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Russel Norman's Maiden Speech

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Madam Speaker.

So, here I am. Inside the people's House. Tena koutou.

The people's House, where so many words have been spoken. Where words have transformed into deeds that have changed this country…sometimes even for the better.

I look around and I see men and women with the power to do good. If we choose to do so.

I want to greet those who have gone before me.

I want to remember my predecessor Rod Donald.

Rod achieved a great deal in politics. But perhaps one of his greatest achievements was his role in making our Parliament so much more democratic. Without Rod's leadership in making the case for MMP, we wouldn't have parties like the Greens in Parliament today. The elected dictatorship would still hold sway.

Rod, go forth from here, go to the other side.

I want to remember my late father, Colin Norman.

Col was someone who had a deep enduring passion for science and engineering. My Dad also really understood the opportunities he got because of the social democratic movement that came out of the depression and the war. I share his passion for fairness and for science.

Go forth from here, go to the other side.

To family members, of us all, who have left us, and to House members no longer with us, I say to you in a traditional way:

E nga mate, o konei, o tatau katoa.


Haere, ki tua, o te kahurangi.

Go forth from here. Go, to the other side.
Of those around me now, I want to mention Nicola and Holly, Rod's partner and daughter: I'm deeply touched that you are here today.

To Olive Norman, who, on a tight budget, brought up six lucky kids. Not only that, she was part of a glue ... of the whole street ... we grew up in. Even today, at the tender age of 70-ish, she drives meals on wheels to those who need help. Thanks Mum, thanks for coming here, all the way from Brisbane.

And a special thanks to my beautiful Katya - my best friend, my chief advisor, my beloved. May this election year have a better outcome than the last, in more ways than one.

To one of the country's finest citizens, Jeanette Fitzsimons, and to all the other Green Party MPs, staff, members, supporters and voters: I am only in this place able to put these views because of your efforts. I will never lose sight of that. I pay tribute to Nandor Tanczos, Mike Ward and Catherine Delahunty and I greet those in the Gallery and people watching and listening across the land.

My wise Green colleagues suggested I should talk a little more about history, especially my own. But first I want to talk about what our country's like now.

I want to talk about those kiwis less fortunate than us here.

Those tens of thousands of New Zealanders successive Governments have marginalised; people who have become outsiders, outlaws, and outcasts. And I say "have become" because outsiders are not born; they are made.

On the same day I was sent to Parliament, last Friday, a man named Sean was sent to prison for 12 years.

Sean was abandoned to a boys' home in Australia as a young child.

Since then, like so many, he has been institutionalised, mostly in prisons, universities of crime, at which we throw ever more of our scarce tax dollars. Two decades of jail under centre-right lock-'em-up type governments haven't helped this man and they haven't helped his victims.

Last year, he took part in an angry three month long crime spree in the South Island: robbing two banks, stabbing people and crashing into cars. Around 20 people suffered harm from this rampage.

I condemn his actions, make no mistake. My gut response to people like Sean is to make them pay and make them suffer.

But I know that the evidence is that locking up more people won't make any of us safer. Revenge might feel good but it doesn't build safer communities.

The difficult truth is that if you show people how to be human, and if you respect them as human, then they're more likely to act humanely.

In the past 20 years we've doubled our prison population and yet we are still no safer in our homes and on our streets.
So here I am in Parliament and I wonder, if someone hadn't given my parents and grandparents a hand up, would I be standing here today?

My parents were from poor Depression-era families. My grandparents were born around the turn of the century and by the time my parents were born in 1930 things weren't going so well. Both my grandfathers were out-of-work builders. They were alcoholics - they were treated with indifference by their society and they responded in kind.

But something incredible happened. In the 1930s and 1940s in our part of the world those who could do good, did do good. Governments could have turned their backs on the poor, but they chose not to.

They chose instead to change the destiny of millions of lives, including my parents, for the better.

My parents were able to access affordable government housing and family benefits. They were able to access the opportunity of education.

Although my parents were poor for a long time my dad was able to get a trade as a fitter and turner, then get his steam ticket and work in the sugar refineries of north Queensland. He then got to university and became an engineer. My Mum received family support from the state to bring up a family and get them through school.

My parents and the generation before built a nation, they built it on justice and a fair go.

It's been said that the soul of a nation is found in the homes of its people.

Back in Brisbane we lived in a housing commission house in a housing commission suburb. My mum still lives there. It has weatherboards and fibro walls. We were lucky. It was cheap and the mortgage was for 45 years and we had a place we called home.

And no, this doesn't mean that a state house kid can do anything. It means that state commitment of resources towards housing and education really can make a difference.

Those governments proved that compassion could triumph over competition; that we are all part of the human family and deserve to be loved and looked after, especially when we're down on our luck.

And we remember those who showed their love.

At Bastion Point in Auckland there is a memorial to Michael Joseph Savage. It is a simple concrete obelisk above his grave looking over the beautiful Waitemata Harbour and says at the base, 'he loved his fellow men'.

