Russel Norman’s address in reply speech

Speech – Green Party

We’re about to break for Christmas, a time for family, sleeping in, barbeques, trips to the beach, and spending time with our mates and family.The context: the Christmas story

We’re about to break for Christmas, a time for family, sleeping in, barbeques, trips to the beach, and spending time with our mates and family.

We will work hard and smart to repay the faith you’ve put in us to deliver a richer New Zealand with a smart green economy that works for everyone.

Our Christmas holiday has its roots firmly in the Jewish and Christian traditions. It’s based on a pretty amazing story about the birth of Jesus Christ — “God in the flesh” as many Christians believe.

The story of the incarnation of God in a baby born in a stable is remarkable even to me, an atheist, because it’s a story about the distant God of the heavens coming down to live amongst us on earth.

It’s a story about that god decreeing that tyranny on earth and utopia in the afterlife is not acceptable and that freedom and equality must characterise life here on earth as well as the afterlife in heaven. It’s a story of the birth of new hope.

The Christmas story tells us that a saviour of humanity came not as some great warrior or prince but wrapped instead in swaddling cloth — a baby born amongst farm animals, and in absolute poverty.

You know the rest. The shepherds in the field saw a bright star and followed it. Three wise men turned up with expensive-sounding gifts.

The baby grew up a carpenter in ancient Palestine, stirred up a lot of trouble later as a young man, and was executed by crucifixion, under Pontius Pilate, during the reign of Tiberius Caesar, as legend has it, sometime around 30AD.

But the story doesn’t end there. After his death, the new hope that sprang from the stable in Bethlehem started to gather steam. Religious and political elites were threatened by the wild growth of a new religious sect committed to living out here on Earth the values of their God, once worshiped from afar.

The early Christians shared their resources and lived with greater equality amongst themselves than had earlier been known.

They believed that the world on earth could be a better place for ordinary people. Countless Christians were martyred for their faith, such was the threat that they posed to the ruling political and religious elites.

By 112AD, even the farmers cursed Christ’s influence; Christian beliefs on idolatry were causing a slump in agricultural markets as people challenged the need to buy animals for ritual sacrifice to Roman emperors or gods.

Two thousand years later the story of the brief life of Jesus Christ still resonates.

This is why Christmas is still such an enduring part of our culture. Christmas was the start of some unlikely trouble and the start of new hope.

How the story touches me

I’m not a Christian, and there is not historical certainty about the records in the Christian Bible. But what I admire about the Christmas story is that it speaks to values I share, including some that make me feel a little uneasy speaking from this place of privilege and power. I think you’ll agree we’re pretty far away from a Palestinian stable.

But like all parents, perhaps particularly those newly acquainted with the role, the story of change arriving in the form of a baby has resonance in my life.

And whether we’re parents, grandparents, aunties, or friends, in our children we find our own awe at the beauty of our planet; they show us what it is to be truly open minded, and in their ferocious capacity to learn and grow and change we see that things could truly change and be better.

This Christmas we wish for all our babies to have their unquestioning need for love generously met; we wish that all our children are treated with patience and understanding, trust and commitment. And we wish that all our parents have the time, support and resources necessary to give our children the best start in life.

And for us here in Parliament, I wish that we have the intelligence and compassion to choose to make things better for those who depend on us to make the right calls.

Christmas as a way to understand what really matters in life

Mahatma Gandhi said this about Jesus Christ: “I believe that Jesus belongs not only to Christianity but to the entire world, to all races and to all people.”
Ghandi was right. The hopes and values Jesus Christ articulated during the course of his short life are too important to belong only to Christians. They belong to us all: believers and non-believers alike. They live within us. They are embedded in our culture. They are reflected in most of the world’s major religions.

These are the values that help to lay down the essential nature of what it means to be human and guide us to live a ‘good’ life — good to ourselves, good to one another, and good to the world in which we make our livelihoods.

I identify with the Christianity that teaches love and compassion towards each other, especially the most vulnerable — the widows, the orphans, the sick, and those in prison. Those values inspired some of the world’s first hospitals, orphanages, universities, and reforms to the way we treat those who’ve broken the law.

