventy seats where we stood in 1990, still relying on volunteers. But after nine years of political representation we have come to rely too heavily on the MPs - our full time work, our staff, our tithes, our access to information and to the media that being in Parliament brings.

I hope and believe we will never have to go back to doing without that, but it is healthy to remember how we did it, and plan to be less reliant on the six MPs we have now. Sue, Sue, Keith, Metiria, Nandor and I will continue to give our all to the cause, recognising the enormous privilege it is to be paid to work at what we believe in, but we cannot do it alone. This year I want us to work to strengthen the electorates so they are all fully functional at campaigning on issues, liaising with local media, fundraising to pay off the debt and to save for the next election. So expect a visit from our new Party Development Co-ordinator, setting high standards for branches and helping you reach them.

Our next challenge is to spread our message wider, to reach out beyond our core vote to those who are sympathetic but not yet Green supporters. First we need to analyse where we might find these people, and a lot of the data that will help with this is not available yet. But we know that 686,000 people, 22% of people eligible to vote, didn't do so last year. That includes more than half a million who had bothered to get on the roll, but who in the end didn't bother to vote. And we know from analysis of past elections that if they had taken the trouble some of them, and certainly more than 5% of them, would have voted Green. We must find them before 2008 and build some faith in the democratic process.

How are we going to reach them? We can't rely on the media to do our work for us.

The Green message is rarely well expressed in the media because it is not just a slogan. A media controlled by multi-nationals whose goal is to attract advertising will never sell a message of simpler lifestyles and reducing waste and aiming for quality of life and human wellbeing rather than just a bigger economy. Our great asset is you - the members - who believe in this cause enough to leave your homes on a holiday weekend and sit in a hall listening to speakers and arguing about policy. I want you to have the confidence and the knowledge to challenge the things you hear said every day that you know are wrong, to present new information when the debate around you is misinformed, to ring the talkback or write to the editor to turn the popular debate in the direction of sustainability, justice and peace. I want to develop the tools to help you do this.

Russel has talked of the need for developing our minds as well as our hearts and grappling with the big issues that need sound information and depth of understanding. We never want to become a party of empty slogans.

I want to see every member given the chance in the next two years to deepen their understanding of the Green message and learn techniques to communicate it to others among their family, friends, work mates and the woman on the Grey Lynn bus. People get most of their views and information from people they trust - especially family and friends, and work colleagues they respect. You, and the other thousands of Green members, are our secret weapon who can do what a million press releases can never do - change the hearts and minds of New Zealanders.

We are developing a video and DVD library to lend out to branches who want to combine social and educational time. During the campaign we used End of suburbia, and The Future of Food effectively - there are many more out there you can show after a shared meal, and invite all the potential Greens you can think of.

So I agree absolutely that our challenge is to train our heads and strengthen our hands.

Then there is the challenge to walk the tightrope of our relationship with the Government. We have an unprecedented opportunity to run real, hands-on projects that will contribute to building a greener society - thousands of solar water heaters on roofs; significant energy efficiency improvements, hopefully for vehicles too; a Buy Kiwi Made programme that will reduce our current account deficit and support kiwi businesses and kiwi jobs. We also have joint initiatives running with government on environmental education, healthier food in schools, and working with the voluntary sector, and some agreed initiatives in habitat protection for threatened species, an advisory service for organic growers and measures to prevent GE contamination of crops.

At the same time we are not voting for the Government on confidence and supply and are voting issue by issue on the legislation. We are not part of government or of opposition. We are a free and independent Green Party and are free to speak our minds and to stand up for the environment, for justice, for peace and for democracy in opposition to the Government where our policies differ. The Green Party will be there challenging this Government whenever we see them straying from those four vital principles.

We have not traded the right to speak out about foreign spy bases on our soil in return for solar water heaters. But managing a relationship where we work closely and co-operatively with ministers on agreed projects but also criticise and oppose them on other things will take some relationship skills. It is the future of MMP - in Sweden the Green Party has had agreements with governments covering which issues they are working together on and which issues they oppose.

The New Zealand Greens have pioneered new types of political relationship in every parliament so far and no doubt will continue to pave the way like this for other parties.

Then there is the challenge of leadership.

It is useful after 10 years to review what leadership means in the Greens before we elect our second ever male co-leader.

Greens have always both been suspicious of leadership and had enormously high expectations of it. In 1995 we made a decision to elect leaders - before that we had four spokespeople, which mightily confused the media and everyone else. We have never gone as far as the UK Greens who at one stage had three co-chairs who rotated every six months - just as everyone had found out who the new one was.

