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Jeanette Fitzsimons Speech: Green Party Conference

EMBARGOED TILL 7:30PM Friday 29 2009

A New Energy, a New Face, the same Commitment to the Same Values

Speech by Jeanette Fitzsimons to Green Party conference,

29 May 2009-05-29 Fourteen years ago at Tauhara Centre in Taupo you elected Rod Donald and me as your first co-leaders. It was a major debate in the Party - whether to have leaders at all (we had managed fine till then with four "speakers") - and if so, how many. One amendment to the remit suggested we should have 723 leaders as every party member should be one. We still retain some of that belief and I hope we never lose it.

Eventually we settled on two co-leaders, gender balanced, not because one person couldn't do the job, but because two could do it better. It is one of those ironies of history that for ten years we never formally - or even informally that I'm aware of - reviewed that decision and how it was working. It was only the post-election executive in 2005 that did conduct such a review, and endorsed co-leadership strongly, having no idea that that very night there would be only one of us left.

It's been an interesting experience being a leader in a party that has rejected the mainstream model of leadership, not just by having two, but by adopting a collaborative model where authority is derived from the grassroots members. You learn fast that it is not the job of our leaders to tell people what to do. It is rather to think a little ahead of others, develop and put forward a plan for debate, amendment and possible rejection; to mentor and nurture; to model and explain the party to others. I'm proud to have led a party that chooses its leaders at an annual conference and not in a caucus coup; and where our accountability is that we are open to challenge every year. Just as with our list selection process - every member gets a say.

We do have many leaders in the Greens. The 723 has grown to over 4,000, each in their own way. Our co-convenors and policy convenors provide national level leadership and I want to acknowledge and thank those who have held those roles over the last 14 years, especially Roland and Moea who have been doing a great job for a long time now. Everyone in caucus is a leader. Our three newest MPs are all exercising leadership in different ways. Kevin has project-managed the Green New Deal, keeping a large and disparate group of us on target with the bits of work we were contributing, and more or less on time. Catherine has led us in Treaty study and waiata. Ken has led us in developing a series of statements of political philosophy. He has also taken on the musterer's job, which means he's the only one with real power as he gets to tell us whether we can have leave from Parliament or not. Our new MPs have carried longer serving and more experienced MPs with them because their ideas were good. No-one gave them the authority to do this - they just saw a need and did it. In some parties that would be seen as dangerous and actively discouraged. I'm proud that in the Greens it is actively encouraged.

In 1995 we had just 700 odd members - a small, dedicated, totally volunteer party, struggling to keep our identity inside the Alliance we had helped form 3 years before. From there we have grown into a parliamentary party with three full time party staff, 21 Parliamentary staff, about a dozen out of parliament staff, and capable of employing two full time campaign managers last year. We are bigger, more professional, more experienced, but what we stand for has not changed. But for the start of Green politics in New Zealand we must look much further back, to 1972, when two guys in a pub got talking then got on TV announcing a new political party that reflected the ferment of ideas going on in the world at that time. Activists for peace, ecology, international justice, women's rights, gay rights, indigenous rights, fairness and democracy joined together in the Values Party to form the world's first Green political party. I was part of it from when I came back to NZ 2 years later.

As I described Values in my Maiden speech, "They said the key question was not whether centralised industrial capitalism should be controlled by the state or by private interests, but rather the unsustainability of centralised industrial capitalism itself." It was from here that we got the slogan, "neither left nor right but out in front" meaning not that right and left analyses of politics were unimportant, but that capitalism and communism were opposite sides of the same coin, and that they were both missing the point. We don't use that phrase any more, since politics moved so far to the right of centre that many of the policies of Muldoon and even Holyoake would now be seen as left. But the central point remains - we are on a new dimension of politics which cannot be adequately described by just placing us on the left-right spectrum.

My speech went on. "(Values) sought production for real needs, the primacy of local communities rather than states, an internationalism of ideas, knowledge, art, hospitality and solidarity with the poor but the localising of economic relations so they are controlled democratically. Above all it spoke of the politics of enough. That humans should stop when they have enough so that other living things can survive. That affluent humans should stop when they have enough so that others may have enough too."

