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Russel Norman: Opening of Parliament Speech

Russel Norman: Opening of Parliament Speech

The 2014 election offers New Zealanders the opportunity to make history by electing the first genuinely progressive government in more than a generation.

The 2014 election offers New Zealanders the opportunity to make history by voting for a strong Green Party at the heart of a progressive government.

There are few elections that can genuinely claim to be turning points in history, few elections that can genuinely claim to be forks in the road of history.

But the 2014 election can make that claim.

The result of this election will either be a forward-looking, progressive, reforming government in the tradition of Seddon, Savage and Kirk; or a hard right throwback government, the likes of which we haven't seen since Ruth Richardson.

In the last 24 hours the contrasting values of these two alternatives has been made very clear.

The Green Party has proposed spending $100 million a year to ensure that poor kids at school have food in their stomachs and access to healthcare.

The National Party has attacked this spending as wasteful. This is the same National Party that is spending $1000 million a year on tax cuts for the top ten percent of income earners.

Green Party values lead us to prioritise spending $100 million a year, to give food and healthcare to hungry and sick New Zealand school children.

National Party values lead them to prioritise spending 10 times that amount – a billion dollars a year – giving more money to the top ten percent.

The choice of values is stark.

In 2014 New Zealanders will get to choose which kind of values they want in their government.

Three waves of progressive reforming government

New Zealand has a strong history of world-leading progressive reforming governments.


The Liberal Government of the 1890s introduced the old age pension and women’s suffrage. The Liberals worked with unions to protect working people while developing the New Zealand economy. It started our public health system.

In the 1930s, 40 years after the great reforms of the Liberals, the Savage Government led the world in introducing a social welfare state that treated people with humanity in the midst of a great depression.

The social and economic policies introduced by the Savage Government led the world, and after the war were adopted and admired widely.

The New Zealand economy boomed under the settings established by Savage.

Forty years after the great reforms of the Savage Government, the 1970s Kirk Government updated the welfare state by introducing such things as a domestic purposes benefit for single mums.

It staked out an independent South Pacific foreign policy by protesting French nuclear testing.

It stood up to apartheid by blocking the tour of an apartheid rugby team, because unlike our current PM, Big Norm knew whether he was for or against apartheid.

It established the Waitangi Tribunal and returned the minimum wage to 66 percent of the average wage.

These three progressive reforming Governments – Seddon, Savage and Kirk – were far from perfect, and some of Seddon’s views on race are offensive, but they changed the course of our history, and they made life better for ordinary New Zealanders.

They set up New Zealand as a world leader.

Green government

And forty years after the Kirk Government it is time again for a new wave of progressive government reform in New Zealand. It’s time to refresh the progressive vision for Aotearoa New Zealand.

It’s time for green government.

It’s time for a green government that reinvigorates our common commitment to the values of egalitarianism, sovereignty, and democracy.

But more than this we need a green government that integrates these historically important progressive values with the new modern values of sustainability.

We need a green government committed to fairness, independence, democracy and sustainability.

The next wave of progressive change that is sweeping the world is green. The green revolution is transforming the way we live on planet earth as we learn to live good lives on a finite planet with limited natural resources.

We are learning to access the unlimited resources of human creativity, ingenuity and generosity, in order to live prosperous lives with limited natural resources.

That’s why smart and green go together.

We need to learn how to live smarter so that we can have prosperity while recognising the natural limits of a finite planet.

Unleashing human innovation, creativity and generosity so that we can all live good lives while loving and protecting our natural environment is what the green movement is all about.

History is of course littered with those who say that progressive change is not possible; those who opposed women’s suffrage, racial equality, the welfare state, homosexual law reform, public health and public education.

They opposed nuclear-free New Zealand, and can’t remember whether they were for or against apartheid.

And they said that clean energy was impossible. How wrong they were.

Renewable electricity generation is now the fastest growing sector of electricity generation in the world, set to overtake gas generation as the second largest source of electricity in the world in the next couple of years, according to the International Energy Agency.

And green jobs are the fastest growing sector of the economy. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics found that the greener the industry, the higher the rate of job growth over the last decade.

