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James Shaw speech to 2015 Green AGM

Hi. I’m James.

It is a huge privilege to be speaking here today.

I want to start by paying tribute to Russel and all the work he’s done for our party and our cause.

There’s this cliché about politics that all political careers end in failure. And it’s because the leaders of most political parties always cling onto their power until someone snatches it from them.

The Green Party and Russel are different.

When Russel became Co-leader we were always hovering around the 5% threshold of political oblivion.

Now we’re the third largest party in Parliament.

Russel leaves with an awesome legacy and every day I spend as Co-leader will be spent endeavouring to live up to it.

I’d also like to pay tribute to Metiria Turei, my Co-leader.

Some people have asked me questions like ‘What will you do once you’re ‘leader’ of the Green Party?’

Well, mostly I’m going to do whatever Metiria tells me to do. Same as before.

I want to tell you a little about myself.

I’m forty-two years old.

I was born in Wellington. I grew up there.

My mother was a history teacher.

She looked after me on her own for the first twelve years of my life.

She was – and still is – a unionist and a feminist, and we lived in the Aro Valley, so it was inevitable that I would join the Green Party.

I first heard about the Greens when I was sixteen.

It was an election year – 1990 - and the candidates from the parties came to my school for a debate.

The candidates from the two main parties disagreed a lot. But not about values, or policy.

Mostly they disagreed because they both wanted to be MP for Wellington, and only one of them could be.

But there was also a candidate from the Green Party – which had only been founded that year.

His name was Gary Reese.

He talked about the need for politics to be bigger than it is.

He talked about the madness of treating the environment as a fuel for the economy, pretending that it is limitless.

Pretending that the destruction of the ecosphere, which sustains us, has no consequences.

He said that, instead of working within the current political system, we needed to change the system itself.

His words and his values inspired me to join the Green Party.

In 1991 I ran for Wellington City Council as a Green candidate. I door-knocked in Karori wearing a paisley waistcoat.

It didn’t go that well.

But in 1993 I was the campaign manager for the Victoria University Student’s Association and we ran a nationwide campaign to mobilise students to vote for MMP.

That went very well.

I worked alongside some of the giants of our movement.

People like Rod Donald, who taught me that politics is hard work, but that it’s worth it, because we can change the system. 

We can win.

In 1997 I left New Zealand. I spent the next thirteen years working overseas, first in Brussels, then in London, and then just about everywhere.

I worked on poverty alleviation in the Andes and environmental protection in the Amazon.

I helped develop micro-hydroelectricity schemes in Indonesia and negotiated the protection of forestry preserves in the Himalayas.

My career has always been about bringing the values of the Green Party into the business world.

Since I returned to New Zealand in 2010 I’ve taken the skills and experience I learned in business and put them to work for the Green Party.

That’s what I want to do as Co-leader.

During this co-leadership campaign a lot of people from different sides of the political spectrum announced that I was the right-wing candidate.

I worked in the corporate sector in New York and London, so surely I must be a champion of capitalism and an enemy of socialism.

I was in London during the second half of 2008, during the global financial crisis, when the financial sectors of all of the advanced capitalist economies collapsed.

And then an amazing thing happened.

Their governments socialised them.

They decided that the financial sector – the heart of the free market capitalist system – would be guaranteed by the state.

When companies in that sector failed, they were rescued by the taxpayer.

This happened right here, in New Zealand.

The Government guaranteed deposits in all of our banks and financial institutions.

We spent over a billion dollars bailing out investors when some of those companies failed.

So I am not a hero of free market capitalism, because free market capitalism is dead. It has been dead for seven years.

The reality of politics in the wake of the global financial crisis is that there is no longer a struggle between capitalism and socialism.

What we have now is a hybrid model that takes some of the good but most of the bad elements of both systems.

We have an economy where profits are privatised but the risks - and the social and environmental costs - of that profit are socialised.

Paid for by the state. By the people.

It’s an economy based on rational irresponsibility.

