James Shaw, 2016 AGM speech - Change Starts Now

Kia tau te rangimārie o te Rangi e tū nei

o Papatūānuku e takoto nei

o te Taiao e awhi nei

ki runga i a tātou.

Tīhei mauri ora!

He mihi nui ki ngā mana whenua o tēnei takiwā, Ngāi Tahu, Tuahuriri, tēnā koutou katoa mō tō manaakitanga.                                                                        

Ki a koutou e te whānau o Te Rōpū Kākāriki, harikoa ana ahau ki te kite i a koutou i tēnei rā.

Ka mihi hoki ki a koe Andrew, me te rōpū reipa, tēnā koutou.


Nō reira, tēnā tātou katoa.

This is the moment.

When New Zealand elects the first Labour – Green government in 18 months, this is the moment we will remember.

We will look to the agreement that we signed with Labour this week.

We will look to when Andrew Little joined us at our AGM.

We will look to the moment when we sent a message of hope to New Zealand that change is coming.

Andrew, I welcome you here today. We welcome you. Thank you for coming.

In the time that I’ve gotten to know you, you’ve demonstrated to me that you’re a person of great integrity. You are someone who brings people together. And you don’t shy away from trying to tackle the really difficult challenges.

That’s why I want to work with you. And that’s why I felt I could sign our agreement with you this week on behalf of the Green Party.

Like us, Labour has a commitment to taking on the tough problems, the long term structural challenges in our society: the economy, health, education, jobs, the environment.

Labour also has a track record in government of having done that – the Super Fund, Working for Families, Kiwisaver – these are multi-decade solutions to structural challenges in New Zealand society.

That’s why this Memorandum of Understanding between Labour and the Greens is so important.

It’s why Andrew’s presence here today is a break in the clouds.

Labour and the Greens have different histories. We have different values. We don’t agree on everything.

But we share a belief in the ability of government to transform things for the better. To find real solutions to real problems.

To find jobs and homes and hope for those that need them.

The first Labour Government helped transform New Zealand into the great, caring compassionate society that many of us were born into.

Over the months I’ve been in Parliament, and particularly in the year I’ve been Co-leader, I’ve travelled a lot around the country.

And one of the things that has really struck me has been the growing sense of discomfort about what kind of country we’re becoming.

Families living in cars and garages. Poisoned rivers. Saudi sheep scandals.

From the doorsteps of suburban New Zealand to corporate boardrooms, people are telling me that this doesn’t feel like the country they grew up in.

And it’s not the country we want to become.

It doesn’t sit with our sense of compassion and fairness, our love of our land, of how we think about ourselves.

My hope is that with the first Labour-Green government we’ll find ourselves again.

Since we signed our agreement with Labour, some commentators have asked me – why not go with National?

My answer is that in eight years, we’ve seen no evidence that National are willing or able to tackle the big challenges.

They have dealt with the superficial, they have allowed and encouraged the big structural problems to grow – they have simply plastered over the cracks. 

When they should have been building houses.

My answer is that there is no substance to what they do. Their focus is on making it sound like they’re a good government, not actually being one.

They are more concerned about managing the politics around serious issues like poverty and pollution than they are about solving the problems.

This government wants us in a perpetual state of distraction over what it pretends to be doing.

Faced with the really big challenges in front of New Zealand and the world today the National Government throws its hands up in defeat, or resorts to playground-style “she did it” blame tactics.

My answer is that in fact their real “accomplishments” are things they never talk about.


The poisoning of our lands and waters.
The rapid decline and threat of extinction for hundreds of our native species.
A catastrophic increase in our greenhouse gas emissions.
More and more trucks clogging our roads.
A housing crisis and a homelessness crisis.
Hundreds of thousands of children growing up in poverty.

These are things they never campaigned on, never sought a mandate for, because they are things that the majority of New Zealanders oppose.

But they are the real legacy of this Government.

The challenge of government lies in actually confronting and solving those very real problems.

In the last few weeks we’ve learned that the Minister of Primary Industries can’t do anything to prevent illegal overfishing and dumping of fish stocks.

The Housing Ministers – there are three of them, because no single person can create a housing crisis this terrible on their own – can’t do anything about the homeless crisis.

The Social Development Minister can’t do anything about child poverty.

The Finance Minister can’t do anything about the property bubble.

