Commencement Speech - Start of Parliament 2019

Mr Speaker, on Election Night 2017, I said that, “New Zealanders have voted for change!”

The three Opposition parties that night commanded a majority of votes, and I said it was time for us to work together to create the Government of change that New Zealanders wanted.

E Te Māngai o Te Whare, tēnā koe.

Ki a koutou huri noa i Te Whare, ngā mihi o te wā ki a koutou katoa.

Mr Speaker, on Election Night 2017, I said that, “New Zealanders have voted for change!”

The three Opposition parties that night commanded a majority of votes, and I said it was time for us to work together to create the Government of change that New Zealanders wanted.

Four weeks later the Deputy Prime Minister said that there had been a choice, “between a modified status quo or for change”.

Change, Mr Speaker.

This Government – our Government, the first that the Greens have been a part of – was elected on the basis of change, to ensure a good future for all New Zealanders.

To end child poverty.

To reverse the widening gap between the haves and the have nots.

To ensure that people’s wages are actually enough to make ends meet.

We were elected to fix the housing crisis.

To make certain that every New Zealander has a roof over their head and a warm, dry home they can call their own, whether they rent or own.

We were elected to reverse the epidemic of mental ill health sweeping our nation.

To get people with drug problems out of prison and into care.

Our Government – and the Green Party that Marama Davidson and I are proud to lead as part of it – was given a mandate to bring about equality for women – finally – and to stem the tide of domestic and sexual violence against them.

To honour Te Tiriti o Waitangi and to create a country where future New Zealanders can understand each other not just in Te Reo Pakeha, but Te Reo Maori as well.

We were elected to clean up our rivers.

To make the water coming out of our taps safe to drink.

To give sanctuary to the dolphins and the whales and the fish that swim in our oceans.

And to free them of the deluge of plastic waste that is choking them.

This Government was elected to restore our native forests and to save our endangered birds.

And this Government, our Government – we – were elected to make climate change history!


Mr Speaker, that is the change we campaigned on and that our Government was elected to bring about.

All of us on this side of the House want to be able to look our kids and grandkids in the eye and say we tried our best to create a good future for them.

And I know that some people are frustrated that things aren’t moving as fast as they could be.

But, Mr Speaker, can I just take a moment to say that if anyone still thinks the Green Party could be making more progress on any of these issues if we’d gone into partnership with a limping, conservative, fourth-term National Government whose central policy was the slow running down of public services, they’re beyond mistaken.

Because when you hear the Leader of the Opposition start the year with his exciting new idea of tax cuts – we’ve never heard that one before from the National Party, have we? – what he’s telling you is that he wants to cut funding for the doctors that keep us healthy and the midwives that deliver our children, and to cut funding for the teachers that educate our kids.

He’s been going around saying, “we’re going to build loads more roads and pay teachers more and cut taxes”.

And if Mr Bridges thinks he’s going to ride into Government on the back of that bandwagon, he’s going to need to be towed there by an entire blessing of unicorns.

Mr Speaker, it’s been widely reported over the summer that National wants nothing more than to talk about how we fund our public services.

Or as it’s commonly known – tax.   

OK. Let’s indulge them a little.

Let’s start by talking about Karen.

Karen is a renter, has a career and earns roughly the median wage.

Over the last ten years she’s earned about $450,000 and paid roughly $70,000 in tax to help pay for the public services we all rely on.

She budgets well and can manage the rent and other expenses but doesn’t have enough left over to save.

Then there’s Paul.

Paul also earns the median wage, but he’s a bit older than Karen.

Paul got lucky and managed to buy some rental property before house prices really started skyrocketing, about the time Karen entered the workforce ten years ago.

On the day Paul sells his rental property, he makes as much as Karen has earned in ten years - $450,000.

And he pays zero tax on that income.

And remember that Karen has paid $70,000 on hers.

What does Paul do?

He uses that as the deposit to buy two more houses.

And what does Karen do?

She keeps renting, because there is no way on God’s Green Earth that she’s going to be able to scrape together a deposit on $45,000 dollars a year.

Mr Speaker, that, in a nutshell, is why we have a large and growing wealth gap in New Zealand.

And it is undermining our ability to pay for the public services we all rely on.

Mr Speaker, the Green Party have long been calling for this fundamental imbalance to be addressed.

Every expert group in living memory has agreed with us.

But no government has been bold enough to actually do it.

But if we are to be the Government of change that New Zealanders wanted and elected, we must be bold.

The crises we face on multiple fronts – the wealth gap, the housing crisis, climate change – we cannot solve without fundamental reform.

These crises have been allowed to metastasize because generations of politicians have timidly tinkered rather than actually cut to the core of the problem.

And the consequences of that timidity are being felt by Karen and the hundreds of thousands of New Zealanders like her, stuck in Generation Rent.

So when the commentators pontificate about whether this Government can politically afford to do what no government before it has done, I ask, can we afford not to?

We were elected on a promise of change.

If we want to reduce the wealth gap, to fix the housing crisis and to build a more productive, high-wage economy, we need to tax income from capital the same way as we tax income from work.