Savage, a fellow immigrant from Australia, knew that having a right means having a chance, it means having a roof to shelter under and a meal on the table, a school and a doctor. That a nation that truly values the rights of her citizens promises a fair go to each and every one. Savage helped create a society where there was hope of a better life, and there was fulfilment of that hope.

The first item on the agenda of Savage's first cabinet meeting in December 1935 was a Christmas bonus for the unemployed. This was not popular amongst the bankers in London - it was an act of compassion.

When was the last time we did that for beneficiaries? We punish the children of the poorest by refusing them the in-work payment of $60 per week. The truth is that we have yet to restore Jenny Shipley's benefit cuts of 1991.

There is another memorial in Auckland. One dedicated to those who turned their backs on ordinary New Zealanders. In the Auckland CBD there is a memorial to Roger Douglas and Ruth Richardson, it is a casino in the shape of a syringe. They created a society in which desperate people's only hopes are pokies and drugs.

You're gonna reap just what ya sow. And we are reaping in South Auckland and Bridge Pa.

Last month the Child Poverty Action Group said New Zealand had the fastest growth in income and wealth inequality in the OECD. And I'll repeat that, because I didn't say fastest GDP growth. I said that New Zealand had the fastest growth in income and wealth inequality. We are becoming more divided.

The latest figures show about 150,000 children in benefit families in significant or severe hardship.

These 150 000 are the children of the poor that have been forgotten. These are the children of the poor Michael Cullen's last nine Budgets should have focussed on. These are the children of the poor John Key should stop posing with and start telling us how he's going to offer hope to - assuming he wants to be more than a breathing replacement to a struggling Government.

And these may well become the teenagers and young adults who feature on our TV screens at 6 o'clock in a decade's time.

We're gonna reap what we sow.

I fear that the people in this room have forgotten their history. Is this the future Micky Savage had in mind? Is this his 'applied Christianity'?

The takeover of Labour and then National by the extreme right in the '80s and '90s meant those who genuinely cared for a better society had nowhere to go.

My parents left the Labor Party in Australia after Hawke and Keating performed their smash and grab job. It was bad for them there but it was even worse here because there was no restraint.

I started a different journey, one which led me first into left wing politics. I am not ashamed to have a history in the socialist movement. I am not ashamed to think that everyone deserves a fair go and a fair share of what this life has to offer; to believe that this world is too divided.

But nor do I shy away from my reasons for embracing green politics, for moving on. The two great failings of socialism, as I knew it, were lack of democracy, and a failure to grasp the reality that the life support system of the planet itself is endangered.

When I first got involved in green politics we were trying to stop the logging of old growth forests in Gippsland, Victoria. We set up the South Australian Green Party in the mid-1990s, affiliated to Bob Brown's Australian Greens, before I came to live in Aotearoa in the 1990s and joined the green movement here.

There is perhaps a single new idea at the heart of the green movement, and that is that the planet is finite. The planet has limited ability to absorb our pollution and supply us with resources, it has limited minerals, forests, soils, rivers and lakes.

The realisation that the planet is finite is a simple yet profound insight into the true nature of human existence. It is an insight that we, the human race, are struggling to come to terms with.

In trying to live sustainably on planet earth we are facing the greatest challenge to our society and economy since that faced by Savage in confronting the great depression and war.

To make our economy and society sustainable will require an enormous change in the way we live. And just as Savage had to confront powerful vested interests so will we - those who believe that their short term economic interests are more important than the long term survival of our species, those who are so blind that they cannot see that their grandchildren need them to change their ways.

Savage had powerful enemies but he was able to forge a nation in the furnace of depression and war. He told people the truth. He shared the burden. He put forward a vision in which everyone got a fair go.

Those who came after him in the 80s and 90s did not build a nation. They dismembered it.

Our challenge is to bring that nation together again to face up to the basic scientific and physical reality of our environment.

We must tell people the truth. Oil will never be cheap again - anyone who tells you otherwise is asking you to believe in fairies at the bottom of the garden. We must cut our greenhouse emissions rapidly, read the science.

We must act fairly. We need to offer people affordable decent housing that is warm and that enables them to live well while using less power.

We must offer people a vision of a better future. We desperately need better public transport which allows everyone to get around, safer cycling and walking. A government that is engaged in the biggest road building project in the nation's history is a government in denial.

The Greens have the courage to tell New Zealanders the truth about the state of the world because we believe that people of this country can handle the truth.

Micky Savage once said in this House that "we might make mistakes, but we would make other things too". As someone who has come here to get things done, I'm pretty sure I'll make mistakes and bugger the odd thing up.

But my greatest hope is that we will, as Savage said, make other things too. Make good things that we can feel proud of: a nation and people steeped in fairness, democracy, peace and hope, living graciously with and caring for these beautiful islands on this planet we love.


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