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Metiria Turei’s State of the Nation speech

26 January 2016

Green Party Co-leader Metiria Turei’s State of the Nation speech

Tēnā koutou katoa

I te tuatahi ka mihi au ki ngā mana whenua o tēnei rohe, āra, ko Te Ātiawa, ko Taranaki Whānui, ko Ngāti Toarangatira hoki. Kia ora koutou katoa mō tō manaakitanga.

Ki a koutou kua tae mai i tēnei ahiahi, te whanau a Pāti Kākāriki, me ngā manuhiri, koutou katoa, tēnā koutou.

Ka tu manahau ahau mo tenei korerorero kia a koutou kia matatika ai te ao torangapu ma tatou katoa.
He tino harikoa ahau ki te kite i a koutou i a koutou katoa.

Ko Metiria Turei ahau, te kaiārahi takirua o Te Rōpū Kākāriki.

Nō reira, tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou katoa.

There’s this story about Michael Joseph Savage before he became the first Labour Prime Minister. He was an opposition MP for a very long time, and during the 1920s he used to tour the country building support for his new party. And he warned people that the economic system was broken. That it was unfair. And that it had corrupted the political process. That the system was rigged in ways that were dangerous and unstable. And he talked about the role of government in fixing these problems. Preventing collapse. Making things fair again.

And one day, the story goes, he asked a farmer at one of these meetings, ‘Do I have your vote, sir?’ And this farmer said, ‘Well, you’ve got a lot of big ideas. Some of them sound right. But you and your party have never been in government. And I’ve learned on the farm that you never let a man watch your stock unless they’ve done it before. So you do not have my vote.’

Years later, in the mid-1930s, Labour still had never been in government. By then New Zealand was in the depth of the depression. The agricultural sector was the backbone of the economy and it had collapsed. There was mass unemployment. Mass farm bankruptcies. Riots. During the election campaign in 1935 Savage was by then the leader of the opposition. He went back to this province and saw the same farmer and said, ‘Do I have your vote yet? Are you going to let me look after your stock?’ And the farmer replied, ‘I don’t have any stock anymore and that’s why you have my vote.’

I’ve been in parliament nearly fourteen years. I’ve been an opposition leader for almost seven of those. One of my goals and the aim of the Green Party is to try and stop history from repeating itself. To prevent yet another systemic collapse like the one that Savage warned about. The depression he warned about, and ended up leading New Zealand out of, was economic. The problems we’re talking about today and that we’re trying to avert are both economic and environmental. They’re going to be harder to recover from if we let them happen.

And I hear the same doubts expressed about the Greens as they said to Savage. We like you. We like your ideas. We’re worried about the future. But you’ve never been in government before, so how can we trust you with our vote? It’s a Catch-22.

So today I want to talk about these reservations people have about us and tell you why you can trust us with your vote and with the responsibility of helping to govern the country. And I hope to convince you that you should do this now. Because it’s a lot easier to not make a mess in the first place than it is to clean one up.

The first thing I want to talk about is this idea that the Greens are too radical. Too outlandish. We have all these audacious ideas that won’t work in the real world.

We are the party of new ideas. We make no apology for that. It’s very easy in politics to focus on day-to-day trivia. Rather than on what really matters.

The Green Party has taken pride in unashamedly talking about serious issues. We don’t shy away from the hard stuff.

We look at pollution and see a world’s worth of risks. And so we challenge the damage to our rivers caused by dairying, the use of toxics that put the bee population at risk, the pollution that puts our very planet at risk. We tackle these hard issues because we know the solutions are opportunities, not burdens.

We see a future where all our families can go swimming in New Zealand’s rivers and lakes, where our native birds and forests are humming and we have certainty in a great future for all our kids.

Imagine if the Government stopped seeing state homes, and the people who live in them as a burden, a problem better shifted out of sight so out of mind. Imagine if we had a Government instead that worked with the people that lived in those communities to design beautiful new homes and neighbourhoods that people actually want to live in. Michael Joseph Savage made that real once before. We see a future where all New Zealanders live in warm, dry affordable homes. Where children are no longer at risk of dying simply because of the home they live in.