The German Greens required their MPs to step down after two terms so they didn't become corrupted by the power system and to keep bringing new faces in. As a result no one ever got much experience in the job and they forced people as brilliant as Petra Kelly to step down in case she got too powerful.

We have never gone to these excesses but when we first elected co-leaders we were conscious of the need to avoid the cult of personality driven, presidential style leadership and foster consensus style decision-making. Many thought we were excessively politically correct and would hopelessly confuse the media and the public.

Yet from the beginning journalists had no difficulty in understanding there were two of us; that either of us could respond to questions normally put to leaders, and that we played complementary roles on issues. The system is now so accepted that the Maori Party has copied us, effectively I believe, as Tariana and Pita seem to be complementary too.

We are different from most parties in that our leaders are more than just leaders of the parliamentary team, and so are elected by the party at conference, not by the caucus. I hope we never change that. It is part of a raft of things we do that prevents the parliamentary team becoming too separate from the party and developing its own agenda, as happened in the Labour party in the eighties.

We are wary of power, and of giving power to leaders, but I think the party has become more comfortable with the idea that politics is about the use of power, and the key is to elect people who will use power responsibly for the collective good and then let them do it, while continuing to demand accountability.

We expect our leaders to be "one of us", and not to fly into a Green conference to speak and fly out again. We expect them to exemplify in their own lives the principles of the Green Party -riding a bicycle and growing a garden as Rod did or using public transport, using energy and resources responsibly, buying kiwi-made, caring for children and animals, eating healthy food, reusing and recycling waste. Quite a tall order given the peculiar demands of the job. The one principle we don't seem to demand from them is work-life balance!

We expect them to think ahead and see things coming at us and to have ideas but to consult fully before they do anything about them.

We expect them to be able to take criticism but not to be derailed by it. We expect them to answer every letter and return every phone call. I hesitate to give you my list of the qualities I think we should be looking for in a new co-leader. That's because I know I never quite measure up to them myself. But in that spirit I will venture some suggestions.

We are looking for someone who will be the new face of the Green Party. He needs to be able to articulate concisely the Green Party vision in a way the public will understand and warm to.

He needs to be able to inspire and motivate members and voters. He needs to see the big picture and help other people, trapped in their special issues, see it too. He needs to be able to accept responsibility - the buck stops here - but also be a team builder, who will help the caucus be the best they are capable of.

He needs the capacity and stamina for very hard work, and the determination to see it through when things get tough. Because what most people see of the co-leaders' lives is only the tip of the iceberg.

For this reason he needs a great sense of humour and a supportive home environment. No one will quite measure up to this - I know Rod and I often didn't - but we grew into the job and our new leader will too.

In return he should be able to expect your total support and love as well as your challenges and debate.

>From April 3 members will be able to nominate their preferred choice for co-leader. When this nomination process ends on April 28 we are expecting to have a large number of candidates. There is no doubt - the competition will be tough, but at the end of this, I am sure we will have the right man for the job.

But I want to return to that 1995 conference where one school of thought was that instead of one or two leaders we should have two thousand. And there's a lot of truth in that. Leadership can't just be left to the co-leaders, but happens at every level of the party. It is leadership to host a branch meeting to discuss something important.

It is leadership to organise a team to protect your local stream or hospital. It is leadership to organise a fundraising project or an evening for new members or a video showing. We cannot do our jobs as co-leaders unless there is leadership occurring throughout the party in every electorate.

In many ways that is even more important than who we elect in June and I hope it will get just as much discussion and interest.

We have been through a rough few months. But it takes more than an exhausting election campaign, a disappointing result, being excluded from government, and losing our inspirational, bouncy and beloved co-leader to keep us down.

We know that our society must be turned from its unsustainable path to one that respects the earth and other human beings. There are inspiring examples of people companies and nations actually doing this. Sweden recently announced it plans to be the first country to be oil-free by 2020. That is a huge commitment for a heavily industrialised and cold country.

China is taking sustainable development seriously, already has much lower greenhouse emissions per capita than the west, and per unit GDP than other developing countries. Their Prime Minister has said repeatedly that China's development must be sustainable. That is a huge task but the future of the world depends on them being successful.

Here in NZ we have seen an explosion of wind power, which so far is keeping up with new demand, although not backing out any fossil fuel. We have scientists at our world-famous McDiarmid Institute working on exciting new developments in new energy technologies, such as plastic photovoltaics - less efficient than the silicon based ones, but much cheaper.

We know it is possible to make a difference. And if not us, then who?

ENDS

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