Keith Locke’s Valedictory Speech to Parliament
28 September 2011
Keith Locke’s Valedictory Speech to Parliament
Kia ora koutou
It has been a great honour to be an MP these last 12 years.
been lucky to have been an MP during the MMP era, in much
more representative Parliament.
I am pleased at the way we have been improving MMP, with new innovations, like Ministers outside Cabinet, which enable smaller parties to take on Ministerial roles, without submerging their political differences with the bigger party.
Smaller parties now get a better hearing and the Greens have been able to achieve some policy gains, like the home insulation scheme, without any formal support arrangement with the government.
My suggestion, to refine our MMP parliament
further, is remove the fiction of an official Opposition,
with a Leader of the Opposition, which is a hangover from a
two party system.
It doesn’t belong in a multi-party Parliament, where parties vote for and against bills in different combinations.
Also out of date is the Christian prayer which begins Parliament business each day.
We need a more inclusive secular statement, given that half of the Members in this House are not religious, or of another faith.
I do commend the improvements made to question time under Speakers Jonathan Hunt, Margaret Wilson and you, Mr Speaker.
You’ve taken that bold new step of actually
requiring Ministers to answer direct questions.
I think we now have one of the best Parliamentary question periods in the world, if not the best.
Sometimes the shine is taken off question time by excessive noise as members shout across the floor. I have been amazed that this continues when every MP knows there is no-one outside the chamber who appreciates this.
The continuing rowdiness also hides another positive achievement of MMP during my time in Parliament, and that is a greater cooperative spirit and a willingness to work across party lines to progress political issues.
I get a particular kick out of working successfully with the parties furthest from the Greens in general philosophy.
A few years ago I organized a joint public protest meeting with Rodney Hide which helped halt government plans for a new waterfront stadium in Auckland which would have visually mucked up what is now developing into a nice waterfront area.
I also arranged the joint press conference with ACT – plus United Future and the Maori Party to hurry up the repeal of the sedition laws — which we quickly achieved.
Not everything I did regarding Rodney Hide went to plan, not least my bet in 2005, carried on national TV, to walk down Broadway naked if he won the Epsom seat.
Of course, Rodney won, with the help of a certain then National Party leader named Don Brash.
I had no option but to carry through on my promise, treating it as a golden opportunity to showcase the talents of one of New Zealand’s foremost body artists, Phil Du Chard.
I am now less into gambling, although I’m tempted to put something on the Warriors winning the rugby league grand final this weekend.
Another one of my successful cross-party
political liaisons was with United Future leader Peter Dunne
and the National Party to oppose provisions in the Births,
Deaths and Marriages Bill which would have drastically
reduced public access to genealogical records.
Peter Dunne and I made a joint submission to the Select Committee which helped convince the then Labour government that it had to rewrite the Bill.
This obscure Bill may have directly benefited more New Zealanders as anything else I have done in Parliament — because so many Kiwis are researching their family histories.
As you might expect I’ve worked with Labour on lots of issues.
Coming from a strong trade union background I’ve enjoyed operating as part of a Green and Labour tag team in the House when anti-union laws come before us, as they too frequently do.
In most of my human
rights work, the Maori and Mana parties have been good
Alongside the Greens, they have recognised how the laws and practices generated by the so-called ‘war on terror’ erode our civil liberties.
More New Zealanders see that now.
It wasn’t so easy in the immediate aftermath of 911 when, for the Greens, I was advocating peaceful solutions, opposing the war on Afghanistan and saying we shouldn’t rush to adopt a Terrorism Suppression Act.
Unfortunately, when New Zealand bought into the ‘war on terror’ it had to come up with some terrorists. And in the absence of any in New Zealand, innocent people like Algerian refugee Ahmed Zaoui were targeted.
great satisfaction that Ahmed Zaoui and his family are now
well settled in New Zealand, and that I played a role in the
five year campaign to achieve this.
I am honoured to have Mr Zaoui and his son present with us today.
When people ask me what I have achieved, I always say that I can only take part of the credit for any of the successes. My role has to be and the advocate for the causes on the Parliamentary stage. In the Ahmed Zaoui case, while I played an important role, most of the credit has to go to the many fair-minded citizens who campaigned long and hard for Mr Zaoui’s freedom, his excellent lawyers Deborah Manning and Rodney Harrison, as well as a new SIS director Warren Tucker who finally concluded there wasn’t a case.
I also have Dr Tucker to thank for my SIS file, which will be a useful reference work for the history writing I plan to do in my retirement.
Politically, the thing that has most saddened me has been the ease with which legislation giving the Police or the SIS more powers, or legislation extending sentences for crimes, passes through our Parliament.
Now we have anti-terrorism laws we don’t need, and our jails are overflowing.
I appeal to Parliament to try to find
the brake pedal, or even – gasp – the reverse gear.
It would be good in this respect to send a parliamentary delegation to Scandinavia to investigate how shorter sentences and an emphasis on rehabilitation actually works in reducing crime.
Norway provided a great example to the world when it reacted to the recent mass killing with a march where people carried roses and pledged not to turn Norway into a security state.
On several issues I have looked more to Scandinavia than the Anglo nations like America, Britain and Australia.