And we see a New Zealand where our people and our sovereignty are our priority. Not international companies and their profit margins. Not trade deals with countries who execute their citizens. But a green economy built on fairness, pay equity, on the new global opportunities that sit just within our reach. If we are willing to lean forward to take them.

However, under National we are falling far short of this vision. Rather than leaning forward to take these opportunities, the National Government has sat back and let things get worse.

Harmful pollution under this Government: Up.

Kids living in poverty: Also up.

New Zealanders unemployed: Up.

House unaffordability: Way up.

That is the record of this National Government.

Our record is pretty good for a party that’s never been in Government. We’ve had agreements with both Labour and National and through these, we’ve delivered significant wins for New Zealanders.

Our MoU with National meant over 235,000 New Zealand homes had insulation installed as part of the Warm Up New Zealand scheme. Not only did this mean there were 235,000 homes worth of warmer Kiwis, but $1.2 billion worth of health benefits came from the scheme. Our MoU has delivered more value to New Zealand than from policies brought about by National’s actual coalition partners in fact.

We weren’t in coalition with Labour in 2005 but we were still able to secure the electrification of Auckland rail, we won a commitment to increase the minimum wage, and two Green MPs were the Government spokespeople on energy efficiency and Buy Kiwi Made.

In just the last 12 months we supported the Feed the Kids campaign that has led to hundreds of local initiatives to feed hungry children at school. We launched the ‘Yes We can’ climate emission reduction plan to show how we can meet a 40 percent reduction by 2030 by being ambitious for New Zealand. We announced our intention for a gender balanced Cabinet so that half of all Green Ministers will be men [because they have a place too] and challenged our future coalition partners to do the same. We launched the Kids Kiwisaver Scheme to combat growing wealth inequality and give all our kids some savings for their future. We led the walkout of women MPs from Parliament to show that rape is not and should never be a political weapon.

These wins, these solutions, this leadership, shows we are capable of governing. Our goal is to effect meaningful change. And sometimes when you challenge conventional wisdom people feel threatened, and they call you ludicrous. For the past few years we’ve been questioning the Government’s reliance on dairy to prop up the economy. And we got told we were foolish, many many times right up until the price of milk solids collapsed last year. We argued that we needed more diversification, more investment in science and innovation, and John Key used to tell us we were, quote, away with the fairies, unquote, for suggesting this. Now some of his press releases about science and diversification read like the Green Party election manifesto.

We were the first to talk about climate change. Outrageous. Last year National signed the Paris agreement. Capital gains tax. Ridiculous, until suddenly we got a version of one in last year’s budget. Inequality. Foolish. Energy efficient homes. Weird. Cycling and public transport. Bill English told us for many years that we were completely wrong for suggesting he invest more in cycling and public transport. Now, National and the Greens are working together on building a nationwide cycle trail. And we’ve heard thattomorrow his boss, the Prime Minister, is finally going to announce funding on the Auckland central rail link. Oh, that’s another good idea we campaigned for.

There are two lessons here. The first is that ideas that are attacked as radical when the Greens propose them become conventional, sensible solutions very quickly when other parties adopt them. That tells us something about the gap between perception and reality when it comes to the Green Party.

The second is that if you still think Green ideas are too radical for government then you have a problem. Because no matter which party you vote for, a lot of the new ideas and new solutions still come from us.

The difference is that the solutions we propose are thought through. They flow from our values. They’re designed to complement each other. And when the other parties cherry pick them it’s usually out of a motivation to be seen to be doing something, while the solution itself is diluted.

So if you like our ideas but want them done properly then you really need to get us into government.

The other thing I want to say about this notion that we’re too radical is that when it comes to environmental and social and economic issues we’re actually a fairly conservative party. We think that the economic experiment imposed on our country over the last thirty years is radical. We think that doubling the number of dairy cows and the increasing pollution killing our rivers and streams is radical. We think a government that wants to mine our national parks is fanatical. We think the steep rise in child poverty and poverty related child death is radically irresponsible.

It’s not radical to stand against the disintegration of our environment and our society. It would be radical not to do so.

One of the core strengths of the Green Party is to think long-term. I talked about Michael Joseph Savage and the first Labour Government. A lot of their reforms are still with us today, eighty years later. State housing. Free hospital care. Free secondary education. And yes, some of those policies have been chipped away at, but their essence remains.