So we were standing on the shoulders of a whole generation of committed activists when in 1996 Greens entered the NZ Parliament for the first time, and I was very conscious of that when I had the huge privilege of making the first Green speech in the NZ House of Representatives. That was the election when Winston held up the formation of government for ten weeks and parliament barely met before Christmas so the speech was not till 17 February. It totally ruined the summer, as whatever I was doing on holiday I had the ogre on my shoulder saying, "go and write that speech. It can never measure up to expectations. You are going to let so many people down".

The other night I indulged myself by reading it again - the first time in many years. And I was struck by how I could stand up in Parliament tomorrow and read it again and it would still be relevant - even ahead of its time. Try this for a 2009 sound bite:

"We find ourselves, in the late twentieth century, struggling with global realities which threaten to overwhelm us. A generation ago it became apparent that there was a new crisis in the world economic system, and this had major impacts on NZ. It had many faces - loss of traditional markets, geopolitical control of oil, growing overseas debt, rapid technological change, a breakdown of the post-war Keynsian consensus. A growing social alienation was fuelled by the Vietnam war, and questioned the post-war ideals of progress and materialism. People are still searching for meaningful values beyond just economic growth." Replace Vietnam with Iraq and it sounds quite modern.

Despite the dazzling rate of change we have lived through in those 12 years, the paradigm of greed, materialism, and the attitude that the earth and other people are here for our use and abuse, has not really changed. But there are cracks.

It was already cracking in 1997. I came to Parliament with a mission to challenge the culture of more and bigger and build the culture of enough and sustainable. That mission is far from complete, and I never imagined how far we would still have to go in 2009. Attitudes in Parliament to climate change, women, Maori, war, and insulating homes have changed over those 12 years and we have been part of driving that change. But the area where I feel I have made no progress is in challenging the overriding commitment to growth - to the use of more resources every year than ever before. That is a challenge I bequeath to my colleagues and those who come after them. But we haven't much time.

What we have to overcome is the refusal of the media, as well as of Parliament, to entertain the idea that there can be any other goal but growth of the economy. They don't recognise that there is a paradigm, let alone that it is changing. That is why we are building our direct communications strategy where our message can reach people without going through the sieve of the old paradigm, and where we can have a two way conversation.

It may be that the current economic crisis will widen those cracks. It may be that the process of killing the old paradigm and welcoming the new is incremental and slow and painful - but it might also be sudden, as when the chick that has pecked at the egg for days finally breaks through. If that happens, it will be the result of outside events demonstrating baldly the inadequacy of the old system of thinking to provide for human wellbeing. But we had better be ready, as there may be no second chance if the world turns to the Greens for answers and we stumble.

Back to 1996. Rod, Phillida and I spent our first year both learning the parliamentary ropes and leading a wide ranging debate in the party about whether we could continue as part of the dysfunctional Alliance, with its top down leadership style and its lack of interest in Green political analysis. After many attempts at negotiation we decided, as a whole party, not by consensus but by the narrowest of 75% majorities, to stand under our own banner at the next election.

There followed two years of recreating the structures and processes we had let atrophy when they had been superseded by Alliance structures and processes, in order to be ready for the struggle of our lives in 1999. That election is now etched into Green folklore, replete with the stories one will tell the grandchildren. In May that year Rod put out a cheeky press release celebrating that the Greens had reached single figures in the polls. Earlier I had been talking of 0.8% being a "better class of zero". Five weeks before the election we reached 3.6%.. There was the neck and neck race in Coromandel. In the last week there was the National Party covert postcard, accusing Sue Bradford of being unemployed all her life and me of wanting to stuff cannabis down the throats of our children.

Then election night, losing Coromandel by 140 votes, and polling 4.9%; the ten days in limbo with no MPs when we vowed we weren't giving up. And then "Green Day", 7 December, when the special votes first gave us Coromandel by 250, then reached 5%, and as the count finished, gave us our seventh MP, Keith.

