You will never truly understand, from the pictures you’ve seen in the newspapers or on the six o-clock news, the sheer scale of the devastation wrought by Cyclone Gabrielle.
Two weeks ago, Marama and I were standing in our gumboots in the ruins of an apple orchard in Puketapu, in Hawke’s Bay.
The trees and posts were buried in a metre of silt. In some places, the silt piles were well over our heads.
The waterlines on the houses that hadn’t been washed away were two metres up, where the flood had been lapping at the upper floors.
The family we spoke to had spent hours on the roof of their home, waiting for the water to subside
Buried in the silt were wrecked cars, caravans, debris from houses further up the valley.
I’d like to begin today by acknowledging the fifteen people who lost their lives to, and the ten thousand people who were displaced by, Cyclone Gabrielle and the floods in Auckland and Tai Tokerau a couple of weeks prior.
New Zealand is now experiencing the reality of climate change.
Green Party Co-leaders have delivered a State of the Planet address at the start of the Parliamentary year, most years, for over two decades now.
The leaders of other political parties give speeches on the State of the Nation.
But the Greens’ view is that the state of any – and all – nations, and the people who live in them, is entirely dependent on a healthy environment.
So, welcome to this year’s State of the Planet address.
You’re here because you want to change Aotearoa for the better…
To play your part in building a future in which every aspect of our lives isn’t defined by a climate crisis…
Where we are protecting and restoring the natural world that surrounds us and supports us…
Where everyone has a roof over their heads and food on the table.
None of us here accept the world as it is. We see a world as it could be.
And we know that change will only happen if ordinary, committed people like you come together to shape it.
So, today, I want to talk as clearly and as plainly as I can about what is at stake this year.
About how we make this moment the turning point for real change.
About why climate action is on the ballot paper this year.
About what a stronger Green voice in Government will mean for our communities over the next five years, the next ten years, and beyond.
Just shy of six years ago, we made history.
Our party – a party started three decades ago by a small group of environmentalists and activists – entered government, with Ministers, for the first time.
Three years ago, we made history again.
We became the first Government support party ever to return to Parliament with more MPs.
It had never been done before.
And, you know what?
This year, we’re going to do it again.
Labour and National may be duking it out over the so-called ‘political centre’.
But this October, New Zealand will either…
Elect the most progressive, climate-focused government we have ever had…
A government that will not rest until we lift every family out of poverty…
A government that will place nature at the heart of everything we do…
A government that is guided by te Tiriti o Waitangi…
A government that confronts climate change with the urgency and the scale that it demands…
A government that has a strong Green heart beating at its centre…
Or… Hand the keys to the most reactionary race-baiting right-wing government we have seen in decades…
A government for the wealthy few, at the expense of many, not just in this generation but also those to come…
A government of climate inaction and delay.
And that is because there is one thing we know for sure:
No one party can win a majority on their own this election.
Just like Labour will need our support, the only way that Christopher Luxon can become Prime Minister is with the support of David Seymour and the ACT party.
An ACT party that has pledged to restart oil drilling in Maui dolphin habitats, ditch our climate targets, tear up te Tiriti o Waitangi, and cut taxes for the wealthiest few.
An ACT party which said of climate change only a few years ago, that the threat of more extreme weather events was, quote, “unproven conjectures."
Tell that to the people of Tai Tokerau and Auckland and Coromandel and Tairawhiti and Hawke’s Bay.
Even in the wake of these climate disasters, they dare to suggest that we should dismantle the entire framework that we have built, with bi-partisan support, to guide this country to a zero-emission, climate-resilient future.
The worst possible outcome that I can imagine from this year’s election is a National-ACT alliance in government.
It would be an alliance between parties addicted to fossil fuels and helping the wealthiest and the most powerful.
Families will be left struggling to make ends meet…
Schools and hospitals will be run into the ground…
Our natural world will be further eroded away…
The Crown’s obligations to Māori under te Tiriti will be dishonoured…
And our communities will be at more risk from more supercharged floods, storms, droughts, and fires.
Over the course of this election campaign, we can expect both National and ACT to promise simple fixes to complex problems.
To resort to fear.
To appeal to ‘ordinary working mums and dads’, only to turn their backs on them as they roll out policies to cater to the wealthiest and the most powerful.
I ask you to look carefully at who will make up the Cabinet in a National-ACT alliance and ask yourselves this:
Who do you want making those decisions that affect your life, and the lives of the people you love?
Now, I know I haven’t got every decision I’ve made in government right.
But I have brought my values into every decision that I have made.
Those decisions have set Aotearoa out on the path – finally – to a zero-carbon future.
