Sue Kedgley was a Green Party MP from 1999 until 2011 and a tireless campaigner for safe, healthy food as well as animal welfare.
She has an MA (Hons) in Political Science, and is the author or co-author of seven books, the most recent entitled ‘Eating Safely in a Toxic World’.
Sue was previously a Wellington City Councillor for seven years, a television reporter/director/producer for eight years, and also spent eight years working in the United Nations Secretariat in New York, helping to promote women's issues and organise international conferences.
As part of her campaign for safe healthy food, Sue helped found the Safe Food Campaign and the National Food Safety Network and actively opposed GE crops in New Zealand. She was also active in the early women’s liberation movement and helped found the National Organisation for Women (NOW).
Sue has helped secure funding for a multi-million dollar Nutrition Fund for schools, an Organics Advisory Service, a National Antibiotic Resistance Surveillance system and an Integrated Health Unit within the Ministry of Health. Her private members bill, the Flexible Working Hours bill, has also become law.
She chaired Parliament’s Health select committee for three years, and initiated select committee inquiries into ambulance services, obesity and type 2 diabetes, as well as the regulation of natural health products, She helped initiate School Food & Nutrition Guidelines, and played an active part in saving the Overlander train service and trolley buses in Wellington.
She is married to Denis Foot, is the mother of Zac and has three step-children.
When Sue Kedgley agreed to put her name forward as a Green Party list nominee in the 1999 General Election, it didn’t occur to her she would end up in Parliament. After all, the Greens were polling at 0%. But when she did, she found it a great place to campaign and make waves.
“I didn’t, as so many do, plot and plan and work my way into Parliament but I did come from a history of campaigning,” she says. “I think that some of the most effective MPs are those with a campaigning background, because they have an innate ability to pick up issues and develop strategies to advance them.”
Date of birth: 1 February 1948
Family: Married to Denis Foot, one son Zachary (20), three grown stepchildren, Peter, Michael and Amanda
Favourite NZ animal or bird:The fantail
Favourite movie: Gandhi
Favourite novel: Wild Swans, by Jung Chang
Music I play on Saturday mornings:I prefer a quiet Saturday morning, but the Beatles have been my all-time favourite since I heard them play at Wellington Town Hall when I was 14
My never-fail recipe: Grilled vegetables with feta cheese, olives, cherry tomatoes, chilli and fennel seeds
Greatest sporting achievement:Winning egg and spoon race, Öhope Beach, circa 1960
Year entered Parliament: 1999
Green Spokesperson for: Food, Health and Wellbeing, Local Government, Environment (toxics), Transport (Wellington), GE, Animal welfare, Older persons
First political action: Vietnam War protest outside Parliament when I was 18: ‘Hey, hey, LBJ, how many kids did you kill today?’
Most embarrassing political moment: When an enthusiastic staffer responded — without my knowledge — that I would support a ban of dihydrogen-oxide (water!)
Proudest political moment: Seeing my Flexible Working Hours Bill pass into law
Hero: The Dalai Lama
In fact, Sue is a study in campaign politics. Whether it’s women’s rights, safer food, better public transport, the perils of cellphone towers, or saving a train, you can bet if Sue believes in it, action will certainly follow. Her will, one imagines, could bend spoons as well as opinions.
Sue’s early memories of family life are not dominated by political thought, but thanks to her parents, dinner table conversations were stimulating, and often enlivened by a stream of global visitors.
After school Sue headed to Wellington’s Victoria University where she quickly became active in student politics.
“The campus was highly political and incredibly stimulating. There were demonstrations against LBJ and the Vietnam War, and amazing debates in the quad every week covering all the big issues of the day,” she says.
One issue that would become central to Sue’s political life was Women’s Liberation and she spent several years as an activist during the early, heady days of the women’s movement. A high point was helping to organise the visit of acclaimed feminist Germaine Greer to New Zealand.
One story in particular speaks volumes about the attitude towards women’s roles in New Zealand in the early 1970s: “I recall speaking at a Rotary function and some of the men in the room threw condoms at us from the floor!” she says, still in disbelief. “It was very odd.”
In between completing her Master’s degree at Auckland University, Sue enrolled at Auckland Secondary Teacher’s Training College. “After about a month I was thrown out for being a disruptive influence and paid to not attend for the rest of the year, which was fantastic. I was able to write my first book, Sexist Society, and my Master’s thesis at the same time.”
An International Women’s Liberation conference in Boston gave Sue the chance to head to the United States where, after visiting friends in New York, she secured a role at the United Nations Women’s Secretariat.
Sue returned to New Zealand in 1981, and worked in television as a reporter, then director and producer.
It was in 1989 that she and her husband Denis Foot, joined the fledgling Green Party.
“Denis was interested in public transport issues and we were attracted to a Party that had a genuine philosophy, and was focused on long term solutions rather than just quick political fixes,” she says. It was a decision that would lead Sue to spend eight years as a Green Party Wellington City Councillor.
Along the way, something else also sparked the famous flame of Sue’s fiery brand of campaigning: motherhood.
With the birth of son Zac, Sue became concerned about the quality of the food on offer. “When I saw first hand the food that was being marketed to young children, I knew action was required, and urgently,” she says and so, along with several other mothers, she founded the Safe Food Campaign in 1994.
“Effecting change in Parliament is like turning a super tanker, but at least we have a hand on the wheel.”
While researching her book Eating Safely in a Toxic World, she visited intensive farms and saw for herself the hideous conditions animals are forced to endure in intensive farming, and she did all she could to bring attention to the parallel concerns of animal welfare and safe food.
Upon entering Parliament she was sometimes ridiculed for having the temerity to raise such issues in the House: “MPs would roll their eyes and crack jokes when I raised issues of animal welfare and food safety. Fortunately they take them a bit more seriously now,” she says.
Sometimes it’s hard to keep up with Sue Kedgley – a voracious (and successful) opponent of GE crops one day, a fearsome advocate for flexible working hours the next; organiser of a 27,000 signature petition in support of ‘The Overlander’ rail service, and a 37,000 signature petition on country of origin labelling of food, while also, as Chair of the Health Select Committee, instigating inquiries into obesity, diabetes and the ambulance service – hers is a manic parliamentary life which shows no signs of slowing down.
“Sometimes I think ‘what have we changed after all these years in Parliament?’ but you have to be patient and persistent in this place and accept that change doesn’t come easily. It’s like trying to turn a super tanker around.”
“Sometimes the most important thing you can do is to help to raise awareness – the satisfaction then comes from watching that awareness translate into action in the community– whether it’s awareness about climate change, the pollution of our rivers, animal welfare or food safety — that’s what campaigning is all about.”
And Sue would know. She’s done a fair bit of that herself.