List MP / Co-Leader
Spokesperson for: Buy Kiwi Made, Commerce, Electoral Reform,
Finance and Revenue, Land Information, Regional Development and Small Business,
Superannuation, Sustainable Economics, State Services, Statistics, Tourism,
Born: 1957 Died: 2005
Campaigning, community and co-leadership
In 1972, a fifteen year old started an Ecology Action group at his school in
Christchurch, and used the swimming pool changing sheds to store huge piles of
newspaper - enough to delay the start of the school swimming season for a week.
his bike, around 1975
A year later he joined the Values Party at a recruitment stall, to
the strains of Tom Lehrer singing: If you visit American city you will find
it very pretty. Just two things of which you must beware - don't drink the water
and don't breath the air.
And just one year later, at the ripe age of eighteen, he cycled from
Christchurch to Nelson - to become the campaign manager for the local Values
Rod Donald, Green Party Co-Leader, describes another long journey - his path
to the Beehive - as a 'solid apprenticeship'.
At sixteen years old he had already set his sights on a seat in central
government, his ambition sparked by an early interest in environmentalism. More
specifically, he explains, urban environmentalism. For over thirty years he has
focused on community-based initiatives such as recycling, co-operative housing
and fair and sustainable trading. "But don't ask me to name tree species!" he
He remembers debating issues with his parents while still at intermediate
school, and acknowledged in his maiden speech in Parliament on 26 February 1997,
after polling over 7,000 votes in Banks Peninsula as a first time candidate: "I
know they were very disappointed when I skipped bursary exams to help Values
[the forerunner of today's Green Party] in 1975. Their concern grew when I
became an environmental campaigner instead of going to university."
"School Ecology Group delays swimming season by a
Notwithstanding parental concern, after his rapid introduction to political
campaigning in Nelson and a stint on an organic farm in the region, Rod returned
to Christchurch. He worked at the Canterbury Environment Centre, editing the
Canterbury Environment Journal. He moved into the inner city to live in the Avon
Loop and got involved with the local Residents' Association to set up their
recycling centre. Running the local accommodation service, he encouraged people
"of like mind" to move into the area. By 1978 there were around 20 homes in a
community of 120 who formed a loose community within a community, sharing good
times and a common vision of sustainable living. Every week they would meet at
Rod's house for a 'Community Crumble'.
Piko Health Foods
The twenty houses represented enough of a critical mass to kick off their own
newspaper - Loopie News - and small business, Piko Wholefoods. "After six months
we were making enough money to actually pay people," Rod remembers. Their
success grew. Just a year later Piko needed to expand - and swapped premises
with the dairy next door, after buying the building it was in.
The community protested against, and halted, two motorways proposed to run
right through the heart of their neighbourhood. Inner city planning issues
became something Rod understood well.
Another protest action included the 1981 Springbok Tour, which dominated
Rod's life for a short period.
Other voluntary organisations were quick to call on the talent and energy of
this young Christchurch activist.
of the 1992 Trade Aid Just Jute campaign
Through Piko, Rod became involved with Trade Aid after joining one of their
volunteer committees. Fair trade became another strand in his ever-broadening
range of interests and expertise.
Local housing issues became another when he helped to set up a local Tenants'
Protection Association. This move had the unexpected side benefit of introducing
him to his partner Nicola (with whom he now has three daughters), when she
worked there for a year.
It was time to focus on his family. Rod eased himself out of community
ventures and he and Nicola moved out of the co-operative housing trust (which he
had helped set up) to a cottage close by. Rod was working for the Tenants'
Protection Association when their first child Holly was born, but parenthood
inspired him to take a 'real job' - as National Publicity Officer for the Youth
Hostels Association, for two years.
From 1986-90 the family lived in Wellington as Rod worked as Public Affairs
Manager for Volunteer Service Abroad, and kept up his involvement with Trade Aid
as a volunteer in the Petone shop.
1990 marked a return to Christchurch, where Rod became NZ Manager of Trade
Aid Importers, a job he held until entering Parliament six years later.
Electoral Reform and the MMP campaign
It may be difficult to imagine Rod remaining politically neutral, but that's
exactly what was required from him for four years, 1989 - 1993, while he was the
National Spokesperson for the Electoral Reform Coalition.
Five years later, and now an acknowledged expert on MMP systems of
government, Rod commented:
Previously for most of the parliamentary term the two big parties had the
electorate to themselves. The local MP ruled the roost and constituents' only
choice was to go to an MP from a neighbouring electorate. Now individual
constituents and community groups can either go to their local constituency MP
or a list MP from one of the other parties, serving that electorate. … New
Zealand would be worse off without smaller parties in parliament. The diversity
which smaller parties offer truly makes for a House of
He had made a decision not to join any political party during the campaign
which brought about the mixed member proportional representation (MMP) electoral
system to New Zealand, but after the 1993 referendum, Rod considered joining
either Labour or the Greens. However, Greens policy and philosophy proved to be,
he says, 'closer to his heart'.
(front), 16 years old, helping to clean up the Heathcote
He joined the Greens early in 1994, and in June 1995 was encouraged to stand
for the position of Co-leader. He still looks mildly stunned when he recalls
being voted into that role so quickly after joining the party - not
surprisingly, as things didn't stop there. He was placed at number 10 on the
Alliance list and was elected to Parliament with Jeanette Fitzsimons in the 1996
He had first met Jeanette way back in 1976, at a Litter Control conference in
Auckland. "We were both trying to put our finger in the dyke," he recalls wryly
of their common desire to persuade industry to retain reusable glass bottles,
rather than introduce disposal plastic ones - in vain, of course.
Now Rod and Jeanette sit side by side in Parliament.
Rod, often wearing his trademark red braces, has a warm and comfortable
possum fur seat cover - a slightly incongruous sight in the traditional setting
of the Debating Chamber. He knows that serious campaigning on issues such as
fair trade is not incompatible with a gentle joke at the expense of
Walnuts and apples
Rod as a preschooler
Looking back on his career in May 2005, Rod acknowledged that it was hard to
reconcile being an MP with being a good parent and partner. He struggled
sometimes to reduce his personal consumption, he said, and being in Parliament
made it even more difficult due to the amount of flying round the country that
Rod's political roots were in building strong local communities, so it is
with regret he noted that it was difficult to get to know his neighbours in
Christchurch - he was hardly there.
When he did get home, he tried to maintain his vege garden, gather walnuts,
apples and pears and do a bit of cycling in Christchurch - all of which usually
done with a phone glued to his ear. He would have loved to have done some more
tramping and beach-camping.
But there was always work to be done - and Rod seemed to draw on endless
stocks of energy and enthusiasm and team-building skills to get that work
It was indeed quite a journey - from the newspaper-crammed changing sheds to
the Parliamentary Debating Chamber. Along the way, 'the solid apprenticeship'
produced a master of many trades - environmentalist, activist, parliamentarian,
husband and father.
Cartoon courtesy of Tom Scott and the Dominion Post