Maiden Speech Eugenie Sage, Green MP

Speech – Green Party

When I first walked onto Parliament’s grounds as a member of this House last November, I heard a tui, practising its scales below the Beehive. The tui’s chorus is sweeter than anything I might say in this chamber so I took its song as auspicious. A sign …Maiden Speech Eugenie Sage, Green MP

Tēnā koe Mr Speaker and congratulations on your election.

Tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou katoa

I greet the sky above and the air we breathe. I greet the seas that surround us and the lands on which we stand.

I bring this stone from the Waimakariri to remind me of Canterbury’s great rivers and to anchor me here. The Waimakariri replenishes the aquifers which give Christchurch its water. The Waiwhetu aquifer and the Orongorongo and Wainuiomata rivers provide us with the water we drink in this House.

I acknowledge the rivers, streams, lakes, wetlands and aquifers throughout Aotearoa for all the life they sustain. Without clean and healthy waterways and a temperate life-sustaining climate, we are nothing.

When I first walked onto Parliament’s grounds as a member of this House last November, I heard a tui, practising its scales below the Beehive. The tui’s chorus is sweeter than anything I might say in this chamber so I took its song as auspicious. A sign that now tui have come to Parliament, their oral petitions would encourage this House to give more serious attention to our wild landscapes and our indigenous plants and animals whose ancestry and tenure in these islands is so much longer than our own.

70 million years of geographic isolation of Aotearoa from other parts of Gondwana produced some of the world’s oldest and most unusual life forms. Trees such as the kahikatea, fruit basket of the forest, and animals such as the tuatara, weta, and the carnivorous Powelliphanta land snails.

We can and must invest more in safeguarding the first inhabitants of Aotearoa and the places where they live. We have no treaty with them but they define who we are. They are what makes New Zealand so distinctive in the eyes of the world.

As Sir Paul Callaghan recognised recently, our natural heritage and clean environment are among the assets capable of attracting the world’s best thinkers and brightest minds to New Zealand, to help build our future.

Working to protect nature’s healthy functioning is what inspires and motivates me.

As a JAFA who rolled south and stayed, I live on the slopes of Te Ahu Patiki/Mt Herbert in Whakaraupo, the Lyttelton harbour basin. I want to acknowledge the work of two earlier Canterbury members who helped shape a pākehā land ethic, Thomas Henry Potts and Harry Ell.

Thomas Potts was the member for Mt Herbert and a member of this House from 1866 to1870. He was an observant naturalist and ornithologist and the first parliamentarian to press for forest conservation. Recognising kiwi’s role in the forest ecosystem Potts sought their legal protection when thousands were being slaughtered to provide feathers for ladies’ muffs. And Potts advocated for national domains, the forerunners of national parks.

In October 1868 his successful motion that the “Government ascertain the present condition of the forests of the Colony, with a view to their better conservation” was the first step in the eventual establishment of forest reserves and a national system of public protected lands.

Potts’ vision was carried forward by Harry Ell, the member for Christchurch South. Ell’s persistent representations gave us the Scenery Preservation Act of 1903. It was New Zealand’s first statute devoted to establishing reserves specifically for the purpose of nature conservation, rather than soil and water conservation. In 1903 when colonial New Zealand was more concerned with developing agricultural land and converting forests to pasture, the legislation was remarkable.

Much of that land was seized or coerced from Māori and we are still working through the process of reconciliation and recompense to truly honour Te Tiriti o Waitangi.

This year we celebrate 125 years of national parks in New Zealand thanks to the far sighted initiative of Ngāti Tūwharetoa, and their paramount chief Te Heuheu Tukino IV. Their gift of the sacred peaks of Tongariro, Ngauruhoe, and Ruapehu to the Crown in 1887 created New Zealand’s first national park.

Today our national parks and other protected lands are the basis of our tourism industry, places of recreation and inspiration. They provide ecosystem services of incalculable value.

We could be similarly visionary today by establishing large marine protected areas covering the submarine volcanoes and islands of the Kermadecs, Antarctica’s Ross Sea, and areas important to the 85 seabird species that breed in New Zealand waters.

We could pass legislation to protect our native plants, which are unprotected outside parks and reserves.

If Potts and Ell were alive today I would hope they would be encouraged by the thousands of hours volunteers devote each week to improving the prospects for wild nature planting stream banks, killing possums, and controlling weeds. I hope they would be encouraged by innovative farmers who are growing food and fibre while reducing their water use and nutrient losses.

What would they make of sending chemical cocktails deep underground to frack the earth and extract hydrocarbons, the ploughing under of the Mackenzie Basin’s dryland plants for yet more dairy pasture, and the killing of 14,000 albatross and hundreds of fur seals, dolphins and sea lions each year as fisheries bycatch?

Throughout lowland New Zealand, rivers, lakes, and streams are no longer fit for swimming, fishing or harvesting kai. The waters of Lake Horowhenua were recently described as being able to kill animals and small children. Last weekend, the Canterbury District Health Board warned people to avoid reaches of the Hakatere/Ashburton, Ashley and Waimakariri rivers because of toxic cynobacteria which can cause skin rashes, nausea and numbness.

We can destroy our lands and water for the profits of a few. Or we can recognise the vastly higher value to our citizens and visitors of making the clean, green image real.