Those decisions reflect who I am; my values, the things I hold dear.
I became an environmentalist on the 10th of July 1985.
Just before midnight, two explosions ripped through the hull of the Rainbow Warrior: Greenpeace’s flagship.
I was 12 years old at the time.
And the first I heard about it was at school the following day.
I remember the shock as my teacher explained what had happened.
Up until that point I had been pretty focused on my own immediate world.
But the bombing of the Rainbow Warrior was the moment I got a sense of what was going on in the world beyond my own.
I was shocked by it. I was outraged by it. And it changed the course of my life forever.
Five years later, in the middle of the 1990 election campaign, I joined the Green Party.
Two years after that I ran for office for the first time, for the Western Ward of the Wellington City Council.
I didn’t win – obviously – but the campaign taught me something important.
It taught me about bringing people together with a shared vision for the future.
And it made me realise that what matters most in politics isn't about the headlines, the meetings, or the speeches.
It is about people.
And I know that for many people watching right now, the struggle to put food on table, to pay the bills, is the concern that rises above all others.
It’s the worry that keeps you up at night and the first thought you have when you wake up in the morning.
And understandably so.
There is nothing more important than a warm, safe, affordable home, with food on the table, and the people we love.
Now, three decades after those first campaigns, we are on the cusp of a third term.
It is very easy to forget how far we’ve come since we were first entered government five and a half years ago.
When people ask me if we can do enough, quickly enough, to meet our emissions reduction targets, I have to remember that, before 2017, even the idea of legislated emissions reduction targets seemed completely out of reach.
I am proud – of all of us – that in the last five years we have taken more action on climate change than the past 30 years of Governments combined.
I am proud too that we delivered the biggest ever boost in funding to protect native plants and animals.
That we have provided more support for low-income families to make their homes warm and dry.
That we’ve helped tens of thousands of people to buy clean-running zero-emission vehicles, paid for by fees on the most polluting vehicles.
I am proud that we are taking coal out of every school in the country.
That most harmful of fuels that we’ve used since the Industrial Revolution began.
Gone from our schools. For good.
I am proud of Marama Davidson, who is changing the way the government works to help keep children, families and whānau safe at home.
And I’m proud of the ground we’ve gained in areas where we don’t have Ministers.
Pushing the Government to adopt Green policies on rainbow rights, alcohol regulation, seabed mining, and electoral reform.
I am proud of each and every one of our MPs.
I am struck not just by the impact they have had on people's lives, but by the breadth of issues on which they’re making a difference.
Making change happen in areas that benefit everyone…
No matter who you are, where you're from, what you look like, or who you love.
Is it enough?
Of course not! Not even close!
Climate pollution is not coming down fast enough.
Far too many families are forced to pay through the roof to rent cold, damp, and unhealthy homes.
The wildernesses and wildlife that we depend on for our very existence are disappearing before our eyes.
And the distribution of this country’s wealth is completely out of balance.
Right now, half of all New Zealanders own just two percent of all wealth in our country.
The top ten percent of New Zealanders hold around 60 percent of all wealth.
And how can it be that banks can make record profits, while tens of thousands of families struggle to make ends meet?
One of the great privileges of my job is that I get to travel around the country meeting people from all walks of life.
In these conversations – whether it is with firefighters or farmers, climate activists or families who lost everything in Cyclone Gabrielle – I hear the same thing:
A genuine and legitimate frustration with the pace of change.
I’ve got to tell you; it sure frustrates the heck out of me!
And I know that you are frustrated with a government that has stopped short of doing what it takes to tackle the big problems – whether we’re talking excess bank profits, skyrocketing rents, or worsening inequality.
It frustrates me also.
You’re fed up that in the middle of a climate emergency – that we declared – the government has extended a fossil fuel subsidy that will increase emissions and benefit the highest earners most of all.
So am I.
You’re frustrated that five years on, we still don’t have an agricultural emissions pricing proposal worthy of the paper it’s written on – that even some of the industry players who came up with it are threatening to walk away from.
That does my head in.
You’re frustrated that less than a year after I put in place the most comprehensive climate plan Aotearoa has ever had, the government is chipping away at it, without much of a plan to make up the shortfall.
Tell me about it!
And, as you know, I have been told many times to just walk away.
As recently as Thursday in fact.
By people with the well-intentioned but mistaken belief that walking away will make our government partners sit up and listen.
But Marama and I haven’t led the Green Party into government – twice – to give up the fight now.
We’ve done a pretty good job with the governments we have been given.
But with only two ministers, both outside Cabinet, we don’t always get what we want.
We get frustrated that the government could go further.
Could go faster.
We all know the challenges we face.
