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Gareth Hughes Maiden Speech

Gareth Hughes Maiden Speech

24 February 2010

Kia ora Mr Speaker.

I feel extremely privileged to stand here. My first words in this House are going to be about hope. For, as a Green, what motivates me is hope for a fairer and more prosperous future; as a father I hope for a safer world for my son to inherit; and as a young person I am hopeful for a New Zealand that I will continue to be proud of.

This evening I am going to introduce myself and use my personal story to illustrate why I am passionate about Green politics and optimistic about the future.

As the youngest member in this House I represent a generational shift both in Parliament and in the Green Party caucus. I was born in 1981 in a very different New Zealand. 28 years ago we had 3 million people and 7 million sheep; you needed a doctor’s prescription to buy margarine, and we had a very different National Party Prime Minister. One who was thinking big – if also a little sloppy. In 1981 my home town, like the rest of New Zealand, was split by conflict over the racist Springbok tour. It was also the year the honorable Leader of the Opposition arrived in this House.

Like people of my generation I don’t remember the 1984 election that ushered in so much change for New Zealand. This revolutionary transformation of the political and social consensus was on par with the Vogel, Liberal and first Labour Government reforms which were such historical turning points. 1984 is a long, long time ago now.

In 2010, I am hopeful we are on the cusp of another revolution: a transformational change. I’m looking forward to the opportunity of working with the Green Party to shift us from a dirty, unfair and old-fashioned economic model to an innovative, sustainable and fair economy.

I grew up in Gisborne, more boy racer than bohemian; I loved cars, wanted to be an All Black, and vividly remember laughing at my friend, recently turned vegetarian, that ‘he was a poser and I could never go vege.’ While environmental issues weren’t top of the agenda at home, at school or in the media, I was acutely aware at the time of social issues like inequality and unemployment.

In the late 1980s, in part due to the Rogernomic reforms, my father, along with many New Zealanders, was made redundant from the freezing works. I worked from an early age as a pamphlet deliverer, pushing supermarket trolleys, and in a fish and chip shop for very low wages because it was necessary.

It wasn’t till I left home to study Religion and History at Victoria University – and personally contribute my $30,000 to the more-than $9 billion national student debt – that I was exposed to the most radical political idea of the last fifty years: the Earth isn’t growing.

It sounds simple and obvious enough but then you stop and think: our economic system is dependent on infinite growth on a finite planet.

The most serious symptom of our addiction to growth is climate change. You don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows, you don’t need a climatologist to tell you which way the temperature goes. We need better ways of living because we don’t have a Planet B.

To quote George Monbiot: “Humanity is no longer split between conservatives and liberals, reactionaries and progressives, though both sides are informed by the older politics. Today the battle lines are drawn between expanders and restrainers; those who believe that there should be no impediments and those who believe that we must live within limits.”

From this understanding I became a passionate environmentalist.

In my 20s, like so many ordinary Kiwis, I got involved and campaigned. From helping stop genetically engineered food sneaking onto our dinner plates, through sailing on the Rainbow Warrior and directly stopping bottom trawlers wiping out unknown worlds on the ocean floor, to most recently coordinating the Sign On campaign, where over 200,000 Kiwis called on John Key to do the right thing for the climate at Copenhagen.

The 1999 election was a turning point for me. It was so exciting and empowering to see people like me talking about the things I cared about in this House. No longer were decisions made by mostly white, middle-aged men in smoky back rooms. MMP helped more people to be represented in the House of Representatives and, I contend, also to make decisions.

I grew up in the region known as Poverty Bay. 241 years ago Poverty Bay had a different, more hopeful name. On the 6th October 1769, Nicholas Young, the surgeon's boy of the Endeavour, sighted the coastline of New Zealand and the thriving, settlement of Turanganui-A-Kiwa.

We teach ‘the discovery of New Zealand’ in schools but, like an embarrassing family secret, we prefer to forget or downplay that on first contact, Te Maro, of Ngäti Oneone, was killed by English musket fire on the beach and as petty recompense iron nails were left on his corpse.

History is a passion of mine and can sometimes reveal inconvenient truths. Many New Zealanders wouldn’t know Maori had a Declaration of Independence, couldn’t name a Treaty clause and wouldn’t know that sovereignty – tino rangatiratanga, wasn’t ceded in a treaty– it was taken at the point of a musket.

To take my seat in the House last week I pledged allegiance to the Queen and her heirs and I look forward to the day when we reform our constitution: ditch the monarchy, decentralize our political structures, and see genuine Tino Rangatiratanga for Tangata Whenua.

Two years ago I became a dad and I want my son to grow up knowing his history, eating safe food, enjoying a stable climate and a prosperous economy.

Though our politics differ, I know all the Members in the House want these things too for all Kiwi kids. However, why are Governments of both colours failing?

This Government, like Labour’s before it, ignores warnings of the end of cheap oil and continues blithely building more motorways, chronically under-investing in public transport and walking and cycling, and perpetuates the housing crisis that sees people of my generation effectively forced out of affordable home ownership. As different as Coke is to Pepsi, they both ignore the crisis in the oceans, depend on debt to fuel growth, and continue to support growing inequality.