I also identify with the Christianity that demands we live with truth and justice between one another. Those values challenged the status quo on slavery in Great Britain and moved Martin Luther King to march for equal rights for African Americans.

And here, in our home, it was through applying those same values that Michael Joseph Savage turned the state on its head in an attempt to offer cradle to grave security from poverty and despair. In fact, the very first act of the new Savage Government was to grant a special Christmas bonus payment to the unemployed. Now there was a true moment of Christmas in this Parliament that gave birth to a new hope that our political economy could be bent to protect the vulnerable. That was applied Christianity.

Finally, I identify with the Christianity that teaches an awe and respect for the natural world. The Christianity that says tread sacredly through nature because God incarnated himself in the world through the person of Jesus Christ. St Francis of Assisi wrote sermons for the birds and taught us to live simply and value nature for its own sake. Listen to the dying words of Father Zosima, a character in the last work of Fyodor Dostoevsky, the great Christian novelist:

Love all God’s creation, the whole and every grain of sand in it. Love every leaf, every ray of God’s light. Love the animals, love the plants, love everything. If you love everything, … you will come at last to love the whole world with an all-embracing love.

[The Brothers Karamazov]

The undermining of those values in the pursuit of economic growth
Those values of love, generosity, and a reverence for nature should not sound so out of place in this Parliament.

But the talk in here is dominated by a different kind of worship — one of economic growth, at all costs. We heard this mantra yet again today in the speech from the throne.

Today the Government said a strong economy provides the resources to then protect the vulnerable and the environment. But compassion shouldn’t be conditional.

The protection of the vulnerable and the environment are necessary preconditions for a successful, fair and sustainable economy.

The economic and political agenda announced today undermines the values that we celebrate.

What’s worse, we still have a virtually universal agreement in this House that mindless economic growth is the overriding purpose of government, if not society itself.

There is little discussion about the quality of that growth, the costs of that growth, or how we might share the benefits and costs more fairly. There is precious little discussion of how we could possibly have never ending growth in resource use and pollution on a planet which is ultimately finite.

Other parties in this House continue to represent the elite economic and social consensus of the 1980s and 1990s Labour and National governments in which we aim to maximise GDP growth and hope that trickle down will mean those at the bottom get a few crumbs. Thirty years later and many of our families are still waiting for the trickle down.
Even our private banking system can bring the world to its knees and escape largely unchanged from the melt down. The Westpac CEO earned a $5.4 million salary this year, which included a $260,000 tax cut — an early Christmas present from the government. Why is this Parliament giving taxpayer-funded Christmas bonuses to the obscenely wealthy and not the poor?
Christ didn’t accept that gross inequality is inevitable and neither should we; isn’t it time we turned the money tables over in the temple once again?
Our current political and business worldview has become so focused on endless growth that it has to conveniently ignore the increasing social and environmental collateral damage that comes from mindless growth without values.

This Parliament has for the last thirty years conveniently ignored things like runaway climate change, increasing inequality, declining water quality, and growing debt.

The unqualified pursuit of growth of any kind is no longer delivering the kinds of advantages it once did, at least not to most people.

We need to grow renewable energy not inequality and greenhouse emissions.
And international organisations like the OECD, the IMF, and the UN are starting to reflect this change of heart as they increasingly document and question the environmental sustainability of economic growth at any cost and the growing inequality within developed societies as wealth is further concentrated even as our economies grow.

Inequality

We know better outcomes in health, education, happiness, and social trust are no longer correlated with growing levels of GDP in developed countries.

If the Government’s measure of progress was expanded from simple changes in GDP to include social and environmental indicators, it would be pretty clear that in nearly every other measure of “progress”, we, as a society, have gone backwards.

Our problem is not so much about earning more; it’s about sharing what we do earn more fairly. We could earn more as a country but still be poorer if that wealth isn’t shared around. The evidence is striking: less unequal means living longer, healthier, safer lives. And that’s true for all of us, not just those at the bottom of the heap. More sharing is good for everyone. It’s the big differences in wealth within our society that drive many of the major problems that now bedevil us. And it’s not just about equality of opportunity.

