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Sue Bradford - Maiden Speech

Sue Bradford Green Party of Aotearoa New Zealand

Maiden Speech 8.15pm

Kia ora koutou, e mihi nui ana au ki a koutou.

I am honoured to stand here today as one of the first group of Green MPs to be elected in our own right to what has now become a more truly representative House of Representatives. I pay tribute to all those people who have worked for this day in the nearly thirty years since the founding of the Values Party, and in particular to Jeanette Fitzsimons and Rod Donald, who have shown such endurance and inspiration in recent months and years.

I would also like to acknowledge the members, including elected representatives at local and national level, of the more than a hundred Green Parties which are now active around the world. Collectively we are part of the shape of the future of politics here and internationally, whether Treasury or the Business Round Table or some of our fellow political parties like it or not.

I will do my best to honour the Green vision of ecological wisdom, social justice, non violence and democratic decisionmaking during my time in this place.

I also bring with me to this House another set of experiences and hopes. Since I was 15 I have played an active role in many struggles, ranging from the anti Vietnam war movements of the late 60s, through to the struggles for womens and gay liberation, against apartheid, and for a nuclear free Aotearoa. More recently, the last sixteen years of my life have been dedicated to working for the rights of unemployed people, beneficiaries and low income workers.

I stand on my record, and do not seek to run or hide from my past. I see no shame in having been on the front line of movements which have lead to many positive changes. There are times in the last 16 years when I have sat in a cell or courtroom and hoped that one day, my dream of a job and a living wage for all in this country would come true, just as, for example, the dreams of ending apartheid in South Africa, and New Zealand becoming nuclear free also came about after long and honourable histories of struggle by many ordinary people.

Many friends have asked why on earth I would want to come to Parliament, when there is so much work still to be done in the community and on the street.

There is work to be done everywhere, and I remain committed to the groups and people from which I come. But I also felt that I had had enough of battering my head against brick walls and lines of police, including outside this very building. For 16 years I and others have been putting up many constructive solutions to unemployment and poverty, in theory and in practice, only to be marginalised and demonised.

No one ever wanted to listen to us seriously, even after some of us - people like John Tamihere and myself and others - have been part of setting up organisations which have proved in practice the capacity of unemployed and low income people to take back some economic and political control, creating jobs and providing services for tens of thousands of people. We have learned from the bottom up that ordinary people do have the skills and strength to develop our own organisations, and to create real, alternative solutions.

So in the end, out of sheer frustration, I figured that I had to take the plunge, and come here to try and get some real changes happening at Government level too.

I am here on a mission. Unemployed people and beneficiaries have had enough of being treated like dirt, taking the blame for every problem in society. Previous Governments have institutionalised another form of apartheid in Departments like WINZ, where a culture of contempt underlines dealings with socalled customers as well as with hard pressed frontline staff.

I am here to do everything I can to turn this around. We need immediate relief of poverty in this country, including a radical overhaul of WINZ and the whole benefit system, and a commitment to progressive increases in the minimum wage. The compulsory work for dole scheme known as 'Community Wage Community Work' can and should end tomorrow. We should look at restoring the universal family benefit, acknowledging the needs and rights of those who have the courage to bring children into the world in an overwhelmingly child-hating society.

We should also start seriously researching the implications and possibilities of some form of Universal Basic Income which has the potential to replace the whole shattered and inadequate apparatus of the old welfare state.

It's time that we put the blame for overdependency on the State directly where it lies - on those who use unemployment and inadequate income support systems as tools of deliberate economic strategies. And we should also examine why dependency is OK for some, and not for others.

I want to work with this Government to try and create a climate in which genuine community economic development can flourish, for a country in which people increasingly take control of their own economic lives through the dignity of work, and through income support systems which don't punish and pauperise those at the bottom of society.

There are many solutions to unemployment, but above all we need a Government commitment to moving away from managing poverty and forward to ending it. We need to provide an environment which releases the skills and energies of people in our communities so that we can find solutions, not just continue to pour money into researching and managing the problems.

We need direct and indirect investment in employment creation, leading to real jobs at real wages, not make work or work for the dole schemes. We need to look at how we can get more capital back into local areas, which is one reason I am dedicated to the development of an effective community owned banking system within the coming year.