In desperation, the current Government is hunting the last protected places for coal and other minerals. Mining companies can already mine in 87% of New Zealand, and the National Government, by opening up the last 13%, is undoing its own wise decision from 1997. Mining the National Parks is like burning the furniture to keep warm.

As a career, I have been privileged to be a climate campaigner. I am passionate about working towards finding solutions to climate change. It is one of the most fascinating issues facing humanity. In a way it is a tragedy it’s seen as just an environmental issue: former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan reported last year that 300,000 people die, right now, every year as a result of climate change. Humans’ massive and growing release of greenhouse gases is a people issue. It’s an economic issue, a social justice issue, a spiritual issue. It’s not just about the polar bears and penguins; at issue is the future of humanity as we know it.

With the growth in emissions – especially from more cows, cars and coal – will the New Zealanders of my son’s generation rightly ask of us sitting here today: ‘what did you do when you had the chance?’ Could future leaders accuse us in this House of willful neglect; could Ministers be put in the dock for crimes against the planet?

From Kupe to Cook to Sir Ed we’ve been a can-do, forward-looking nation. As Kiwi as pavlova, New Zealanders are prepared to play our part and do the right thing. Yet when it comes to the climate crisis, a problem bigger than Mt Everest, both Labour and National Governments, instead of putting one foot after the other to scale the challenge, get ‘knocked by the bugger.’ They put corporate and short-term interests before the transformational shift to a sustainable and more prosperous economy.

As Sir Nicholas Stern pointed out: sure it’s expensive to tackle climate change, but considerably cheaper than facing the costs.

One person in particular who epitomized the realism and hope of the Green vision was Jeanette Fitzsimons. People keep telling me ‘boy those are big shoes to fill’ but I prefer to consider them strong shoulders to stand on. Jeanette was a pioneer, and over the last ten years the Greens have grown from the fresh-faced new kids on the block to a respected, principled, and effective Party.

I am now the first Green MP who has never sat in the House with either Rod Donald or Jeanette. The Greens are growing: new faces, new energy, new issues but the same values. Surrounded by my colleagues, I know Rod and Jeanette’s vision of a peaceful, democratic, greener, and fairer New Zealand will continue.

It’s an exciting time to enter this House. I will work with any Party and anyone in this House on issues we can work on constructively together. I’m not here for the petty points or the tribal battle. I believe my generation wants less partisan politics and is open to new ideas and to more flexible thinking than previous generations. We’re too young to remember the polarizing politics of Sir Robert Muldoon, Ruth Richardson, or Sir Roger Douglas.

I would like to float a proposal to the other young Members in this House to form an inter-Party youth caucus. To work collaboratively on the issues of youth crime, youth suicide, housing affordability, intergenerational debt, tertiary education and the other challenges facing young Kiwis.

We face both economic and ecologic crises. More people from a variety of backgrounds; from progressive business leaders like Stephen Tindall and Geoff Ross to unions, understand that the answers to one crisis can be the answers to both.

Next year will be my dreaded 30th, it’s election year and it’s also the year New Zealand has the privilege of hosting the Rugby World Cup. As a rugby fan I’m very interested in making sure the Cup is a success. While I concede I can’t – as in my 6 year-old boyhood fantasy – score the winning try in the Cup final as an injury replacement for Sean Fitzpatrick, we can make sure the tens of thousands of Cup visitors come away with a view of Aotearoa New Zealand that we’ll be proud of.

With the prestige of hosting the Cup come huge economic benefits. But the event also carries huge risks to our important and valuable brand if we are seen to drop the ball on sustainability. Last year the Guardian and the New York Times ran very damaging yet accurate articles on our environmental performance. Just last week New Zealand dropped from first to fifteenth place in the Yale and Columbia Universities’ environmental performance index.

I’m not suggesting we cancel the Cup to avoid embarrassment and brand risk. I’m suggesting we start making 100% Pure a reality.

The Cup could add the urgency for a raft of cost-effective, job-producing green initiatives from transport to housing, from energy to waste. At present, we are sleepwalking towards the worst outcome: waking up the day after the final with a mess to clean up and nothing to show for the party.

In summary Mr Speaker, I’m not motivated to action by the apocalyptic nightmare of environmental crisis, rather I am inspired by the vision of pristine rivers, clean, fast transport options and an economy which measures the things that really matter.

I would like to thank the Members for their warm welcome to this House, as well as the cleaners, security and staff who do such good work.

I would like to thank my wife Meghan: my soul-mate, best-mate and source of strength. Thank you to my parents Ambrose and Gill, to my parents-in-law Mark and Kerry, to my step-mother Jill, to all my other family, friends and colleagues both here tonight and watching online: I acknowledge it is as much to your credit, as it is mine that I am standing here tonight.

To my son Arlo who is my inspiration and source of hope: you remind me each and every day that it’s not enough to just live, you have to have something to live for.

To everyone whom I have the privilege to address tonight and to future generations: I wish I could change the science of climate change and the injustice of inequality – but I can’t. So instead, I am going to change the politics.

Kia ora.


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