It’s about equality of outcome.

It is not surprising that societies that allow their economic systems to produce great inequality are socially dysfunctional. How could a society be any other than dysfunctional when our society is deeply at odds with our fundamental values of caring and compassion for one another?

When those on the very top earn closer to those on the very bottom, suddenly everyone is better off: We live longer, we suffer less from mental illness, we’re less violent, we trust more, we lock up fewer people, we have better health, we have higher levels of social mobility, we live with less fear.

I believe in a society like that, where we trust one another and look after one another — where we are our ‘brother’s keeper’, not their bitter rival.

Societies with low inequality have simply found ways to share their wealth more fairly. It’s as simple as that. It’s something we’ve implicitly understood before.

The post-war consensus from the 1940s to the 1970s was a time when New Zealand enjoyed some of the lowest rates of inequality in the world. The neo-liberal agenda of the 1980s and 1990s largely destroyed it.

This Christmas, the Government could turn growing inequality on its head by raising the minimum wage to $15 per hour. Such a gift would help 275,000 New Zealanders currently trapped in very low wage jobs. The government could extend family payments to families out of work. The Government could offer new hope at Christmas to hundreds of thousands of New Zealand kids.

Child Poverty

That’s what a Green Government would do. Our plan to raise the minimum wage to $15 per hour is one of a number of costed initiatives we laid out before the election as part of our plan to address child poverty. All up, we could raise 100,000 children out of poverty by committing $680 million of additional government spending to this endeavour.

One quarter of all New Zealand children are growing up in poverty. That’s one in every four children — through no fault of their own — living in poverty in New Zealand right now. That’s 270,000 kids who will be spending this Christmas going without.

Given the scale of the problem, is a poverty committee all this government can do?

When there are practical, effective solutions to child poverty supported by a wide consensus amongst those who work with these kids, why would you waste another three years of our children’s lives talking our way around the issue?
Will the Poverty Committee be for kids what the Jobs Summit was for the unemployed?

The Green Party promises to keep standing beside our kids, promoting practical, principled solutions for eliminating child poverty. We will offer new hope based on some very old values of compassion and caring.

Clean rivers

One group in New Zealand enjoying boom times is our dairy industry.

The dairy industry makes an important contribution to the wealth of the New Zealand economy, but it has come with a significant cost.

Our sparkling rivers and lakes are a key part of what makes New Zealand such a beautiful place to live.

We love to swim and fish in our rivers, kayak on them or just picnic nearby.

Rivers are a vital component of Maori whakapapa, and important to the identity of all New Zealanders.

Healthy rivers are also essential for a healthy economy. Our primary sector relies on access to clean water. Our clean and green brand underpins our tourism industry and our agricultural exports. Our prosperity depends on protecting our natural environment.

But, outside of our national parks, our rivers and lakes are under threat.
Over half of our monitored rivers are unsafe for swimming, one-third of our lakes are unhealthy, and two-thirds of our native freshwater fish species are at risk or threatened with extinction. Some waterways suffer from toxic algal blooms, others are choking on sediment and faecal contamination, while others are drying up from over-extraction for irrigation.

Our rivers are dying before our very eyes.

The way we’ve treated our rivers and lakes betrays another kind of poverty of values when it comes to modern industrial farming and its methods. Most farmers love the land but those dairy corporations which pollute our rivers and streams have lost the love of the land that gives them their livelihood.

Their indefensible practices continue to be protected by powerful lobby groups and no government to date has been courageous enough to stand up against these destructive farming practices that are killing our rivers.

New Zealanders value clean water. Surveys show that water quality is our number one environmental concern. We want healthy waterways that we can swim and fish in.

It is possible. All it takes is the political courage.

This Christmas, the Government could start the clean up of our rivers and lakes by raising a levy on the commercial use of water, and introduce some basic minimum standards for water quality and intensive farming practice.

A levy would promote the wise use of our precious water resources and raise between $370-570m per year to contribute towards a nationwide riparian planting programme and a contestable fund for councils to improve their sewage treatment systems.

