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Reclaiming our children’s birth right

26 January 2014

Metiria Turei at Picnic for the Planet, Waitangi Park, Wellington.

Reclaiming our children’s birth right

It’s wonderful to see such a vibrant bunch of people out here to honour our planet. I want to thank Malcolm, the musicians, the techies, the dozens of volunteers who made this picnic possible, and all of you, the wee ones, and the not so wee ones, for coming along. All of you.

This collection of passion and power is what could drive real change in this country this year.

This kind of togetherness is what made New Zealand strong and compassionate in the past, what made our voices heard in the asset sales referendum, and it’s what can change this country for the better this year.

Our challenge now, yours and mine, is to use this power to change the Government later this year so that, together, we can make our country better and take back the kiwi dream. 

New Zealand needs the Greens in Government this year and we, I promise, are ready to be there. 

We are so ready to be there! For the sake of our planet and for the sake of our kids.

Our country was built on the values of hard work, a fair share and looking out for your neighbour. And if you do, you’ll make it, and so will your family.

This is the opening line in the New Zealand story.

And it was written in a pact, made decades ago, that in exchange for our collective efforts the state will have our back.

A strong, free public health system and a strong, free public education system was the manifestation of that pact.

We were promised that no one would be left out because they were too sick or unable to work, or because their parents were poor and illiterate.

We were promised that the health and welfare system would be there for all of us.

We were promised that our kids would leave school ready and able to achieve to the fullest extent of their talents.

This pact is precious to us. It’s defined us, as a community, and it has defined what it means to be fair, and what is good and what is right.

Over the past 30 years that pact has been torn apart.

We can use our power this year to make sure that pact is honoured again.

This is not some hankering for the good old days, because let’s be honest, they weren’t exactly perfect, especially for Māori, Pacific People, disabled New Zealanders, women, or the environment for that matter.

It's about reclaiming the  values of fairness, and equality and a passion for our land and waters.The essence of our national character.

We can, and will, harness those  values to drive us forward to something even better, for everyone: A place that’s fairer, happier, smarter, and Greener.

Yes, Greener!  Reclaim the birth-rights of our children!

The right to swim in unpolluted rivers, to live in warm dry homes, to have a great education, to eat good healthy food.  The right of everyone to be free to be everything they’re capable of being.

Today those birth rights are denied to thousands of kiwi children. Inequality denies them health, denies them  education and denies them hope for a good life now and for a fairer future.

There are now New Zealand children who have never swum in the sea. There are kids who have never seen a river, let alone caught a fish in one.

When a class of kids from a school in Naenae, just over there in the Hutt Valley, took a bus ride to Wellington last year, 16 of them had never been to the city. Maybe they had never been out of the suburb.

Those kids come from loving families, they have parents doing their very best and hoping for much more for their kids.

But the daily graft of barely making ends meet despite working two, maybe three jobs;  the  grinding reality of inequality builds walls around their kids, limits their world view so they can’t even see the opportunities that are outside.

Inequality grates against our sense of fairness. It’s just not right.

This is why inequality will be one of the defining issue of this year’s election.

This year politicians will be called to account for how they will restore those birth rights to every New Zealand child. Because too many children are locked out of the kiwi dream.

You might think placing inequality at the centre of the election is a big call to make, to a crowd of passionate Greens at our annual Picnic for the Planet.

But the interests of the planet and our children are  one in the same.

That supposed trade-off between people and the planet? That’s a lie used by those who will use tough economic times as an excuse for their drill it, mine it, frack it, agenda.

Inequality doesn’t just pollute our community, our culture - our kiwi dream - it pollutes our waters and it pollutes our land.  It is caused by decisions of people who are least affected by its fallout.

Inequality encourages ecological recklessness among the wealthiest people and  the richest nations.

Inequality drives over consumption, then hides the impact from the people who do most of the consuming; rich nations who shift their polluting industries offshore, and wealthy individuals who can afford to fly to Fiji to swim in pristine waters, while other people’s kids can no longer swim in their local river.

Environmental disasters wreak the most harm on those who contribute the least and are least able to cope with the fallout.  We acknowledge the trauma our cousins in Tonga are suffering right now. 

Think: droughts in Africa, typhoons in the Philippines, the razing of forests in Haiti, and Brazil. 

If income inequality in the United States had stayed at the same level in 2010 as it was in 2009 - if inequality had simply not increased - it would have led to decline in CO2 emissions that year. Instead they rose.

Massively disproportionate consumption is occurring at the top end of the income ladder.

We do not need to enslave the planet to free her people.

But till we restore some balance and reduce inequality the planet will continue to be plundered by a privileged few.

This is why New Zealand needs the Green Party in Government.

 In the same way we can only tackle climate change if we accept it exists, a Government can’t solve inequality unless it accepts it exists.