We crashed the party. The Labour/Alliance majority coalition was suddenly a minority and dependent on Green support to govern. I'm probably getting to the point now, where most of you don't need a history lesson.

We passed the first Green Member's bill in 2000, to be followed by five more in later years. And each term we have been here we have pioneered a new phase of MMP, designing new constitutional relationships that had not existed in our parliament before.

In my first term here I was in opposition with no relationship with the National government, other than occasional chats with Simon Upton who would have liked to do much more for the environment than his party would let him.

In 1999 we negotiated the first confidence and supply agreement with the incoming Labour led government. The country was so ready for a change, and their programme of reform was such a breath of fresh air that we were pleased to support them as government, though we still voted against any bad legislation. We were the first party to negotiate budget initiatives from outside government, and gained support for causes like environmental legal aid; environment centres; organics; environmental education; assistance to quit smoking; a community internship programme; and better biosecurity.

In 2002 our vote went up and we had nine MPs, but Labour's intransigence over their bottom line of lifting the GE moratorium half way through the term saw us unable to give them confidence. We voted against them, but supported more of their legislation than their partner, United Future did, and under a co-operation agreement on transport began to shift Labour, ever so slowly, into greater support for sustainable transport. The rail track was reclaimed into NZ ownership and new legislation written with strong sustainability clauses.

There used to be a view that the Green vote would inexorably climb at each election until we became government, so election 05 was a reality check. It was character building stuff - losing 3 MPs, shut out of government in favour of parties with which Labour had much less in common, and then losing Rod. I'll never forget what I owe to all of you, and particularly to the closeness and support of our caucus, in helping me get through that next few months.

Again, a new constitutional relationship that had even the Auditor-General a bit bemused - not part of Government, not holding ministerial positions, but two of us doing ministerial work directly with officials - Sue with our Buy Kiwi Made programme, and me with Energy Efficiency and solar. Again, numerous budget bids - a school nutrition fund and guidelines; increase in overseas aid; wetlands conservation; complementary healthcare in the Ministry of Health; a bigger COGs grant fund; insulation of all state houses.

Now, as of yesterday, we are celebrating the fruits of yet a fifth constitutional relationship with Government. We oppose their political philosophy and most of their programme, but we have a public Memorandum Of Understanding committing us to work together on a few issues where we do agree. The first is a home insulation programme which will retrofit homes and provide clean heating at a faster rate than even the billion dollar fund we negotiated with Labour last year. It is virtually the only bright spot in a dismal budget.

And we have won it not because we had the power, or the numbers, or sucked up to anyone, or compromised our principles and supported something that was wrong; we won it simply because of the power of our ideas and our ability to build consensus on all sides of the House quite outside political ideology. We have campaigned on home insulation for its health, employment and energy saving benefits for years, and we have reached the stage where there is no-one left in the country who doesn't think it is a good idea. That will always be the power no-one can take away from us - the power of having a voice, of using it well, and the power of persuasion on issues that can and should transcend politics. It is so obvious at the moment that we are the only party putting forward an alternative vision and an alternative programme to the Government. While the best that Labour can do is to attack the Government for breaking its unaffordable promise over tax cuts - tax cuts which both we and Labour opposed anyway - we have put forward the first steps to a Green New Deal to begin the process of pulling us out of the grip of recession, creating 43,000 meaningful jobs, and leaving the country more resilient to the future shocks of oil depletion and climate change.


The Government claims its budget will create jobs but can't point to any except the 600 new police.

We've taken our budget stimulus package on tour around the country with 17 public meetings. It's been well received and I'm taking on an intern to collate all the feedback we've received. This is striking a chord with the public because it is a positive alternative that no-one else is offering. We have a special website for Green New Deal because this will be an ongoing theme for this term and we will keep building the picture. If you haven't visited it, I hope you will, and that you will contribute to the discussion.

It's something I hope we will do more of - putting forward the positive and practical alternatives. We've always had bundles of ideas on what could be done, but we do spend rather a lot of time criticising Governments rather than looking like a government in waiting. We do need to hold governments to account and ridicule them when necessary, but it is more satisfying to create the alternatives.