We need smarter regulation strong national policies and environmental standards on freshwater, not the tissue paper national policy statement we now have. We need to limit dairy cow numbers in sensitive catchments such as the Mackenzie Basin and Te Waihora. And we need to charge for the commercial use of water to help fund sustainability initiatives.

We can prevent Southland’s wildlife-rich Waituna Lagoon from “flipping” to become an algal soup. We can say no new dams on wild rivers. We can fund the Department of Conservation properly. Then it can control predators on more than the 12 percent of the conservation estate that it does currently. By restoring the health of rivers, lakes and estuaries we can properly implement Article 2 of Te Tiriti so that Māori can have full enjoyment of forests and fisheries. New Zealanders have elected and put their trust in us to serve and value both present and future generations. That means enacting the policies and programmes to stabilise rising global temperatures. It is essential and urgent that we find the collective political will to do this.

Irreversible changes in the Earth’s climatically sensitive systems would make life more challenging than living with a Fukushima or Chernobyl.

Thinking global and acting local by curtailing further expansion of coal mining in New Zealand would help safeguard the climate. It would also retain productive farmland and natural treasures.

The coal strata of the Buller coal plateaux were laid down 40-50 million years ago. A handful of human generations have used a sizeable part of this resource. What are we leaving for future citizens – 50, 100, or 500 years from now?

Indian writer and activist Arundhati Roy describes our nearsightedness thus, “our inability to live entirely in the present, like most animals do, combined with our inability to see very far into the future makes us strange in-between creatures, neither beast nor prophet. Our amazing intelligence seems to have outstripped our instinct for survival. We plunder the earth hoping that accumulating material surplus will make up for that profound, unfathomable thing that we have lost.”

Non-governmental and community organisations such as Forest and Bird, ECO, Federated Mountain Clubs, the Environmental Defence Society, local protection groups, and many iwi and hapu are a vital thin green line in seeking to protect the future by safeguarding wildness and nature’s healthy functioning.

Activism for earth justice and the defence of mauri takes determination, hard work and a thick skin. Corporations like to marginalise you as “nimbies”, who are against “progress”. I honour all those who act and organise to protect oceans, keep coal in the ground and prevent destructive and poorly conceived development proposals from Manapouri to Meridian’s Mokihinui dam. All strength to you.

I acknowledge former Forest and Bird colleagues including the late Jacqui Barrington, friend of kererū and foe of magpies, and the late, great Kevin Smith, a keen thinker who sharpened my activism.

I am proud to represent a Party which recognises the seriousness of the ecological and climate crisis and the need for sustained and comprehensive political action.

I am proud to represent people who understand that our preoccupation with economic growth is a major part of the problem; and that progress is better measured by social and environmental wellbeing than by GDP.

As a List MP I would not be here without the hard work of Green Party members, staff and supporters, particularly by the Aoraki Greens. Thank you for trusting me to be a clear voice for the principles of the Green kaupapa.

To my Green caucus colleagues I value your sense of urgency, passion for change and your laughter. I thank Jeanette Fitzsimons for being such an example of serenity and calm wisdom. Jeanette and Rod Donald helped build strong foundations for the Party. I remember Rod for his boundless energy and his championing of electoral reform and MMP. We are a much better Parliament because of that.

I thank the officers and staff of Parliament throughout the precinct for their friendly help. Parliament’s effective functioning relies on your quiet work.

As a recent graduate arriving here to be a researcher in the mid 1980s from a patriarchal Forest Service, it was liberating seeing what the political energy and skills of the Labour women’s caucus could achieve for fairness and equality.

I look forward to working with members around the House.

I wouldn’t be here today, if we still had elected regional councillors in Canterbury. I thank all thirteen of my former councillor colleagues on Environment Canterbury for the practical lessons that politics is the art of the possible.

Robust debate in a council chamber shows that democracy is alive and well, just as it does in parliament. It does not mean council or parliament is dysfunctional.

I look forward to being a member of a House which recognises the fundamental principle of no taxation without representation and which restores regional democracy in Canterbury.

Next Wednesday we remember the 184 individuals who died and many others who were seriously injured in Christchurch this time last year. I acknowledge the families who are going through the hardest of tasks, rebuilding their lives after losing someone special. Kia kaha.

Coming from Christchurch where hundreds of heritage buildings have been demolished and concrete tilt slab risks becoming the dominant building style, it is a pleasure to work in such a beautiful historic building. The skills and craftsmanship evident in Parliament’s construction and the 1990s refurbishment and restoration show what is possible with a commitment to both seismic strengthening and heritage protection.

Christchurch’s rebuild will not be enhanced by more Government appointed commissioners or enlarging CERA. It would be enhanced by delegating more power and resources to the elected community boards to strengthen local democracy, decision making and accountability. This would embrace the spirit of neighbourliness which has got us through the quakes and the thousands of aftershocks.

The earthquakes are a reminder that Gaia doesn’t care very much about human survival. Using energy, water and other resources more efficiently, acting now to stabilise the climate, clean up our waterways, and conserve biodiversity will better protect our future and that of other species.

In closing, I thank friends and family who are here today or are watching on television for your decades of love and support. To my parents, my brothers John and Phillip and their families and the late Stephen, and my beloved partner Richard I love you all heaps. Thank you to my beautiful niece, Natalya for travelling so far to be here today. I dedicate my time in this House to working to help create a better future based on sustainability and greater respect for nature, community and democracy. Nō reira, tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou, tēnā tātou katoa. ENDS

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