The clean energy future is here, and those who railed against it are now seeing our new reality happening before their very eyes.

So yes, there are those who will rail against history and against the green movement but they have always been there, and yet we have made history in the past and we will again.

The hard right alternative

But as I said at the start, this election is a turning point.

While on the one hand we have the choice of a genuinely progressive government, the alternative if the current government is given a third term will be a very different government to the one elected in 2008.

It will be a hard-right government - economically, environmentally and socially, beholden to the damaged and discredited ACT, United Future, and Conservative parties.

John Key's claim to be a moderate has evaporated over the course of the last couple of years.

He has overseen increasing water pollution, blocked attempts to set strong rules to clean up our rivers and subsidised polluting irrigation schemes.

The government has destroyed a price on carbon and subsidised fossil fuels, with the result that New Zealand’s emissions are projected to increase 50 percent above 1990 levels by 2030; that’s according to Ministry for the Environment’s own projections.

This government has made it that much harder for people to just get by.

There are 50,000 more New Zealanders unemployed than when John Key first came to power.
Median household income has fallen 4 percent after inflation under this National government.

Electricity prices were up 3 percent last year despite falling demand, and rising mortgage rates this year will wipe out pay rises for many families.

And this government has failed to manage the economy.

Their irresponsible tax cuts to the top 10%, costing $1.1billion a year, have contributed to National’s record borrowing. In just six years, National has borrowed more than all prior governments combined.

Their economic priority; asset sales, has failed and has cost taxpayers $440 million so far.

But this will be nothing compared to what will happen if Key is re-elected.

The first thing I’d bet on is that John Key won't stay a full term as Prime Minister, and he will be replaced by someone further right like Stephen Joyce or Judith Collins.

The second thing is that National can only be re-elected if it has the support of the Conservatives, a party that wants to roll back all the gains made in the last 30 years for the rights of women, gay and lesbian New Zealanders and children.

Such a hard right government will further turn its back on science; climate science in particular, as Tony Abbot is doing across the ditch.

Such a hard right government will take away the ladder of opportunity that many of us here climbed to achieve our potential.

It will embrace the politics of the conservative right, who believe that a woman's place is in the kitchen and a gay man’s place is in the closet.

And it will turn its back on New Zealand’s opportunity to be a world leader in green economics and green jobs.

That is what you will get if we have a third term of a National Party government.

The choice is stark: a broad progressive reforming government or a narrow ideological government of the far right.

The promise of MMP

Alongside the historic gains in economic, social and environment policy that have been achieved over the years by progressive activists and governments, there is another important achievement that is worth celebrating this year and that is the proportional voting system MMP.

2014 is the 18th anniversary of MMP. MMP has come of age.

The new generation of voters, who will get to vote for the first time this year, have only known New Zealand under MMP.

These young voters didn’t have to experience what it was like to vote in a first past the post election - with that ‘winner takes all’ system that left the majority of voters without representation. First past the post produced governments that had the support of a minority of voters but which had almost absolute power.

It probably seems inconceivable to them that we had elections where a party could have the majority of MPs and become the government alone, but only have won 35 percent of the vote, as was the case with the National Party government elected in 1993.

Under MMP a party’s share of the popular vote is directly proportional to its share of seats in parliament.

Those who campaigned for MMP were working to deepen and strengthen our democracy.

But, under this government, democracy is being hollowed out.

Under this government, New Zealand has been denied the best of MMP.

John Key is now telling us that he should automatically get to form the next government and be Prime Minister, even with support of only a minority of voters.

It’s worth repeating that as it is truly outrageous. The Prime Minister is saying that he should get to form the next government even if he has the support of a minority of voters. That’s his take on democracy.

I don’t think he really understands why New Zealanders voted for MMP.

MMP was about bringing to an end the era where one person, like Robert Muldoon, Roger Douglas or Ruth Richardson, could force through their unpopular agenda. But John Key and Steven Joyce have returned us to that world.

MMP was meant to be about governments respecting the opinions of others. Coalition governments, cross-party select committees; these were supposed to mean something, to be a check on executive power, rather than the rubber stamping exercises they have become.

But this government has used its power to ignore the will of the people.