Instead of a fair charge on commercial water use the Government intends to massively subsidise further irrigation schemes that will lead to further dairy intensification and water quality reductions.

Today’s speech highlights the Government plans to further degrade our water.
In contrast, we will offer new hope based on an old value of love of the natural world in our quest to clean up our rivers.

Green economy

I want now to talk about the green economy. We need a strong resilient, no society is socially or environmentally sustainable if it’s not economically sustainable as well.

The Greens spent a lot of time this year designing an economic strategy that offers both a clear vision to navigate through these uncertain times and one that addresses the immediate challenges we face.
In response to the devastating Christchurch earthquakes, we designed a way to pay for the rebuild that didn’t put us further into debt increasing the chances of a credit downgrade. A temporary levy on income would have been the fairest way to pay for the Christchurch rebuild without adding further to record government debt.

Labour’s adoption of our capital gains tax policy this year was another welcome step towards its eventual introduction. A comprehensive tax on capital gains (excluding the family home) would raise revenue to help balance the books but, more importantly, it would close the largest remaining loophole in our tax system.

A comprehensive tax on capital gains will start to address the growing inequality in New Zealand and make homes more affordable for first-time homebuyers. It would also give the productive sector a much-needed injection of capital seeking out better returns once that the tax-advantages of property investment are neutralised.

We have proposed a jobs-rich alternative to the National Government’s plan to sell off the last of our best state assets. By partnering our state-owned energy companies with cleantech entrepreneurs, they could become large-scale exporters of renewable energy technology. Our plan will keep our SOEs in public ownership, ensuring that their profits, headquarters, and research and development also stay right here in New Zealand.

Instead of steering our economy toward a sustainable prosperous and jobs rich future the agenda set out today by the Government keeps us trapped in a failing past.

Instead of embracing clean energy production and then putting our state-owned power companies to work by exporting our knowhow to the rest of the world, the Government is selling our best chance at a slice of the clean energy future.

New Zealand needs a pragmatic economic strategy to help us succeed in a competitive global economy — a global economy that is increasingly turning green.

The sale of our state owned power companies is wrong for many reasons, but for the Greens, it is the closing of the door on a coordinated clean energy future, driven by assets owned by all of us, and delivering benefits to everyone that is the worst offence.

If the assets are allowed to be sold we kill our best chance of a place in the new clean green global economy that is on our doorstep.

For that reason the Green Party plans to take all steps necessary, inside and outside of Parliament to stop the asset sales.

One option for trying to stop the sale of our assets is a Citizens Initiated Referendum. Such a campaign would require a broad coalition of those who want to protect our assets. We are prepared to be part of such a coalition.

We have already spoken to some organisations about this idea and there is preliminary interest.

We would be keen to work alongside with other parties in this house, NGOs, unions, community organisations and anyone else that wants to get involved.
The people of New Zealand want to keep our assets in public ownership. Working together, we can mount a campaign to do just that.

It is time for the voice of the people to override the voice of the Government on this issue.

Mr Speaker, the speech from the throne identified only one initiative to improve our savings record, an automatic enrolment exercise, but only if the books return to surplus.

The Green Party has proposed changes to KwiSaver that are not conditional on the Government’s books being in surplus and will have big benefits for savers.

Our plan to incentivise saving has picked up recommendations from the Government’s Savings Working Group to provide a public KiwiSaver provider utilising the economies of scale that already exist in the New Zealand Superannuation Fund to lower fees.

Likely fee savings of up to 40% compounding over the life of a typical KiwiSaver investment would boost KiwiSavers nest eggs by up to $140,000 on retirement.

By ensuring there is a value-for-money public provider in the market, we can do for superannuation savings what Kiwibank has done for home mortgages.
Taken altogether, we offered voters a comprehensive economic plan to create decent jobs, add resilience to our economy, and protect our natural environment. It is a plan for clean green prosperity for all New Zealanders.
I believe we can have a country with a smart economy that protects our natural capital and shares our prosperity fairly. Our work towards this vision of a compassionate yet highly dynamic economy is only just beginning.