I've been really enjoying my latest indulgence, traveling round the country collecting stories and pictures about farmers with innovative ways to reduce their environmental impact and be more sustainable. We have thumped the drum about cows in waterways, excess fertiliser that runs off the land, animal cruelty, agricultural greenhouse gases, sucking rivers dry for irrigation; and we must keep thumping that drum because those practices are inexcusable and unsustainable and they must stop.

But we also need to show the way forward. Some farmers are doing great things, experimenting, monitoring, controlling their runoff before it reaches water; managing their soil better, planting lots of trees, treating their animals better, building resilience to climate change. By the end of this year I want to have a website with their stories on, so other farmers can learn and copy.

I've met some great people on farms. Andrew who cut his urea applications to one seventh with no loss of production; Bruce who has fenced off a huge gully system with 18 km of fencing and planted the sides to protect water; a dead peat lake that has come back to life with hundreds of waterfowl and eels after excluding stock and filtering runoff; Mike's herd home that keeps the cows warm and dry in bad weather, and off the wet pasture, reducing pugging and greenhouse gases; Lachlan with the experiment of growing watercress in streams and harvesting it to remove nutrients before the water enters the fragile Rotorua lakes. This is one of the projects I'm looking forward to having more time for when I don't have leadership responsibilities and can enjoy life as a backbencher - I role I've never had the chance to discover.

So here we are, fourteen years after the election of the first co-leaders, by far the third largest party in the country and in parliament, a permanent part of the political scene - and not least because we don't rely on the personal profile of our leaders for our survival, but on the power of our ideas and the commitment of our grassroots.

The Green Party is in really good shape. Our membership is the biggest ever at well over 4,000. We have nine energetic and talented MPs and a united caucus. We have a party organisation that is ready to support and upskill branches and activists. I don't claim credit for those things, but it makes it the right time for me to step down, knowing there will be a new energy and a new face but the same deep commitment to the same values.

The last 35 years have been an amazing time to be alive and active in politics. I have had the privilege to live through the changes wrought by the Vietnam war; the Manapouri campaign; feminism, post-feminism and post-post-feminism and something called the third wave; the end of the cold war; the Springbok tour; Muldoon; Think Big; Maui gas coming and Maui gas going; gay rights; abortion law reform; the Treaty of Waitangi settlement process; the anti-nuclear struggle; photocopying; Rogernomics; the creation of DOC, MfE and the RMA; the Mother of all Budgets (no, that wasn't yesterday); the sale of our rail system and the repurchase of our degraded rail system; email and the internet; MMP; the saving of the west coast forests; the Great GE battle; and the coming of the Greens to Parliament. It has been a privilege and bloody hard work being your leader. I thank you for your confidence in me, your love and support and at times your challenges. Your cards of appreciation. Your hard work on the hustings, standing in freezing rain at 7 am holding up election signs. Raising money. Running stalls. Door knocking. Writing letters to editors and making submissions. You are the Green Party and you are wonderful. I know you will show Russel and our new co-leader the same support you have shown me. To our staff in Parliament, I am constantly amazed at what you do for us - at your strategic thinking and good ideas and ability to produce information instantly when we need it.

There are three people I must acknowledge before I go. My political other half and co-leader for ten years, Rod. I still miss you but you would be proud of what the Greens are now.

My co-leader Russel, who has stepped up to fill very big shoes and shone. Fearless in Parliament even in his first year. I love your optimism and your good humour and your smart brain and it has been great to serve alongside you.

And Harry, my rock, who has been there whatever time I come home, listened to the political stories of the week and shared my outrage or my excitement, run the farm and the house and the woofers and fixed the water supply and the power system and done the shopping and fixed the car while I swanned off to Wellington, kept me going in elections and put up billboards and run stalls. It's your turn soon, I promise.

Parliament is just one way of working for a Green future. I've done it as a community environmental activist, a teacher and lecturer and a researcher. I'm looking forward, soon, to a new chapter in life when other doors open to pursue the same cause. And of course, I will be a Green Party member forever.


ends


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