We want our accomplishments to have the same sustained popular support as those first Labour reforms all those years ago.

The progressive green change that we want to make happen has the potential to be the potent idea mix that fixes the big problems of the early 21st century and steers a course to great prosperity. But change isn’t the easy route. This Government likes the easy route. It likes to make minimal changes. They like to do just enough so we feel like something is happening. But real meaningful change is much harder.

Over this summer break, I’ve been home in Dunedin, reconnecting as you do, with family and friends and thinking about my personal contribution to this work, whether I can still make a difference, whether I’m still useful to the Green kaupapa.

And the time I spent out of the beltway, doing ordinary things away from politics I thought about why I’m a Green and it’s that we take on the big problems. We talk about the hard issues that the other parties prefer to ignore, climate, environment, poverty, kids. And that’s because we remember who we really belong to. And who we answer to.

I remembered ka whawhai tonu mātou: that the struggle for justice and equality is the struggle without end. And that it is a great privilege and a great responsibility to take up that struggle and rise to be a leader in it.

I’m in politics because I believe in the transformational power of government. And a Government with the Greens in it will be transformational. But we don’t want to make change that abandons people, or communities. We’ve had enough of that kind of change in my lifetime, and we know what it does to our loved ones.

We want to make change that will still be helping people for the next eighty years, and we can’t do that if that change is chaotic or unpopular, and the subsequent Government just sweeps it all away again. The Greens are committed to change that endures.

So how are we going to do that? We’ll be talking about our major policies over the next 12 months. But part of the philosophy of the Green Party is to look for small changes you can make that will have a big outcome. And the policy I want to talk about today is a small change to our political process that will have a big impact on our democracy.

During election campaigns there’s always a lot of conflict and shouting between politicians about whose policy costs what, and where the money will come from. Which party is going to get us into surplus ten minutes faster than the others, and so on.

We get criticised a lot for the supposed cost of our policies. But we do extensive work costing all of our policies before each election. We release fiscal statements. We get them audited.

National doesn’t do that. They don’t because there’s a perception that they’re sensible and trustworthy on economic issues. So the reality is they get to make it up as they go along. Money appears out of thin air and no one even blinks. The asset sales are a good example. John Key pitched it as freeing up $7-10 billion. They got $4.7 billion. Then Bill English promised to spend that money many times over, in completely different ways depending on who he was talking to. We got scammed. And no-even even blinked.

So what I’m here to announce today is a measure designed to bring a little more transparency and accountability into New Zealand politics. Today, the Green Party has sent a letter to each party leader, asking for support from across the House to establish an independent unit in the Treasury to cost policy promises.

Political parties could submit their policies for costing to this independent unit, which would then produce a report with information on both the fiscal and wider economic implications of the policy.

Instead of New Zealanders making their decisions based on spin and who can shout the loudest, they will have meaningful, independently verified information instead.

It will also ensure that policy promises are stable and durable because parties won’t be able to promise the earth unless they have the earth to give.

So we are going to work with the other political parties in Parliament to try and make this a reality for the 2017 election. And it’s going to be very interesting to see which parties support it and who opposes it. Hopefully everyone will support it. It won’t cost much. It’s good for our democracy. It’s good for New Zealand.

Political power can transform the country for the better, and make a positive difference to the lives of generations to come, if that power is exercised with responsibility and caution. So the first things we should ask of those who seek to wield that power is what they’re going to do, how they’re going to do it, and what it’s going to cost.

So we call on the other political parties to welcome this idea and to work with us to make next year’s election more accountable and democratic. To close this gap we have between perception and reality, the gap between what political leaders say and what we actually do.

The role of Government is not to provide entertainment or sideshows. The role of Government is to lead the country; to fix the problems that need fixing. The Green Party has been developing solutions for two decades now, two decades where our solutions have been adopted by other parties because we get it right.

The future can be scary to think about but it doesn’t have to be. We will make enduring Green change that keeps children and families at the heart of our work.

The solutions to the problems we face are not radical, or outlandish, the solutions are transformative.

So I want you to take away this key point, this one thing about the Green Party and our political system: while change is not easy and meaningful change takes hard work; the Green Party is ready for that job.

Together we are heading towards a beautiful tomorrow.


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