All of their knowledge and talent and ingenuity is dedicated to pretending these aren’t real problems, and then coming up with pretend solutions to them.

Plastering over the cracks.

But these are real problems that cause real damage to our wildlife and our precious places, to the economy, to jobs and to the social fabric of New Zealand.

Whenever National is confronted with these real problems, their ideological blinkers get in the way and they pretend they’re powerless.

That is why we need change. And change is coming.

I want to give New Zealand a better vision of the future.

It’s a future where, on your weekends away, you’ll go to sleep at night safely knowing that the same beach that you’re enjoying now will still be here for future generations, unthreatened by rising seas.

In the morning, you’ll be woken by a dawn chorus from flocks of birds that once bordered on extinction. 

After lunch you’ll pack the family into your electric car and head safely home on uncongested roads while your kids count the containers on the freight trains running on the tracks alongside you.

If you’ve got time, you might even stop by a river on your way home – and actually swim in it!

On Monday morning in New Zealand, you’ll catch the tram into town, and head off to some social enterprise or a clean-tech start-up, for a day of meaningful work, making the world just a little bit better and, while you’re at it, earning a fair day’s pay.

When you’re done, you’ll head back to your warm, dry, family home, a place you can call your own, secure in the knowledge that at the end of the month you’ve got enough to pay the rent or the mortgage and still put plenty of food on the table.

Your neighbours will be from all walks of life. The children of Syrian refugees will play with those of Chinese migrants, Pasifika and Tangata Whenua and seventh generation Pakeha.

Some will be doing well, some will be getting by.

But they’re you’re neighbours, and when someone gets into trouble, you pitch in to help out. Our communities will be connected, caring.

That’s the country I want to live in. That’s the future I’m committed to.

It’s not flashy or grandiose. It’s not science fiction. It’s just a better world and it is entirely possible.

If we change the Government. And change is coming.

And when people say to me, “OK then, I’ll vote for change, but why should I vote Green?” I’ll say to them, “I’m glad you asked me that question, Andrew!”

You should vote Green because we’ll protect our lakes and beaches and sea beds, because we’ll bring our endangered species back from the brink of extinction.

You should vote Green because we will clean up our rivers and make sure that those who profit from the use of water recognise that nature doesn’t come for free.

We will stop pretending that climate change isn’t a problem. Isn’t, in fact, the greatest challenge of our time. Of all time.

You should vote Green because the Green Party can and will start one of the most important shifts to take place in New Zealand over the next fifty years – the transition to a low carbon economy.

You should vote Green because we can and will build an economy and a society that works for everyone.

And you should vote Green because we will put the people of New Zealand back at the heart of our democracy.

We want policies to be written by experts and policy specialists, not lobbyists.

We want the voices of children, families and communities to be heard.

And we want Te Tiriti to be properly recognised – in practice – not just in words.

The difference between the Green Party and National is that we know that New Zealand can be the fairer, smarter and cleaner place that all Kiwis want.

National is still making excuses for why we can’t.

But changing the Government isn’t just about Metiria and me, and it’s not just about Andrew and Annette.

It’s about you.

I believe that a Labour - Green Government after next year’s General Election is entirely possible.

There’s only about five points in it, between the Labour-Green bloc and National, and I believe that the momentum building behind us, as a credible, stable alternative government, could get us over the line.

But I gotta tell you, we need to get real about what we’re up against.

National has built a formidable political machine, with millions of dollars and powerful vested interests behind it who are desperate to preserve the status quo.

In order to take on this machine, we need you. And we’re going to need everything you’ve got.

We need you on the streets, we need you on the phones, we need you on Facebook, on Instagram, at parties, spreading the word, building the movement for change.

Sure, we don’t have millions of dollars, but we’ve got two important tools at our disposal that National doesn’t.

The first thing we’ve got, which National demonstrably doesn’t, is vision.

A vision of a truly sustainable and inclusive country that, actually, all Kiwis want.

And that is much, much more potent than National’s line that this is as good as it gets.

And the second thing we’ve got, is you.

It’s time for a Government that cares. It’s time for government that puts our people and our natural world at the centre of everything it does.

It’s time for a Government that realises that when our environment and society is stronger, our economy is stronger.

It is time to change the Government. And change is coming.

Nō reira, tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou, tēnā tātou katoa.