We offer new hope for a clean economy based on some old Christmas values of caring for each other and caring for the natural world.

The Greens in this term of Parliament

Looking ahead to the next three year term of Parliament, the Greens will stay true to our values including those found in a manger some two thousand years ago. We will work constructively with others where we find common ground, and we will be a vigorous opposition to the Government where we disagree.

The Greens will offer new hope of a different more compelling vision of a richer New Zealand; a richer New Zealand where we value all our people and our environment while having a prosperous economy.

Our place in this Parliament as the third biggest party reflects the truth that we represent a movement whose time is coming.

We’re offering leadership on the things that matter the most. We’re about putting values back into the heart of politics.

The Green Parties approach to the 50th Parliament is fourfold.

Firstly, where we can find agreement we will work with the Government through our memorandum of understanding to continue good projects like our home insulation scheme, the cycle network and identifying toxic sites and cleaning them up, pest control, and supporting natural medicines.

New Zealanders are better off as a result of these projects and we hope we can extend the range of work into new areas relating to our key election priorities of rivers, jobs and kids. I look forward to delivering good green change through this arrangement in this term.

Secondly, on important issues where we fundamentally disagree with the Government we will lead opposition to it both inside and outside Parliament.

The Greens have a proven record inside Parliament of keeping government accountable and we will work with other opposition parties to achieve this, but we also campaign outside Parliament.

Maintaining our connection to community opposition to the Governments agenda is a key component of who we are and how we operate.

Last Parliament we were part of the successful public campaign to stop mining in our beautiful national parks. This Parliament we intend to be part of the public campaign that will stop asset sales.

Thirdly, we will set the agenda on the issues that matter. Ideas matter in politics and the green movement has moved the public debate a long way from where it was even a decade ago.

People are looking to Green parties to offer solutions the old parties have failed to deliver. We are a movement whose time has come because our ideas and answers are relevant to the specific problems we now face.

We think New Zealand should be a proud leader of the global green transition. We have a history of being a leader of social, environmental and economic reform and we can again reshape our society and be world leaders.

Fourthly we will be a party that gives a voice to those who need it. I am enormously proud that Mojo Mathers has joined our caucus and become the first deaf MP our country has had. 700,000 New Zealanders have a hearing impairment and they deserve representation.

I am also proud that 6 out of 7 of our new MPs are women and that over 50 percent of our caucus is made up of women. It is disappointing that the representation of women in this Parliament outside the Greens has actually declined.

We also provide a voice through means other than direct representation. More than any other party the Greens are active in social media and online. We want to see a more modern Parliament that embraces new technology and provides a range of opportunities for all New Zealanders to be active in politics.

The low voter enrolment and turn out in the last election is proof that whole sections of New Zealanders are switched off from politics. Modernising Parliament and our processes to give those people a voice will be a key objective for us this term.

It is not surprising that many people feel that politics are irrelevant to them when we insist on sticking to anachronistic parliamentary traditions such as the oath which is about being faithful to the queen.

It doesn’t make sense for us to pledge allegiance to a Queen who lives thousands of miles away and to ignore the founding document of Aoteroa/New Zealand – Ti Tiriti o Waitangi.

New Zealand has a unique and vibrant culture of our own and we need to modernise our parliamentary practices to reflect this.

Hope and thanks

This Christmas, the Green Party wants to put hope back into the lives of all those who have not done so well out of the last thirty years and include those who believe in a more sustainable, more compassionate way to live together.
Michael Joseph Savage sought to unite as many people as possible behind a common dream of a better and fairer society. We share his dream.

I want to wish you all, Members of the Government, the Opposition, the Gallery, all those cleaners, messengers, security guards and staff who get up each day and make Parliament happen a happy Christmas.

I want to thank the people of New Zealand in whose service we are and wish you all a very happy and hopeful Christmas.

We will work hard and smart to repay the faith you’ve put in us to deliver a richer New Zealand with a smart green economy that works for everyone.

Christmas is the season of new hope. The Greens bring new hope that the Christmas values of love and compassion, truth and justice, and an awe and respect for the natural world can rise to the top of the government’s agenda.

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