James Shaw: 2017 Parliamentary Commencement Speech

E te Māngai o te Whare, tēnā koe.

Ki a koutou ōku hoa Pāremata, huri noa i te Whare, ngā mihi o te tau hou ki a koutou katoa.

Mr Speaker,

The Prime Minister’s statement today contains a whole lot more boring half-measures and pointless tinkering around the edges, that won’t fix the big problems we’re facing, like housing affordability, homelessness, child poverty, and climate change.

He says he’ll encourage oil exploration, but hasn’t he noticed that most of the big oil companies are giving up on New Zealand because they don’t want to drill here?

The Prime Minister is acting like a salesman of fax machines. No one’s buying it.

He says he’s going to crack down on multi-national tax evasion.

What’s he been doing the last eight years?

He’s going to flog his hyper-targeted vulnerable children strategy, ignoring all the evidence that, actually, there isn’t going to be a dent in child poverty until family incomes start to rise.


If anything, today’s Statement to Parliament from the Prime Minister, like last week’s State of the Nation speeches, showed one thing:

We’ve got the vibe, they’ve got the shivers.

The Green and Labour Parties’ State of the Nation event showed that New Zealand has an energised, well-organised and ready government-in-waiting.

A government-in-waiting with values and a vision.

A vision of a country that is prosperous, inclusive, compassionate, innovative.

In his State of the Nation speech, Mr English announced that, if re-elected, his Government would invest in more police officers, thus matching other parties’ commitments to restoring vital public services that have been run down by his Government.

That was it. Providing his assessment of the state of the nation and laying out his vision for the future, the best he could do was to say “me too”.  


The day before that, he had announced that the Government will change on the 23rd of September.

And, I would like to thank him for continuing his predecessor’s convention of announcing the election date early in the year.

When this country does, finally, get a proper, written constitution, I hope that it will include a fixed election date.

Christmas has a fixed date – and it wasn’t chosen by the turkeys. 

The Prime Minister says this election is about growth.

Well, we’ve got growing greenhouse gas emissions.

Growing water pollution.

Growing endangered species lists.

Growing house price bubble.

Growing cost of living.

Growing dairy farm debt.

Growing unemployment.

We’ve got the kind of growth which, if it grew on your body, your doctor would be rushing you off to see a specialist pretty darn quick.

Under this National Government, we’ve got growth without prosperity.


Mr Speaker, I get irritable whenever somebody says in passing that “National are the party of business.”

Mr Speaker, a long time ago, I worked at one of the world’s largest accounting firms. I co-founded a small business that’s still going strong today. I’ve worked on projects and with people in 30 different countries.

And nowhere before have I seen contracts as badly written as the ones these guys write.

We found out last week, they put $9 million into a VC fund, got bought out for $10.2 million, so making a cool $1.2 million profit.

Meanwhile, their business partner, US tech billionaire Peter Thiel, invested $7 million – $2 million less than the Government – but made a $23 million profit.

Minus a $1 million dollar donation to charity, and Peter Theil’s citizenship papers came with a $22 million upside.

It’s a bit of a surprise that Peter Thiel doesn’t believe in Government, given how well he’s done out of this one.

He’s actually made twice as much as the Saudi Sheep Farmer – who only got $11 million from the National Government, in return for, um… in return for… I forget. What did we get out of that one again?

Oh, that’s right. Nothing at all! Maybe we should have thrown in citizenship papers, to sweeten the deal.

That way, he and Peter Thiel could both make their way quickly and easily through Customs, before sharing a cab to Sky City.

Party of business. Give me a break.


Mr Speaker, I want to talk about some businesses that are doing some good in the world.

Taupo Beef and Lamb, founded by Mike and Sharon Barton, is one of the leading environmentally friendly farms in the country.

They’re running low rates of stock, operating within the country’s tightest nitrogen limits, emitting half the methane of high-intensity, commodity farms – but are also able to charge a third more than the commodity farms for their product.

They’re not only not polluting the water, they’re actually cleaning up Lake Taupo as they turn a tidy profit.

Doing well, by doing good.

Samantha Jones and Hannah Duder, of Little Yellow Bird, make organic cotton, fair trade uniforms in India, for clients here in New Zealand.

Their business model also supports girls from the Indian communities in which Little Yellow Bird works, to stay in school; women to get trained for the workforce; and extends mirco-credit loans for women to start businesses.

Sam and Hannah are building a sustainable, ethical clothing brand that their customers here in New Zealand want to be a part of.

Doing well, but doing good.

Eat My Lunch, set up by Lisa Wong and Michael Meredith, operates a "buy one – give one" business model, where the lunch you buy yourself also buys one for a hungry kid at school.

Eat My Lunch currently supports nearly 40 schools with over 1,300 lunches being delivered every day.

Doing well, by doing good.

Zealong Tea, who have converted a Waikato dairy farm into New Zealand’s leading organic tea plantation, selling tea to China, at a huge premium – a premium they can charge as long as they can demonstrate the tea is 100% pure New Zealand, organic, pesticide-free, grown with pure water, clean air, rich soil.

Doing well, by doing good.

And, Mr Speaker, it’s not just start-ups and entrepreneurs who are doing well by doing good.

