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Fitzsimons: Through the Eyes of a Child


Green Party Co-Leader
Through the Eyes of a Child


When you make your decision at this election, we are asking you to look first through the eyes of a child – of all our children. Aila looks out at us from the wharf with the ocean behind her, with an honesty, a directness, a challenge that you don’t often get from adults. Today you have seen her on screen, and she’s just as stunning as on a static billboard. She’s not saying, “Who’s going to give me the biggest tax cut?” She’s saying, “Who’s going to look after our future?”

She’s not impressed by the name calling in Parliament and the political “game”. She’s already told us, during filming, what she thinks of people who drive all over the city one person to a car when they could catch the train, because she is going to inherit the consequences. She is going to inherit the consequences of the way you vote in just five weeks.

What will she think, in 20 years’ time, as she looks back on the priorities we adults had at the 2008 election? What will she think of a society that built a house-of-cards financial system that lent money it did not have, sold things it did not own, claimed value for things that did not really exist, then crashed; bringing down with it many things of real value – like people’s homes and jobs.

What will she think of political parties that put tax cuts ahead of dealing with the big challenges to her future – climate change, the end of cheap oil, risks to the safety of our food, the ecological collapse of our oceans, a decent health and education system, the pollution of our air and water?

In 20 years’ time, as she contemplates having children of her own, what will she think of the education system we built? Did it prepare her for the future or for the past? Has she learned how to live a rich and satisfying life with less energy and natural resources than her parents’ generation?

Is she saddled with a huge student debt she may never payoff?

Did the health system invest in keeping her well, with healthy food choices, warm dry housing, and early intervention to catch threats like diabetes and dental problems before they develop; or did it leave her alone until she got really sick, then put her on a waiting list?

The images of her with Augustine and the skateboard, and with Aotea on the swing, are how we like to think of children. It’s how they have a right to be. Carefree, healthy, fit, enjoying life. But for too many children it’s not like that now. Labour’s policy of Working for Families has improved living standards for our second-poorest children, but not for those on the lowest incomes of all. If your parent is a low paid worker, there may now be enough money to afford decent food and the necessaries of life if you are careful. But if your parent is on an invalid or sickness benefit, you don’t get that extra help. We will all live with the consequences of leaving those families in need.

There’s a call for change at this election. People get tired of leaders and of political parties just as they get tired of their furniture and it seems time to rearrange the room or go out and buy some new stuff. Change is exciting – you don’t know quite how it will turn out!

But no-one seems very clear what they want to change to. Let’s change from….tax cuts to maybe bigger tax cuts? From one middle-of-the-road party to another? From Mother Coke to Father Pepsi? We know how different they taste.

If you are sick of the décor and want to change the furniture, why would you change from grey to grey?

The fact is, neither of those parties has a plan for reducing our critical dependence on oil and giving us more security. Both of them say we should do something about climate change but something called “the economy” has to come first. After repeated overseas food safety scares neither of them will defend your right to know where your food comes from so you can make your own decisions. Both will take us into a Free Trade Agreement with the US that will allow transnational pharmaceutical companies to undermine our low cost system of generic medicines and vastly increase the cost of being sick. The US will also demand the right for its corporations to buy our land and to sell their GE food and their GE seeds for planting into New Zealand, unlabeled.

Both Mother Coke and Father Pepsi actively welcome and fund a future of genetically engineered food, grown here. The only differences I can detect is that Labour is more gung ho about GE than National, who prefer to just let it happen through the market; but National wants to further weaken what rules we do have, in the interests of reducing compliance costs! Neither will do anything to encourage organic growing except when the Greens have the power to push them.

The Prime Minister says this election is about trust. OK, I’ll sign up to that. Who do you trust to work for real sustainability, not just greenwash? Mother Coke and Father Pepsi, or the Real Green Thing? Who do you trust to take urgent action on climate change and to prepare for rising oil prices? To get our cities moving with a functioning public transport system before they build yet more motorways? Who do you trust to give you the right to know where your food comes from? Who do you trust to keep New Zealand GE free? Who do you trust to invest in preventative health care rather than waiting till you are sick? Who do you trust to vote in accordance with the policies they have put to you, the voter?