They showed their arrogance and blatantly flouted democracy by publically stating, before voting had even begun, that they would ignore the results of the Citizens Initiated Referendum on asset sales.

And we saw exactly the same behaviour when this government decided to ignore the results of the MMP review, for purely partisan, political reasons.

New Zealanders voted to keep MMP at the 2011 referendum, and then thousands of New Zealanders took part in the review to make MMP even fairer.

The government was given a clear steer by the public and the Electoral Commission on what changes the public wanted - in particular abolishing the coat-tailing provision, which has allowed this National government to do their dirty deals and cobble together a government.

Acting in pure self-interest, National ignored the will of the people and left MMP unchanged. They undermined our electoral system, and now John Key is doing dirty coat-tailing deals all over the country just to keep their political options alive in this election.

MMP isn’t supposed to be about one party struggling to maintain power by relying on a couple of dodgy hangers-on. MMP isn’t about the biggest minority party automatically having the right to govern; it’s about forming governments with majority support.

But this government, with their single vote majority, their unstable and unethical coalition reliant on disgraced MPs, has forced things through against the will of the majority of New Zealanders.

Entirely because of the support from Peter Dunne and John Banks, this government has been allowed to pass into law a stream of obscene policies.

They sold off our assets, built up over generations, transferring wealth from the 99% to the 1%.

They attacked our privacy, freedom and liberty. They passed the Search & Surveillance Bill, the GCSB Bill and the TICS Bill. The role of the state is to give the greatest possible protection to human rights and civil liberties, but instead the National Party passed these laws that all restrict our freedom of expression and our freedom to live free from state surveillance.

They attacked local democracy. As well as removing the vote from Cantabrians, before the earthquake, they also showed that they don’t understand, respect or trust local government or local communities by undermining the independence of local government.

They attacked the most vulnerable people in our society - the sick, the young, vulnerable women, and the disabled and those caring for them.

They introduced unacceptable discrimination into our law through youth rates, telling young people that they are not worthy of our respect, and reinforced New Zealand as a low-wage economy.

With the support of the Māori Party, they removed the rights of family carers of disabled people to have their day in court, and they rushed that law change through Parliament in a single day. Muldoon would be proud.

They attacked the environment. They weakened the Emissions Trading Scheme, facilitated the exploitation of Schedule 4 conservation land, and polluted our rivers.

They threatened to lock up the defenders of the environment if they go anywhere near an oil rig or an oil vessel.

And they facilitated a morally contemptible, dirty, dodgy deal; swapping our gambling laws for a convention centre.

All of these disgraceful changes to our laws were only possible with the support of Peter Dunne, whom the PM tells us he does not trust, and John Banks, who’s in front of the courts for electoral fraud.

This is how this government has undermined MMP and our democracy.

Summary

But New Zealanders can take back the power this year.

New Zealanders have a real chance to elect a truly modern MMP coalition.

True MMP is about a stable government, where the majority of New Zealanders are represented in a strong coalition of strong partners.

It’s about principled parties coming together and working towards policies that meet the needs of New Zealanders.

It’s about a government that is representative and has a range of smart new voices at the table.

This is what MMP should be. This is what those who fought for MMP were fighting for.

As MMP turns 18, it’s time for New Zealand to have a true MMP government – MMP as it should be.

It’s time for a strong, progressive government.

It’s time for green government.

The Green Party is ready to govern. We are ready to sit at the table and deliver real gains for real people.

Yes, we’ll compromise, MMP requires that of all partners in a coalition, but not on our principles or our values.

We have the ideas, the experience and the credentials. We’ve been a parliamentary voice for change since 1999, and we’re more than ready to make real green change in government.

We have stable leadership, supported by our team of MPs who are smart and progressive forward-thinkers. We have an experienced party organisation and a strong grassroots membership.

We have made real changes to New Zealanders’ lives - we have warmer homes, cleaner food and better transport options as a result of our work. We set the agenda and follow through with the solutions.

In government we will achieve even more. A strong Green Party in government will focus on building a sustainable economy, dismantling inequality, and protecting our environment.

We will build on our wins to make sure that we have a smarter, cleaner, more compassionate country for all New Zealanders.

Bring on the election.

ends

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