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Green Party AGM 2021 - Speech By Co-leader James Shaw

8 August 2021

Tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou, tēnā tatou katoa.

Ngā mihi o te ahiahi.

Good afternoon.

***

More than thirty years ago, a group of environmentalists and social activists decided they could no longer accept the world as it was and so, came together to change it.

To build a better Aotearoa - one that is fairer, where everyone has enough to make ends meet and provide for their families.

An Aotearoa that upholds the promise of Te Tiriti o Waitangi.

Where our native wildlife thrives.

Where people in cities and the countryside can swim in the streams and rivers that flow through their communities, and at the beaches.

And where every community, every business is working to reduce pollution as part of a collective effort to prevent a climate crisis.

But this change would only happen, they realised, if ordinary, committed people like them – like us – came together to demand it.

And took those demands into Parliament, and eventually into Government.

It is this simple promise that sets the Green Party apart.

A promise that is written into our founding charter.

A promise that, with Te Tiriti as our guide, we will work to protect the natural world, we will place fairness and inclusivity at the heart of what we do, and we will provide a safe space for everyone to have their voices heard.

Marama and I stand before you today grateful for everything you do to keep this promise alive.

Because it is you who make this party strong.

***

Whenever you first got involved with the Green Party, you, like me, will have seen the possibility of a better, cleaner, more inclusive future for Aotearoa – and understood that the best way to bring it within reach was to get more Green MPs into Parliament.

The journey towards this future – a journey that you have helped guide us on – has never been one of short-cuts; nor has the path been easy.

But over the course of the last 12 months it has made history.

For we are the first ever… the first ever.... Government support party under MMP to stay above the crucial 5 percent threshold to make it back into Parliament.

Not only that, but we came back with a larger share of the vote, and with more MPs.

Last year’s election was our most successful in a decade.

And so, whether you picked up the phone, put up billboards, or knocked on doors.

Whether you talked to friends and family about the issues that matter most to you, shared your views on social media, or attended local branch meetings.

Whatever part you played, your contribution helped make history.

Our success belongs to you.

***

My own journey with the Green Party began more than 30 years ago when I volunteered for the Greens’ first election campaign in 1990.

The decision to get involved was a simple one – as I am sure it was for you.

Settle for a country where greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise, and more and more of our precious natural taonga goes extinct, all while a growing number of people struggle to get by, unable to secure a home of their own where they can raise a family.

Or work to build something better?

Two years later, I ran for elected office, for Wellington City Council.

A precocious, opinionated, but no less passionate nineteen year old.

It was the experience of those campaigns that provided me with a glimpse of the challenges of running for office…

Of bringing people together with a shared vision for a better future…

And of earning people’s trust, so that they know, that in the moments that matter, you will make the right decisions.

In my life I have worked with NGOs, with businesses, and with communities all over the world; doing what I could, in my own small way, to address the climate crisis.

And so, it is when I make these speeches at AGM – my seventh as co-leader – I am reminded that I stand before you, not as a Minister, or co-leader, but as someone who wants the same things you do.

As someone who wants more, much more, action on climate change.

As someone deeply concerned that those at the top continue to amass a larger and larger share of wealth, while too many families and communities struggle to make ends meet.

As someone who knows that change has to happen everywhere.

With our families. In our workplaces and businesses. In our community groups and sports clubs.

I also know that some of this change will only happen – can only happen – if it’s supported by political change.

By getting into Government.

And onto city and regional councils!

I want to acknowledge our elected councillors and board members here today, His Worship Mayor Aaron Hawkins, and those of you who are thinking of standing for local government next year.

And to do so as part of a party steadfast in its belief that, if we are going to build a better future for Aotearoa, then we need to be at the table, shaping the decisions that will determine the type of world our children and grandchildren grow up in.

***

Let me take you back for a moment.

It’s August 2017.

6pm on the 17th to be precise.

We’re less than six weeks away from an election, in the midst of one of the most traumatic periods in our party’s history.

One News releases a poll that has us on less than five percent.

A party on the brink.

Facing the prospect of not returning to Parliament.

No longer able to make our voices heard.

The Green voices that throughout our history have changed who we are as a country.

Take, for example, Metiria Turei’s brave campaign to ensure everyone had enough to get by on.

A campaign that changed our story and, in the end, the country.

