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Jeanette Fitzsimons Valedictory Speech

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It's been 13 years since I had the great privilege of giving the first Green speech in the NZ Parliament. I never set out to be an MP, or a Green Party leader. I was pushed into it under that maxim of John Lennon's "life is what happens to you while you're making other plans". I was still trying to figure out what to do when I grew up and I'm not sure I've found the answer yet.

I was proud to be a member of the first MMP Parliament with its much greater representation of women, Maori, and ethnic communities. I am still proud to have led the Party that pioneered several new constitutional arrangements with successive governments and developed processes for the negotiations between parties which now ensure that governments have to think twice about policies and earn genuine majorities before they pass them.

That's not the only change for the better that MMP has made. I wonder if any others from that intake are here tonight who experienced the bizarre orientation session where we were taught by Parliamentary Service how to pack a suitcase. The right size to fit in the overhead rack, and with compartments to put our carefully ironed shirts on one side with pockets for ties and socks on the other. The large new intake of women fell about laughing and I suspect it was the last year that module was taught.

It was the year that Winston Peters kept the country waiting for ten weeks before deciding which party to support so that there was no time for maiden speeches before Christmas. By the time February came, I was so impatient to get started that, on my first day, I leaped to my feet and blurted "Supplementary Speaker Mr Question!" Speaker Doug Kidd was kind enough not to laugh. There was also no time to wait for the niceties of a maiden speech before moving a resolution, supported 111 to 9, expressing the concern of the House about the nuclear waste ship passing through the Tasman sea on that very day.

In that first speech, I spoke of the birth of the Green movement internationally 25 years earlier, and of the vision of the first Values Party manifesto in 1972, heralding much which has since come to pass. Since that speech the Greens have become a parliamentary party in our own right, built our representation to nine MPs, introduced and passed six Members' Bills with another currently in Select Committee and an eighth awaiting its first reading.

We have established the tradition that support parties under MMP can expect to negotiate Budget initiatives that advance their policies, and I was proud to pioneer those negotiations. Rather than threatening to withhold support, we expected - and got - recognition that relationships in here have to be reciprocal and based on trust.

There are many laws that passed only because of our support - laws that are different because of our amendments, and potential laws that never made it because of our opposition.

But most of all the role of the Greens has been to set the agenda - to raise issues that had never been raised in this House before.

In 1996 many throughout the world were talking about climate change, sustainable energy policies, toxic chemicals, human rights, genetic engineering, and the failure of our current ways of measuring economic success. But this Parliament was not. Those are the issues I and my colleagues have brought here, and which are becoming mainstream.

The breathing space we created on genetic engineering, with the Royal Commission and moratorium, while it did not result in the law becoming precautionary enough, did prevent the release of crops that could never have been contained and which were imminent in 1999. Transport policy refocused somewhat on public transport, cycling, walking, and rail. And even the current fixation on new roads has been unable to stop the momentum of the electrification of Auckland's rail system. The Energy Efficiency and Conservation Act, my first Member's Bill, has made energy standards part of mainstream energy policy, saving millions for consumers. Communities fighting major environmental battles are now better resourced with legal aid at the Environment Court and the resourcing of local conservation initiatives.

Yet I have to say, with great sadness, that the big picture has not changed much. This place, on which we pin such hopes as the pinnacle of democracy, has proved itself incapable of responding to the crisis that threatens to overwhelm us. As an institution it is asleep; often in denial; often preoccupied with trivia. When my grandchildren Jasper and Isabella, here in the gallery today, are struggling to bring up their children in thirty years time amid the storms and instability of a changing climate, with little oil left (and that being unaffordable), what will they think of us at the turn of this Millennium? What will they think of a parliament more preoccupied with its own privileges than with the good of humanity? A parliament that spent far more passion and energy on where Bill English parks his car than on where we will get the oil to run it; or on measures to reduce our climate emissions, the pollution of our waterways, the protection of our unique ecosystems and species from extinction? What will they think of governments who had all the information presented to them, who could not claim not to know, but who chose to do nothing?

I have sat here for 13 years weeping at the tragedy of so many people wasting the precious gift of life chasing the mirage of a bigger GDP. What is stopping us, as a species and particularly as a parliament, from seeing the truth that climate change, which has now entered the public consciousness, is only a symptom of a much greater issue? The planet is full - its capacity to absorb our wastes and generate our resources is already overstretched and even mining the last national park and Antarctica and damming or draining the last river will not allow us to continue using even more.

Our ancestors could be forgiven for thinking the planet was infinite, unmeasurable, and obviously flat. Their world was circumscribed by what could be walked or ridden or sailed. Even when it was proved to be round, it was still immense, and round the world in 80 days was an amazing feat.


Reducing 80 days to two still didn't change the deep seated certainty that there can be no limits. Despite the images from space, economics still takes it as a given that we live in an infinitely elastic universe.

For thirty years there have been many studies of how economic growth does not improve human wellbeing, even for the poorest. But the poor have always been an excuse for policies designed mainly to benefit the rich. The central message I came here with 13 years ago is that we need to find better ways of measuring our economic success and that the aim should be a better economy not a bigger one. An economy based on respect for people and for nature, not on dog-eats-dog competitiveness. The futility of our current measures is shown by the Brash report on Closing the Income Gap with Australia. They have bigger houses (so more housework) more cars per person (so higher greenhouse gases), more than one cell phone each, and drink more alcohol (so more drunkenness and violence) and so we must catch up. What a goal to aim for.