If these are the things you care about, why would you change from grey to grey? If these are the things you care about, then the change you need is Green.

There’s no doubt that 12 Green MPs – 10 even – would change any government. Even with six, we already have. And that’s without even being part of Government. We are ready to play a role around the Cabinet table if we are asked, and if we are offered a policy agreement that meets the present and future needs of our children. During the coming week we’ll be releasing the criteria against which we will judge the policies and programmes of other parties and deciding who we could work with in future.

But round the Cabinet table is not the only way to make change. For the last six years we have not supported any government. We have not voted confidence and supply in anyone. We have negotiated co-operation agreements with the last two governments, and voted for each piece of legislation in accordance with our policies. It’s called independence, and we value it very highly.

We have used our influence with successive governments to gain funding through the budget process. Insulation of all state houses. Healthy food in schools. Environmental legal aid. Environmental education. Treaty education in schools. Conservation partnerships between communities and DOC. More money for COGS. Testing for food contaminants. Funding for Environment Centres. Quit smoking assistance. A peacekeeping centre. Community internships. All mostly small amounts of money, but the world is a different place, a better place, because of our budget initiatives.

Then there is the legislation we have introduced and passed. Our first bill in Parliament, introduced 10 years ago, set the framework for a comprehensive energy efficiency system. A first in New Zealand. Our latest bill, passed last month, did the same for Waste Minimisation. In the last three-year term, only five private members’ bills passed through Parliament. All five were Green bills. Six MPs, 5% of Parliament, and 100% of the non-government bills passed.

We have removed the legal defence for assaulting children. We have ensured young workers aged 16 & 17 get paid an adult’s wage for doing an adult’s job. We have provided for mothers in prison to keep their babies for longer to create that vital bond that is essential for the child and the most important motivation for the mother not to reoffend. We have improved work-life balance for workers who also care for dependents, by creating a right to negotiate for flexible working hours.

New Zealand is a better place because of Green legislation.

Add to that the numerous bills we have improved thorough the select committee process – like the sustainability clause in the Biofuel Act - and the lobbying and shaming we have done to change government policy. We contributed to the pressure to raise the minimum wage and raise overseas development aid. The Government admits it is spending a lot more on public transport than it would have been without our pressure. We pushed it into reclaiming the rail system. We negotiated numerous changes to the Emissions Trading Scheme to make it fairer and more effective, not least of which is a $1 billion fund to upgrade homes, right across the country, making them warm and dry, with lower power bills.

These issues are not peculiar to New Zealand. There is a world wide movement towards green thinking and green action. The business papers are full of sustainability talk and leading businesses are getting serious about reducing their waste, using energy more efficiently, saving water, redesigning processes to demand less of the environment, and gaining market share because of it.

International movements to find better ways to measure the economy are gaining ground. The international Global Footprint Institute has just published again the date on which the world had used up this years’ ecological production and is now living off its ecological capital. That date was September this year. It gets earlier every year.

The Genuine Progress Index is gaining ground as a more sensible way of measuring our true wealth, by excluding negative expenditure like pollution and crime and including uncosted voluntary work with real economic significance. Here in New Zealand Landcare Research has for some years now had a robust tool for calculating a person or a firm’s carbon footprint and is challenging leaders to use it and publish the results.

The New Zealand Herald has green pages every issue. We read the daily blog of the couple who are trying to live without creating any waste – and enjoying it. We have new magazines like Good providing the information people need to green their lives and have fun at the same time.

Robyn, who approached me some months ago about energy efficiency, has told you about her journey in understanding and changing her life, and there are thousands like her. We have Transition Towns movements in many NZ communities, working out how to live with less oil, less impact on the climate, growing more of their food organically, riding a bike and sharing transport.

It is exhilarating to find you cam solve some of your own problems in your own life. It is empowering stuff. But my message to those who have recently discovered this empowering way of life, is that if you are thinking green and acting green, it also matters deeply how you vote. You can grow your vegies and insulate your house and ride a bike, but you can’t build your own public transport system. We are all in this together. Individual action can go a long way, but we also need to act collectively if we want our country to prepare for a future that will not be like the past. If you are thinking green and acting green, now is the time to make your party vote Green.


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