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James Shaw’s speech to the NZ Council of Trade Unions

15 October 2015

James Shaw’s speech to the New Zealand Council of Trade Unions

Me aro koe ki te hā o Hineahuone.
Mai te tīmatanga, ko Papatūānuku te whaea whenua,
ko Hineahuone te ira tangata tuatahi, he wāhine.
Tīhei Mauriora!

Fromthebeginningoftime, wasPapatūānukutheEarthMother,
thenHineahuonethefirsthumancreated, awoman.

E rere haere ana ngā mihi ki ngā mana whenua o tēnēi rohe a Te Ātiawa.
(I send greetings and thanks to the home people of this region, Te Ātiawa)

He mihi hoki ki a koutou o Te Kauae Kaimahi (CTU); ngā rangatira, ngā āpiha, ngā kaimahi, koutou katoa kua tae mai i tēnēi rā.
(I also greet all of you of the CTU; the leaders, the officials, the workers, all of you who have arrived today.)

Ko James Shaw tōku ingoa. Ko ahau te kaiārahi takirua o Te Rōpū Kākāriki i te taha o Metiria Turei.
(My name is James Shaw. I am the co-leader of the Green Party alongside Metiria Turei)

Kia ora tātou katoa
(Thank you all)

It is an honour to speak to you today.

I’d like to start by acknowledging the new CTU President Richard Wagstaff. Richard, congratulations on your election and I look forward to working with you to build a better and fairer New Zealand.

I also wish to congratulate Rachel Mackintosh on your election to the position of CTU Vice President and to Sam Huggard and Syd Keepa on their re-elections to the roles of CTU Secretary and Vice President Māori respectively.

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This is a strong and principled team at a time when New Zealand workers need leadership in the face of injustice and adversity.

And no one has shown greater leadership or struggled against injustice more than Helen Kelly.

Helen, the Green Party wants to acknowledge your leadership, your advocacy and your courageous spirit.

You’ve helped transform and modernise the union movement.

You’ve championed the radical, controversial idea that workers shouldn’t die at their workplace, that they have a right to return home healthy and alive at their end of the day.

You have fought for change. You have saved lives. You have made our country a better place.

You have shown other unionists and activists and progressive politicians what we should aspire to.

I know that you have plans for after your retirement, and that today isn’t farewell, but Helen, on behalf of the Green Party thank you.

One of the core values that the Green Party and the union movement share is equity.

Equal rights. Equal pay. Equal representation.

The unions have won some great victories recently. Kristine Bartlett worked with E Tu, when it was the Service and Food Worker’s Union and the Nurses organisation to ensure that women are paid the same as similarly skilled men.
Jenny Goodman, a PSA delegate won the right to be paid for the full hours that she worked. We congratulate you for taking these cases that will impact on the lives of thousands of workers, most of them women. Thank you.

I celebrate these triumphs but I also feel frustrated by the continuing need to fight for them.

It’s 2015 and women are still campaigning for the right to equal pay.

It shouldn’t have to be an heroic struggle. It shouldn’t have to happen through the courts. Slowly. Painstakingly. Case-by-case.

Equality shouldn’t be a legal issue. It is a moral issue. Some things are just right and this is one of them.

The real problem here is lack of political leadership.

This government has no will to fix what’s obviously a broken system; no courage to take a moral stand against discrimination and inequality.

The solution is to change the government.

But that change needs to be meaningful.

It can’t just be different names and different faces, but the same indifference to these problems.

The Green Party is committed to changing the government, but we are also committed to changing the way New Zealand is governed.

So when we help form the next governing coalition we will put equal representation at the heart of that government.

That is why I am proud to announce today that the Green Party will commit to equal representation at the Cabinet table.

Half of the Green Party Ministers in the next progressive government will be women and we will call on all the other members of the coalition to do the same.

The people who govern our country should truly represent the people who live in it.

Now, the first thing people are going to say in response to this is that gender shouldn’t have anything to do with jobs, or political appointments, or Cabinet positions.