The ''public' needs to be put back into 'public service'. We need imaginative, skilled public servants like Bill Sutch, people with passion and intellectual vigour, who are smart and caring enough to work well and with respect alongside people in the community, local government and business sectors.

There is no need at all to continue with this strange concept that the taxpayer should have to pay $240,000 plus salaries to people from the corporate world to run Government departments when there are competent people from all sectors who are dedicated to a genuine public service, whose skills and energies we could be using for half the price and twice the competence, in many cases.

To the eternal disgrace of this country Maori unemployment continues, as ever, to run at at least three times the rate of Pakeha joblessness. We are seeing raupatu number two taking place under the guise of capitalist development, while simultaneously the country as a whole continues to allow the sell off into overseas ownership and control of vast tracts of our economy. I will be doing everything I can to try and turn back this second wave of colonisation, while acknowledging that we have yet to do deal fully with the consequences of the first. I do not intend to run away from these issues, but hope to be part of continuing to work with colleagues and friends inside and outside this House towards a truly decolonised Aotearoa, with all that that implies.

At all times the question I try to ask myself is 'whose side am I on - in whose interest do I act?' Some in the previous Parliament (not to mention many previous Parliaments) seemed to forget this as soon as their feet entered these doors. I hope never to forget what I've learned, from many different parts of my life - locked up in Mt Eden womens remand wing.... turned away by Social Welfare after waiting for 6 weeks for my benefit to come through because they'd lost my file.... rejected for jobs in my chosen profession because I was a solo mother with twins... and most of all, seeing at first hand the realities of life for so many others who had none of my advantages. There are two New Zealands living side by side right now - one of poverty and addictions, unemployment, guns, alcohol, abuse, sickness, despair and suicide - the other of people who have nice clothes and highpaid jobs and cars and know little and care less about the rest. And even in Queen St or Lambton Quay if you care to look you'll see people picking up cigarette butts, begging for cash, sleeping out, lost and often crazy - and I hope sometimes you'll ask yourself, is this New Zealand the way we want it?

We must do something fast about housing, for all those without adequate homes. We must do something even faster for people who suffer from the many forms of mental illness. The recommendations of report after report have been ignored by successive Governments - we must turn this around now, and acknowledge that as a society we will never be safe or whole, until the people who have the least are also safe and whole, with adequate health treatment, housing, jobs and education.

I came to Parliament to be part of working for a society in which everyone has the right and the ability to take an active part in politics and the economy.

I am committed to the realisation of a society in which the rights of the tangata whenua as embodied in Te Tiriti o Waitangi are recognised.

I believe that we need a Government which does all it can to make real a special responsibility for the needs of the powerless, particularly children.

To achieve such a vision, we need to recognise that we won't get there by being part of the World Trade Organisation or APEC, by cosying up to the elites of the world at the expense of the poor.... or by pretending to be a different kind of country to what we are.

I call on people who share these goals, including other MPs in this House, to have the courage to make some fundamental changes to the processes and the policies of Government. I know there are those of you who share our ideas and visions - I am keen to work with you across party lines to help this country for the better and to prove that a positive version of MMP can work.

The question is - do you have the courage to help us do it?

Finally, I'd like acknowledge all those who have helped me on my journey to this place, in whatever way - my father, Dick Matthews, one of our country's most respected biological scientists, who taught me a commonsense but profound love of the land and the sea around us, alongside instilling a lifelong loyalty to this country when the prizes of the outside world beckoned. I honour my mother Lois who has endured, and loved, and supported me through many hard times ... Bill and the kids who are living this journey with me .... and I remember my oldest son, Danny, who died in the maw of an inadequate, underresourced and unaccountable mental health system.

I honour all those who have stood beside me in the struggle, on the front line and in the back rooms. I tautoko all the people who tried so hard to make Te Roopu Rawakore o Aotearoa work, and I hope that we can continue now to make some of our dreams come true. I honour all those who have been part of the Peoples Centres and the Peoples Network, and all our efforts to build a new and better, more cooperative way inside the rotten heart of the old system.

I am here in the hope that in some small way I can help carry the strength and love, fortitude and compassion of the peoples' movements in to this place of power, and bring about some real changes for those who have suffered the most.

No reira, tena koutou, tena koutou, tena koutou katoa.


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