And we also know that the solutions to those challenges are the same as they ever were.
What is slowing us is not an absence of ideas.
What is slowing us is an absence of Green Ministers at the Cabinet table.
What is slowing us is a majority government.
What is slowing us is the ease with which the difficult decisions, about cutting emissions, protecting nature, and ending inequality, can be avoided.
I do not want another generation to have to inherit the burden of slow progress.
I want them to inherit a fair and inclusive Aotearoa and a thriving natural world to sustain them.
So, no, I will not walk away and give up now.
I will keep fighting for the government we need to make it happen.
The only way – the only way – to face the great challenges of our time with the urgency those challenges demand…
…Is to have more Green MPs in the next Parliament and more Green Ministers in the next Government.
Now, it is possible to find consensus in many areas of politics.
To work through differences and to find common ground to the benefit of all New Zealanders.
Consensus is a guiding principle of the Greens and it’s been a guiding principle in my work as a Minister.
I have spent the last five and half years pushing for the strongest possible climate action I can get with the governments I’ve been given.
I’ve had to make compromises along the way.
In a democracy, compromise is how you get any change at all.
But science doesn’t compromise.
Even though we have made incredible progress over the last five years…
Even though we are now one of the only countries in the world with a bipartisan agreement on climate targets…
We are still nowhere near where we need to be.
We cannot compromise any longer on the future of our planet.
The stakes are too high, the consequences of failure too great.
The past two years we’ve witnessed a seemingly never-ending cascade of climate-turbocharged disasters.
Canterbury, the West Coast, Nelson-Tasman, Tairāwhiti, Auckland, Waikato, and Northland.
The people of Aotearoa know from their lived experience, more than ever before, the immediacy of the climate crisis.
And they want solutions.
This year – 2023 – will be a climate change election.
And so, to those who want to work with us to form a government after the 14th of October, let me put this as simply as I can:
It will not be acceptable to the millions of people who are demanding bolder action; nor to the Green Party; nor to me…
If the next government fails to muster the courage and moral clarity to confront the climate crisis with the urgency it demands.
Every fraction of a degree matters.
Every tonne of climate pollution that is stopped matters.
We are in a climate emergency.
It is time for everyone to act like it.
There is no single solution to the climate crisis.
There will never be a moment when we can say we have done all we need to do, that we have won.
It will take changes, both big and small, that together add up to a cleaner, greener, safer future.
Rooftop solar and community wind turbines so that homes and communities can keep their power when the storms hit…
Stronger homes and bridges, built to handle more extreme weather…
Inclusive communities that have everything they need to support each other when the storms come…
Where people have the choice to walk or cycle – or hop on fast, frequent, affordable buses or trains – to meet their friends, or get to the shops, to school, to the park...
Buses and trains and cars and bikes that run on electricity, not fossil fuels…
Ways of producing food that are good for the planet, good for people, and good for farmers…
Thriving native forests and wetlands, healthy oceans, and green urban spaces…
These are the solutions to the climate crisis.
They also happen to bring with them a better quality of life and lower household bills!
We have all the technology we need.
We have the economic imperative.
We have the moral obligation.
We just need a government that will make it happen.
Over the next seven months the Green Party will set out our plan for an Aotearoa where…
Everyone has what they need to provide for their family and live a life of dignity…
Where our precious wildernesses are restored and protected so that they can protect us…
And where we are free from the threat of every-increasing floods and fires and droughts and storms.
Our message is simple: If you want a government that delivers that plan for Aotearoa, we need more Green MPs.
More Green MPs means more Green Ministers in Cabinet.
More Green Ministers means we will be at the table to influence the direction of the next government.
Let me put it another way: If you keep on doing what you’ve always done, you’ll keep on getting what you’ve always got!
Use it to deliver a government that will not settle until we end poverty in Aotearoa.
To make sure everyone can pay the bills, put food on the table, and keep the house warm.
To fix the power imbalance between renters and landlords, so that no one is forced to pay stratospheric rents live in damp, mouldy housing.
To restore our oceans to health and to stop the industrial-scale destruction of our precious marine life.
To protect our native birds and the forests they call home.
To finally end mining on conservation land once and for all.
And yes, to finally tax the unearned wealth of the top few percent and put that money to work building a fair society with strong public services and enough income support so everyone has enough to live on.
Ready to work with you.
Ready to fight alongside you.
Ready to finish the job we started in 2017.
This is a fight for all our futures!
So if you believe, as I believe, as we here believe, that now is the time to finally shake off the shackles of visionless government, and make good on the promise that we have made to current and future generations…
Nō reira, tēna koutou, tēna koutou, tēna tātou katoa.