The last question we should be asking ourselves is, ‘can we be re-elected if we do this?’

The only question we should be asking ourselves is, ‘do we deserve to be re-elected if we don’t?’


Mr Speaker, boldness is needed everywhere.

The vast majority of New Zealanders were delighted when the Prime Minister and my fellow Green Minister, Eugenie Sage, announced last year that we were phasing out single use plastic bags.

But they also know that plastic bags are only a tiny part of a much larger problem.

Enormous islands of plastic waste are spewing into our oceans all over the world.

Plastic has been found in the fish we eat.

We need to massively cut down what we use in the first place, as well as dispose of it properly.

So this year, Minister Sage will be leading the next phase of the war on waste.

Part of the solution will be to put a proper price on pollution and waste.

In its interim report last year, the Tax Working Group pointed out that New Zealand makes less use of pollution pricing than just about anywhere else in the OECD.

So it’s hardly surprising that we have some of the highest waste per capita in the OECD.

Mr Speaker, just as we don’t have a snowball’s chance in Australia of fixing inequality without taxing income from capital the same way we tax income from work, neither can we resolve our environmental challenges without putting a proper price on pollution and waste.

Simon Bridges says he wants the National Party he leads to have a strong environmental focus.

I look forward to seeing how he does trying to clean up our environment without making polluters pay.

People aren’t stupid.

They know when they’re being lied to.

But they also appreciate being told the truth. 

Mr Speaker, I believe that we lose nothing by being honest with New Zealanders.

The truth is that we can clean up our rivers and our oceans and our skies.

And it will involve changing the way we do things now.

We can make the switch from oil and coal to solar and wind.

We can have fast, comfortable and convenient electric trains and buses through our cities, and congestion-free roads for our electric cars.

My other fellow Green Minister, Julie Anne Genter, and our colleague Phil Twyford will this year be making some of the boldest investments in New Zealand’s future transport infrastructure ever.

We can replace our ageing freshwater and sewage pipes with new infrastructure that will be resilient to the effects of climate change and sea level rise.

We can rebuild our schools our hospitals to make them fit for purpose so everyone can have a good future.

In all these areas – transport, water pipes, schools and hospitals – just as with the tax system, successive governments have simply been too timid to do what really needs to be done to fix the problem.

They have preferred to kick it down the road.

To lump it on to future generations.

And here we are.

Mr Speaker, Congresswoman Ocasio-Cortez is making headlines in the United States calling for a Green New Deal that offers everyone a good future.

I would like to, in all modesty, mention that the Green Party first called for a Green New Deal here in New Zealand ten years ago.

We have a thirty year infrastructure deficit to deal with.

And we have an urgent need to build a new generation of infrastructure that is resilient to climate change and sea level rise.

We have the lowest cost of borrowing in recent history.

We have a public expectation that finally there is a Government willing to make the big investments not just for this generation, but for those to come as well.

We have no excuse not to. 


Mr Speaker, when the House resumed after the formation of Government in late 2017, I said, “It is 27 years since the Green Party was first founded, with the goal of bringing the principles of ecological wisdom, social responsibility, appropriate decision-making, and non-violence to New Zealand politics to solve the problems that traditional politics could not.

It has been a very long and a very winding road, but today the Green Party has arrived in Government.”

In the fourteen months since, our Government, Marama and I, and our Green colleagues, have been busy.

Our Government has nearly completed a top-to-tail review of our tax and welfare systems with a view to overhauling them this year.

Our Government has introduced a Families Package that will boost the incomes of 385,000 families by $75.00 every week and make it easier to send that child to school camp, or to afford extra school books. 

Our government has put 1900 families into public housing, so they have a roof over their head.  

We’ve made the lives of New Zealanders warmer with Winter Energy Payments.

Our Government has re-started the home insulation scheme.

We’ve introduced new standards for rental properties that mean our homes are healthy and not making our kids sick.

We’ve taken a huge step in launching, just yesterday, in Porirua, the pilot of the youth mental health scheme the Greens campaigned for.

Young people in Porirua will no longer have to book an appointment with their GP, join a long queue, and then pay around $150 for critical support that could save their life. That service is free, as it should be.

We’ve built a whole-of-government framework for tackling violence against women in the home.

We’ve given our native birds a fighting chance with the biggest increase in Conservation funding in sixteen years.

We’re investing billions in light rail, buses, cycling and walking to make it easier and safer to get around our cities.

Last year, our government said that fossil fuels our not our future.

This year, the green investment fund will make its first investments in the low-carbon economy of the future.

And, also this year, we will pass the Zero Carbon Act, hopefully with political consensus across the House.

Finally, we’ll have legally binding targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions and a politically neutral Climate Change Commission to guide us over the coming decades.

Mr Speaker, our Government has been busy.

But these few changes I have had time to list won’t, by themselves, result in the truly transformative outcomes that New Zealanders elected this Government to shepherd in.

As the Prime Minister said, we know that there is still so much more to do.

We are just getting warmed up.

But to do it we must, for God’s sake, be bold.

No reira, tena koutou, tena koutou, tena tatou katoa.

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