A campaign from which you can trace a direct line to the benefit increases announced in this year’s Budget.

Or Jeanette Fitzsimons, who said in her valedictory speech, that her main goal in Parliament had been to find better ways of measuring our economic success.

A vision we have been able to give effect to as part of Government, with wellbeing indicators.

Or Rod Donald, who is, in no small part, the reason why we have MMP.

Or Russel Norman who, in 2015, had a members’ bill pulled from the ballot that would direct the managers of public funds to move away from companies involved in fossil fuels.

A bill that led to our decision last year to require all default KiwiSaver funds to divest from the fossil fuel industry.

At 6pm on that cold Thursday in 2017 we faced the very real possibility of losing these voices, and all those that would follow, forever.

In their place, the familiar pattern of neglect that accompanies every National Government would continue for another three years.

If I had I told you then that Aotearoa would become one of the first countries in the world to put the 1.5C global warming threshold into primary legislation.

If I had I told you then that more of our kids would be going to schools heated by clean energy because of our investment in replacing coal boilers.

If I had I told you then that some of our biggest polluters would be paying close to $50 a tonne for their climate warming pollution.

That more people would have cleaner options for getting around because of the billions we’ve invested in rail, buses, walking and cycling infrastructure.

That more people would be able to travel to work in more efficient cars powered by cleaner fuels because of the Clean Car Discount, the Biofuels Mandate, and Clean Car Standard.

That there would be more warm, dry homes for people to live in because of the expansion of the Warmer Kiwi Homes Programme and energy efficiency standards for new state homes.

Every single one of these changes – changes we have made together – is part of the framework we are putting in place for a low-carbon, climate-friendly Aotearoa that will be a catalyst for job creation, equity, and prosperity for decades to come.

***

And every one of them has happened because of you.

But, you know as well as I do, that there is still work to be done.

Having done more to fight the climate crisis in the last three and a half years than the combined efforts of governments over the last three and a half decades, it is what we do next that matters most.

The Zero Carbon Act we passed requires us to publish an Emissions Reduction Plan before the end of the year, setting out how we will meet our climate targets.

Once the Climate Change Commission published its final advice, every part of the Government was asked to come to the table with the actions they will take to cut pollution.

As I have said on a number of occasions, nearly every Minister needs to be thinking of themselves as a climate change minister.

For there is no part of Aotearoa, no business, no community, no family whose future will not be shaped in some way by the decisions we take about what goes in the Emissions Reduction Plan.

And that is why it is so important we get these decisions right.

A couple of weeks ago I outlined five principles that I want to see guide what goes into the Emissions Reduction Plan.

1. a just transition;

2. a science-led response;

3. enhancing the role of nature based solutions;

4. genuine partnership with Māori;

5. and a clear, ambitious, and affordable path.

Every one of these principles is a reflection of what is written into the Green Party’s founding charter.

And at their heart was a commitment to support people through the low carbon transition so that change happens in a way that is fair to everyone.

Throughout our history, economic transformation has – more often than not – led to corrosive inequality.

Those at the top amassing an even larger share of wealth and income, while too many families and communities were left behind.

This time has to be different.

But the window of opportunity for a just transition is closing fast.

Scientists have given us the remainder of this decade to halve global emissions.

At a minimum, we have to make sure the Emission Reduction Plan delivers New Zealand’s fair share.

That is absolutely non-negotiable.

And to do it, we will need every tool in the toolbox.

One of which is Papatūānuku herself.

For decades, successive Governments have tried to deal with our biodiversity and climate crises separately, trapping what should be complementary solutions into silos.

But the reality is, neither the biodiversity crisis nor the climate crisis will be successfully resolved unless both are tackled together.

That is why I want the Emissions Reduction Plan to enhance the role nature based solutions can play in helping tackle the climate crisis.

For we must work with nature to mitigate and adapt to climate change so that the unique plants and wildlife species that live only in Aotearoa can thrive, for future generations to enjoy.

Finally, we need to transition to a low carbon future in a way that upholds and honours the promise of Te Tiriti o Waitangi.

That helps to undo the damage done by nearly two centuries of failure to uphold the rights and property of Iwi/Māori.

We will not always get this right.

We will make mistakes.

But we can and must take the opportunity to move the story of Aotearoa along.

***

Now, there will never be a moment when we can say we have done all we need to do, that we have won.