That’s what you’re going to hear on Talkback radio and read in newspaper editorials and internet comments. Don’t read the comments, by-the-way.

People will say ‘It should be about the best person for the job. It should be about merit, not political correctness. And in a perfect world they’re right. But in this world they’re wrong. And I want to explain why.

I used to be a management consultant and I used to read a lot of studies about why companies succeeded – and why they failed.

Companies go under go under for lots of different reasons.

But one of the reasons that crops up a lot is a lack of diversity at the leadership level.

There’s an abundance of research that shows companies with women in governance outperform those who don’t, especially when it comes to assessing risk.

The most recent paper I saw was by Grant Thornton, a global accountancy firm. They looked at listed companies in the US, UK and Indiawith male only executive teams and found that these companies underperformed gender diverse companies by just under a trillion dollars in investment returns.

So If you’re a company that doesn’t have women at the executive and board level then that’s not just a problem for your employees, that’s a problem for you.

When researchers asked those companies why there weren’t any women in leadership roles and they’d always say ‘We hire on merit. We’re a business. We’re not here to be politically correct. We hire the best person for the job.’

And the researcher would gently point out that all of these men they hired because they were the best person for the job bankrupted that company.

So just because people say they’re hiring on merit doesn’t mean that’s what they’re doing.

This idea of hiring on merit is a virtuous aspiration that usually causes more harm than good.

It’s such a noble sentiment that you can’t argue against it but it very rarely happens in the real world. And by pretending that appointments are made based on this aspiration which we continually fail to achieve we’re making things worse.

Take a look at our current Parliament which is seventy percent male. Or Cabinet, which governs the country, also seventy percent male.

No one seriously thinks all those guys are there because they’re the best of the best, or that they’ve all got so much more merit than any female politicians.

The reality is that it’s a traditionally male institution.

There were legal and social barriers preventing women from entering. And those overt barriers are gone but many subtle barriers remain.

That means that a lot of the guys running the country aren’t there purely because of merit. There are candidates for many of those positions who have more merit, who could do a better job, but they didn’t get appointed because they’re women.

And for a long time people have thought: things are getting better. Slowly. They’re working themselves out.

But they’re not.

Last week we learned that the gender pay gap increased in 2015. It’s the highest it’s been for ten years.

And there are the same number of women in Parliament as there were ten years ago.

So if we’re serious about having politicians in Parliament who are there because of merit then we have to ask ourselves how we can fix it.

I’m going to steal a trick from our friend John Key here – this is his only trick - and use an All Blacks analogy.

Imagine if we had a coach who almost always picked players from only the North Island, or only the South Island to join the squad.

And they said ‘We pick whoever is best for the team,’ but the team kept losing all its matches.

How long would the nation put up with that? I think you could measure it in seconds before everyone said, ‘This is stupid. This isn’t working. You need to pick players from the whole country.’

That’s what’s happened with the representation of women in politics for decades.

And it isn’t working.

To those who say we shouldn’t make appointments based on gender, I say, that’s what we’re already doing. Everybody just pretends that it isn’t.

If political and business leaders truly aspire to appoint politicians or executives on merit then equal representation is the framework they should use. Because they have to look at all the candidates, men and women, and pick the best from each group.

Not just pick a bunch of guys and claim that they’re the best. Instead of undermining the quality of your team you’ll double it. Because you’re doubling the size of the pool of talent you’re drawing from.

We want equality in Cabinet because it’s smart. It will lead to a better team and a better government. But mostly we want to do this because its right.

You already know all of this. But to other political leaders who might hesitate, I say that I know that making real change can be hard. We’re challenging people’s assumptions about the world and that can scare them.

But leadership isn’t about making easy decisions.

It’s about making things better.

For everyone.

That’s the job.

That’s why we’re here.

Governments are powerful agents for change, and the Green Party will work with you to build a government that’s better for workers and a New Zealand that works for all of us.

Thank You.

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


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