Airways Corporation has won international acclaim for an innovative flightpath management programme that has reduced airline carbon emissions by 37,000 tonnes every year.

They estimate this saves their customers $16 million in fuel costs.

Doing well, by doing good.

Z Energy, currently the number one retailer of concentrated dinosaur juice, has invested $21 million into building the country’s largest biofuel plant, turning our agriculture industry’s waste fat into low-carbon fuel.

Doing well, by doing good. 

Interface Inc., one of the world’s largest carpet manufacturers, is making nylon carpet from discarded fishing nets that are clogging up the reefs and ocean floors of the Philippines.

Interface actually doubled its revenues in the last 20 years, through their mission of becoming the first fully sustainable industrial enterprise in the world, and to showing the world how it’s done.

Doing well, by doing good.

These are the innovators, the social entrepreneurs, the pioneers who are showing the way.


And no doubt, Mr Speaker, my friends across the aisle will say in response to all of this, that seeing as the private sector and communities and charities are doing such great work, the Government therefore doesn’t need to act.

The invisible hand of the market is doing just fine.

Well, if that were true, if the invisible hand of the market were resolving all our challenges for us, why is it that New Zealand’s greenhouse gas emissions are 19% higher today than in 2008?

Why is it that you still can’t swim in 62% of our rivers without the risk of catching some horrible disease?

Why are people, all over New Zealand, now worried that the 5,000 people who were poisoned in Havelock North may represent some kind of canary in the mine, and that we may no longer be able to trust what comes out of our taps?

Why is it that we face a biodiversity crisis, with 90% of our seabirds and 74% of our native freshwater fish at risk of extinction?

Why is it that around one third of all plant and animal species are threatened or at risk?

Why is it that Auckland is the fourth most unaffordable city in the world to live in?

Why is it, that at a time of low inflation, living costs are exceeding families’ ability to meet them?

Why is it that kids are still going hungry at school? Or living in cars?

It’s because these people, the innovators and the social entrepreneurs and the pioneers, don’t have a Government that backs them – or the future that they represent.

The Prime Minister’s statement today shows, once again, that we have a Government that looks to flog enough dead horses to fill an entire animal graveyard – more offshore oil exploration; new coal mines; high-intensity, high-pollution, low value, commodity agriculture.

A Government that believes it has reached the limit of what it can do to lift its own people out of poverty and into greater opportunity.


Well, just as there are businesses that are showing us what real leadership looks like, so too are the governments of other countries around the world.

Ireland will be the first country in the world to divest all public money from fossil fuels.

National won’t go there. 

Dutch trains will now be 100% powered by renewable wind energy.

In New Zealand, we’re ditching electric and aiming for 100% diesel-powered freight trains!  

Canada has put a NZ$53 per tonne price on carbon emissions.

National is too timid to put a proper price on pollution.

The UK introduced a five pence charge on plastic shopping bags and within six months saw a drop of 85% in plastic bag use.

National doesn’t want to be seen near that kind of thing.

The Japanese passed a Recycling Act in 2001 – 16 years ago! – that means that they now send only 5% of their waste to landfill. They recycle 98% of all metals, metals which are valuable commodities for other industries.

New Zealand? Tumbleweed.

In Germany the fourth largest manufacturer of motor vehicles in the world, you won’t even be able to buy a combustion engine vehicle after 2030. In the Netherlands and in Norway, you won’t be able to buy a fossil fuelled car after 2025 – only eight years from now.

And in New Zealand? The National Government goal is to get nearly 2% of all cars on the road to be electric, by 2021.

Wow. Such vision. Many ambition. Very leadership.

As the former Saudi Oil Minister once said, “The Stone Age didn’t end for lack of stone, and the oil age will end long before the world runs out of oil.”

We have a Government that is stuck in the Stone Age, too timid, too ignorant or too scared of the vested interests it represents to put in place policies that have been proven to work in other countries – policies that were often put in place by conservative parties!


Mr Speaker, the Prime Minister’s predecessor famously said that, at least when it came to climate change, New Zealand should not be a leader, but a fast follower.

Well, this Government isn’t even following, let alone fast.

And because they don’t want New Zealand to be a leader, other countries are taking advantage of what could be the greatest economic opportunity of a generation – the opportunity of a sustainable, smart, green economy that works for and includes everyone.


Mr Speaker, Kiwis want to be leaders.

I’m inspired by the huge crowd that came together to fund the purchase of Awaroa Beach and add it to our National Parks.

Whilst we’re on National Parks, I’m inspired by those who forced the Government to abandon its plans to open the most precious parts of our National Parks to mining, a few years back.

Like Ricky Baker’s buddy Hec, they think they New Zealand is “majestical”, and they want to keep it that way.

I am inspired by the people who last year forced the Government to accept even a handful more of those displaced, shellshocked refugees from Syria, in the midst of the greatest humanitarian crisis since World War Two.

And I’m inspired by the innovators and the social entrepreneurs who are building a better world from the ground up. 


Mr Speaker, that’s why we need to change the Government.

New Zealanders deserve a Government that backs them to be leaders.

Today’s statement by the Prime Minister just shows how stuck in the past this Government is.

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