When the Social Development Minister claims that “no child in New Zealand has to live on $2 a day” well, what a benchmark for poverty for your kids and mine. 

Real poverty exists in New Zealand and the Children’s Commissioner has measured it because the National Government won’t.

This is what it looks like: 17 per cent of kids going without fresh food, their own bed, raincoats, doctors’ visits, birthday parties, and other things most of us would say are the bare minimum.

Ten per cent of kids living in severe poverty.

Poorer kids have three times the rate of hospital admissions for preventable illnesses. They are one and a half times as likely to die in infancy, and have an up to 50 per cent chance of becoming a poor adult, when, inevitably, the poverty cycle begins again for their kids.

 Are you angry yet?

Turning away, not even engaging with inequality, as we saw the Prime Minsiter do last week, is a betrayal of those children.

The answer is, of course to eradicate poverty itself, by lifting the minimum wage, creating a smarter greener economy, ensuring that families live in affordable, warm, dry homes, and raising benefits. 

And we know that the most powerful influencer of a child’s ability to escape poverty is education.

So lets make sure they get a good education!

But that’s a challenge because a poor kid here is less likely to do well at school than a poor kid in almost any other developed country.  We read last week about the high cost of a supposed “free education”.  There is a lot to do to improve our system.

Meanwhile the National Government keeps making it worse.

The Green Party will do more so schools can meet the needs of all their pupils.

Today, I’m announcing a transformative reshaping of the role of schools in the community which will happen when the Greens are in Government.

We will establish schools in lower income areas as hubs, where the health, social and welfare needs of children, and their families can be met onsite, where the kids are, at school.

Kids in lower decile schools will be: fed, through a national school lunch fund; sick kids will get medical attention from dedicated school nurses; and  families will get the support they need to work, further their own education and be engaged in their kids learning.

We’ll employ a coordinator in each school to make these hubs happen and to take the burden off stretched teachers so they can do what they do best – educate our kids.

A key part of our plan is free after school and holiday care in decile one to four schools.

Free after school care will gives poorer children an opportunity to get involved in sports and cultural and music activities, and the space to do homework.

We’ll build early childhood centres onsite in low decile schools where there is a need.

Onsite ECE imeans schools are more sustainable, kids are better prepared for school, and that families are welcome to be a part of their kids learning.

Schools are already the heart of their communities and, with extra support can deliver a great education accessible to all children. 

Poverty will have no influence over our kids education.

School hubs is a vastly different approach than issuing NCEA and National Standards targets and expecting kids, and schools to fall into line.  Its vastly different to picking out a few individuals for extra pay while most schools miss out.

It is heartless to expect kids results to improve without fixing the driver of most educational inequity, poverty.

It is equally useless not to make sure the cultural needs of Maori kids are properly met.  It is required by Te Tiriti – it is required by justice.

School Hubs is just one of the Green ideas we’ve developed over the years.

Our suite of solutions, like our Home for Life plan, which builds affordable sustainable homes and our nurses in schools programme show why New Zealand needs the Greens in Government this year.

Since 1999 we have lead on ideas. And our leadership is proven.

Russel and I have lead this party under a united caucus for some time now.

We lead the only party outside National and Labour that has reached the 5 percent threshold in every single MMP election. The Green Party has grown under our leadership, to solidify its place as the third biggest party in New Zealand politics and to become one of the most successful Green parties in the world.

Our leadership is working.

Its true we are cutting edge but to call us fringe just sounds silly now.

During my 11 years in Parliament, the Green Party has achieved wins even in opposition. We’ve been pragmatic to achieve change;  we know how to work with others: even the National Party who, for all its hysteria, seems to have forgotten its working with us, at this very moment,

The MOU that lead to hundreds of thousands of homes being insulated and has put warmer healthier homes on the agenda of every party.

When was it fringe to have a warm dry home?  We know when to work with and when to fight back.

We disagreed with the Government over asset sales so fought for and won your right to have a real say and you did. You said no.   We are fighting for your right to clean oil-free seas right now.

The Green Party’s time has come.

We have proven leadership. We have lead on ideas since 1999, and now we are ready to make bigger, better, green change in Government.

Yes, we’ll compromise, MMP requires that, but not on our values.

So when we say we’ll do something, like reduce inequality, you can count on us to stick to it.

I’ll say it again; Inequality will be a defining issue this election and tackling it will require big, brave ideas. Ideas like our school hubs.

We all bear the cost of inequality and environmental degradation.  But no one pays a bigger price for both than our children.

We can dream so much bigger for our little country.

Let’s take New Zealand centre stage to the world again, let’s pull down the walls that limit our children and let’s reclaim our country as the best place in the world to grow up.

And let’s add to that a Green heart that places us at the forefront of a smarter, more compassionate vision for all our people, and for our Green Government.

ENDS

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