Lasting change demands that we keep working every single day.

But over the last four years, we have shown what can be achieved.

Change.

Not perfection, we know that, but meaningful, lasting change.

Now… I know there are people who say we have not gone far enough.

But no one should ever think that the hard work is not worth it because we don’t get everything we want.

Try telling that to Minister Marama Davidson, who has done so much to ensure our loved ones, our friends and our neighbours have warm, safe and dry homes in which to live.

Who is now leading the roll out of the government strategy to prevent family violence and sexual violence.

Or Chlöe Swarbrick who secured an inquiry into the pervasively unfair, discriminatory, and under-regulated student accommodation system.

Or Julie-Anne Genter whose work as a Minister last term paved the way for the clean car discount; emission standards for vehicles, and a massive shift in investment towards walking, cycling, and rail.

Try telling Jan Logie who just the other week saw yet another example of the difference her work has made to people’s lives when statutory sick leave was doubled to 10 days.

Or Eugenie Sage, who doubled the protected areas for Maui and Hector’s dolphins and whose work securing the largest boost to conservation funding in decades underpins much of the good news for our native plants and wildlife, and the Government’s Jobs for Nature programme.

Or Golriz Ghahraman, who has championed changes to our democracy that will do so much to build trust and make us more accountable to the people who put us here.

And try telling it to our newest MPs, who have already set a different course for the future of Aotearoa.

Dr Elizabeth Kerekere who has taken us a step closer to an Aotearoa where no matter who you love or how you identify, you are accepted.

Or Ricardo Menéndez March whose years of campaigning laid the groundwork for one of the biggest increases in benefits we have ever seen.

Or Teanau Tuiono who has been campaigning to stop New Zealand from being used as a base to launch military capability into space.

As I reflect on how proud I am to work with each and every one of our MPs, I am struck not just by the impact they have had on people’s lives, but by the breadth of issues we’re making a difference on.

Making change happen in areas that benefit everyone — no matter who you are, where you're from, what you look like, or whom you love.

***

One of the great privileges of my job is the opportunity to visit communities up and down Aotearoa.

And as I do, I am reminded every day why we do what we do.

I see it in the young campaigners I meet who are worried about how the climate crisis will affect their future.

I see it at organisations like Wellington City Mission, who do such amazing work to help families find a safe place to live, or to put food on the table.

I see it in the community groups working to restore nature, clean our rivers, and protect our oceans.

I see it with the families who have recently moved into brand new warm, secure and affordable homes.

I see it on regenerative farms, in tech companies, in local businesses, and at local markets, where the very best of our peoples’ ingenuity and creativity can be seen.

And I see it in Green Party branches I visit.

The living rooms, the marae, the community halls, and the corner tables of local pubs where the journey of every one of our MPs began.

And with every conversation I have – whether in a school, on a farm, or on a factory floor – I am reminded why being around the table, shaping the decisions that affect people’s lives, matters.

For we made a promise to future generations; to every New Zealander whose story is not yet written; and to those who came before, that we will continue along the path they laid for us.

A promise to push every single day for more action on climate change, to protect nature, and to make life better for those who follow us.

And more and more people are seeing that the path to this better future lies with the policies and ideas of the Green Party.

***

As I stand here, with you, in a room of people brought together in a shared belief of their power to make a difference;

As I reflect on the tens of thousands of young people who took to the streets two years ago to demand action on climate change and, last October, voted for the first time;

As I witness the sacrifices brave people will make to protect some of our most precious species, like the kororā in Pūtiki Bay;

As I think about our journey into Government and the work we do to build support for our policies – not just on the environment, but on jobs, on income support, on housing, on immigration, on transport, on health, on justice;

As I look ahead, having made the progress we have made, and believing in what we can achieve;

I feel more optimistic about our shared future than I have at any time since that first election campaign way back in 1990.

So, today, as we remember the people and the words that have been spoken at AGMs before, let’s commit to working together – between and across generations – to put aside our imperfections, to find solutions to the greatest challenges of our times.

And to pass on to our children an Aotearoa defined by its leadership on climate change, by fairness and equality, and a thriving natural environment.

This is the only way we can keep our promise to future generations: that we will leave behind a world that is better off for what we did.

Nō reira, tēna koutou, tēna koutou, tēna tatau katoa.

© Scoop Media

 
 
 
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