For the last twelve years I’ve been a Green battler for New Zealand to be more independent in foreign affairs and defence, building on what we achieved in leaving ANZUS and becoming nuclear free.
There have been some successes.
I can take some credit for helping create the political climate where Helen Clark could scrap the air combat force — which was only of use for fighting what Nicky Hager has termed “Other People’s Wars”.
Now we only have to get rid of the two frigates and we’ll be left with a navy more relevant to our practical defence tasks in the South Pacific and the southern ocean.
There is an independent, pioneering spirit
within most New Zealanders, which grates against our
subordination to American dictates.
Many New Zealanders now rightly question whether America’s war in Afghanistan should be our war.
One of the reasons I’m so passionate about the need for New Zealand to take an independent stance is that the big Western powers are failing to address so many of the world’s problems, from climate change and the debt crisis, to development needs and nuclear disarmament.
New Zealand can play a vital political leadership role in the world, working together with other independent players, such as Norway or Sweden, or emerging nations like Turkey and Brazil.
I’ve often accused our government of being too timid in standing up to big countries on peace and human rights issues.
To make the point I’ve sometimes resorted to symbolic protest.
I’ve waved Tibetan and West Papuan flags on the steps of Parliament, presented a nuke-free NZ badge to Hillary Clinton — she was rather startled — and presented a letter from antiwar groups to Tony Blair.
Once I wore a scarf made up of Chinese and Tibetan flags to a reception for the Chinese premier.
Now, at state dinners I seem to be allocated the seat furthest away from the top table.
If we are to be a truly independent nation, I don‘t see how we can remain chained to the British monarchy. Even though my Head of State Referenda Bill failed to get a majority in the House last year, I did put the issue into the parliamentary arena — and there is now a cross-party republican caucus in the House.
Most MPs recognise that we can’t stay a monarchy forever.
Why not be bolder and bring about the change, even if it upsets a minority of constituents still attached to the Royal Family.
I have also enjoyed being an Auckland MP and being part of Auckland’s evolution into a considerably more tolerant bi-cultural and multi-cultural town. Auckland’s public transport system has also improved, but there wouldn’t have been the transport snarl-up on the first day of the World Cup if governments had been listening more closely ten years ago to the pleas I and other Greens were making for more investment in Auckland’s rail.
I’d like now to pay a tribute to all those wonderful Green MPs I’ve had the privilege of working alongside during my 12 years in Parliament, and it’s great to have Jeanette Fitzsimons here with me today, along with Nicola and Holly Donald, partner and daughter of the much missed Rod Donald.
Rod and Jeanette led us through the difficult times of consolidating the Green presence in Parliament, and in the public consciousness.
It wasn’t an easy ride. Initially we were dismissed either as utopian dreamers or dangerous extremists. Sometimes the labels seemed mutually contradictory, such as when I was dismissed as both a Stalinist and a weak-kneed peacenik in the same breath.
I have never particularly minded the peacenik label.
It’s much easier now, because public opinion has moved much closer to the Green way of looking at things, which is one reason why we are going up in the polls.
We now have a much stronger Green Party and I would like to pay a big tribute to all the Green members who work so hard to get out the Green message.
The Green office parliamentary staff have been fantastic over the years.
Too many to mention but I particularly want to thank my dedicated executive assistant Claire, my advisor Kevin, and Lucy, Ivan and Karen in the Auckland office
Some have said it won’t be the same now all you originals have gone, but I have great faith that the new expanded team that will emerge after the election, ably led by Russel Norman and Metiria Tūrei, will take Green politics to a higher level.
I’m very happy to have my brother Don and two sisters, Maire and Alison, here today, with most of their families. They’ve been so supportive.
And of course, my wonderful partner Michele who has helped me right through this parliamentary journey, and over all the rocky patches.
She has also assisted with her exceptional political judgement.
People say: will you miss Parliament? And I say yes.
It has been my other family these past twelve years. As if to reinforce this one of my young great-nieces calls me Uncle Parliament?
Thanks to MPs from all parties - I’ve enjoyed your company and friendship - and all the parliamentary staff: Clerks, librarians, Hansard recorders, ushers, messengers, security, select committee workers — you name it — and particularly the cleaners, who don’t get much more than the minimum wage when we are paid so well.
To all my friends to all my friends in the press gallery. Thanks for your professionalism and for giving me a fair go.
In my maiden speech I said that I saw my role “first and foremost, as a representative of all those active community groups who are pushing good causes from better public transport to human treatment for refugees, from organic farming to nuclear disarmament.”
And one of the great things about this House is that it has a big front lawn so that community protest can be brought to the steps of Parliament.
I have regularly been out on those steps speaking in support of the protesters on the grass — on every type of issue.
Sometimes I didn’t know the
protesters were coming until I spied them on Parliament
grounds from our offices on the 15th floor of Bowen
I’ve rushed down and quickly constructed a speech on the issue — such as on one occasion addressing the plight of persecuted Assyrian Christians in Iraq.
If you want to catch up with me after I’ve left Parliament, I you might sometimes find me among the protesters on the grass, ready with a bit of helpful advice.
Or you might find me across the road, in the National Library, researching a political history project.
Thanks to all of you. I’ll miss you.
Ka kite ano.