Two very important and accessible books were published last year which sum up beautifully the Green message of hope for a better economy.

The first was Tim Jackson's Prosperity without Growth which systematically examines the proposal that growth makes us better off and finds it wanting. He then sets out the framework for an economics that genuinely makes people better off without growing output, and finds it entirely feasible.

The second illustrates powerfully that social equity is better for everyone, not just the poor. The Spirit Level by Wilkinson and Pickett brings together international data showing that the nations with the greatest income equality also have the best health and mental health outcomes, the least crime and lowest imprisonment, the best educational outcomes, the lowest obesity and teenage pregnancy, the lowest infant mortality. A highly stratified unequal society forces everyone to stress about keeping or improving their place on the social and economic ladder and damages the lives of the well off as well as those of the poor. New Zealand used to be near the top of that equality league table; now it is fourth worst and heading down further.

If anyone here wants to understand better the core Green message of the last 38 years read those two books. They show why the twin Green goals of ecological sustainability and social justice are inseparable. It is not possible to nurture the environment without nurturing people, or the other way round.

I said in my maiden speech that Parliament was just a different way of working for the Green ideals that had driven my life for decades as a teacher, writer, researcher, and community activist. I have enjoyed my time here and found it satisfying (as well as frustrating) especially when it was possible to achieve change for the better.

I enjoyed my six years chairing the Local Government and Environment Select Committee. Seeing my role as neither the Minister's vassal to expedite government policy, nor as the obstructionist to frustrate it, it was possible to work constructively with both sides of the Committee table. In my view Select Committees are Parliament's opportunity to scrutinise the Executive and knock the silly corners off raw legislation. They are the place to listen to the people who have a lot of wisdom about the laws they want, if we will only listen to them. They are a place where we can challenge officials to prove their case for the legislation they put forward to governments. Perhaps they should be chaired more often by third parties.

I particularly enjoyed my three years as a "quasi Minister" leading the work of EECA on energy efficiency and the solar water heating programme. Probably my greatest concrete achievement has been persuading two successive governments, Labour and National, that it is worthwhile investing in home insulation on a large scale, combining benefits to health, family wellbeing, employment, energy demand, and carbon emissions.

Now the time has come to move on to the next phase of my life. Retirement is not really a concept I can imagine, but I do intend to take the gap year I never had after school - or maybe a gap six months - while the head clears and the future takes shape. I am looking forward to a lot of work on our farm where Harry has held the fort for too long on his own. I am looking forward to more family time, more music, films and theatre, and to three months in Europe visiting my son and old friends.

After that the work will continue - in what form I don't know yet but the goals of protecting people and planet will be the same.

There are many people I want to thank for their help along the road of the last 13 years. First must be Harry, my rock, who has supported my work, run the farm and the household, put up with my absences and constant exhaustion, and hours on the telephone. Thirteen years ago he was here in the gallery with my father Jack and my son Mark. Today Jack is with us only in spirit, but Harry is joined by the new generation, my grandchildren Jasper and Isabella and their parents. Jeremy and Sarah, you have been an oasis I have escaped to on occasional Wednesdays. You've listened to my frustrations and elations and fed me after playtime with the kids and sent me back for an evening's work. My grandchildren have been the touchstone of much of my work and Jasper was the subject once of a whole Budget speech because it is he and his friends who will live with the consequences of the decisions we make here.

None of us here could do the work we do without a host of people who make it possible. I have been blessed with some amazing Executive Assistants: Judith, who knew the parliamentary system so well and guided me into it; Katya, who came straight from uni and went on to lead our research team; Tania, unflappable and organised with a passion for conservation; Helen, who loved administration and looked after me like a mother; Hina, who has got inside my head and my work and may one day do my job; and Rosalie, Sandra, and Moira who ran my office in Thames. Thank you, all of you, for going well beyond the call of duty.

There have been so many Green Party staff over the years I cannot name you all but I will miss you all as friends and colleagues. I would particularly mention my Heads of Staff Deb Moran and Ken Spagnolo who took the weight of managing the office off my shoulders. It has been, and is, a great team with a huge commitment to people and planet.

Librarians, thank you for the information you have dug out for me, always on time. The Clerk's Office, thank you for your help in Select Committees and your advice on procedure. Bellamy's staff and security and buildings and messengers and cleaners. It is humbling to think how many of you all it takes to keep one of us going. May we never take you for granted, and may we use the time and resources you give us to maximum effect.

Fellow MPs, we have argued, joked, fought and strategised over the years and to all of you who are working your hearts out for something you truly believe in, kia ora.

Mr Speaker, thank you for your efforts to get Ministers to at least address the Question.

To the people of New Zealand who put their trust in a new political party and allowed us to represent you, thank you. It has been a privilege. And to all the Green Party members and activists, we could not do it without you.

The lowest point of the last 13 years was of course the death of my beloved Co-leader, colleague and friend, Rod Donald. It is rare to have a working relationship blessed with such mutual trust and friendship. He did a lot for this country, and I'm particularly pleased that Nicola and Holly have been able to come tonight. Sadly his departure was not planned, but mine has been and I know I leave the Parliamentary Green Party in the excellent hands of Metiria and Russel and the team.

We are in a transition to a younger generation, with new energy and faces but the same values and commitment. You are my other family and I shall miss you but we will keep in touch.

The green movement is growing stronger worldwide. Kia kaha - you are the hope for the future.

Haere ra

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