It encourages people and companies to extract as much short term wealth as they can, from the environment or from their workers, regardless of the damage they cause, because they don’t have to pay for it.

Everyone else does. Now and for many generations.

There’s no name for this system that we now live under.

It’s not capitalism or neoliberalism.

And it’s not conservatism.

It’s not conservative to destroy all of your rivers and streams, and mine your oceans and national parks.

It is definitely not compassionate conservatism.

There’s nothing compassionate about the rapid extinction of our native species.

And it’s not compassionate or conservative to subsidise businesses to damage the atmosphere of the planet that we’re living on.

There is no name for this system.

Nobody speaks for it. Nobody voted for it.

It happens in the spaces between speeches and elections.

It happens behind closed doors or over dinner with lobbyists.

We have a political economy of friendly deals and whispers. Of overnight polling and focus groups.

The government is supposed to help those who need help the most, not those who need it the least.

Those who have little, not those who already have everything, and always want more, and more, and more.

My opposition to our current, deliberately broken economic system is not ideological. It is moral.

I oppose it because it is wrong.

Some economists and commentators tell us that the Green Party shouldn’t worry about social issues.

We should stop talking about the economy and focus on the environment.

That’s like saying ‘Stop complaining that your kitchen is on fire and focus more on your house.’

We talk about social and economic issues because we are an environmental party. All of these things are bound together. 

We cannot talk about any of them without talking about all of them. To change one we must change them all.

Change. It’s a word that can be inspiring. It can be frightening.

I stood for Parliament and for Co-leader because I want to change things.

And some change is urgent.

Our climate can’t wait while politicians squabble over how to fix it. 

I have been clear on the campaign trail that while I don’t support a formal coalition with National, I am very open to working with National where there is common cause. 

Let us build common cause on climate change. 

The Government is currently setting an emissions reduction target to take to the Paris climate talks.

The Green Party has just launched a climate campaign. 

We should talk to each other rather than past each other, and agree on an ambitious target that New Zealanders can be proud off. 

New Zealanders want their politicians to work together, and act on common interest. 

Let’s find common interest on climate change. That is my challenge to John Key today. 

Because if we don’t the future looks bleak.

Our cities and our regions and our environment are transforming, changing in radical ways, at terrifying rates.

One of the key aims of the Green Party should be to stop this radical change. To treasure and preserve what we have.

Instead of bringing in a strange new world, we want to protect and restore what we can of this one.

Three of the core Green Party values are sustainability, consensus-building and long-term thinking.

We will take these values into government with us.

The stability of that government and the long term consequences of its policies will be at the heart of any coalition agreement we enter into.

Any change we make will be careful and sustainable, and it will be made with future generations of New Zealanders in mind.

I also want to change the Green Party.

We need to grow.

We need to transition from an opposition party to a party of government.

But how do we do this without losing sight of who we are?

And how do we change so we can bring about the change we seek?

The Co-leaders in the Green Party can’t just wave our hands and demand that the party does our bidding.

The party is bigger than we are. So I’m going to talk about what I want us to do, and I hope I can convince you.

First. We need more of us.

I want to double the membership of our party this year and then double it again next year.

The National Party is a behemoth of money and skilled strategists and power.

The Green Party’s strength comes from its members, and if we’re going to contend with such a formidable adversary, we need a lot more of them.

And then twice that number again.

Second. We need to be more like modern New Zealand.

People vote for people they feel a connection to. If we aim to govern the country then we need to represent it.

That means more Maori candidates.

More Pasifika candidates.

More Asian New Zealanders.

More farmers.

More business people.



More of almost everyone.

Although, National can keep their tobacco lobbyists.

Third. We need to modernise the way we run campaigns.

Ever since the 2008 Obama campaign there has been a revolution in the way political parties win elections.

Technology-based, data-driven but founded on communities, self-organisation, and on the passion of volunteers.

This type of campaigning is perfect for the Green Party. We used it in Wellington Central last year.

We need to use it in every electorate in the country in 2017.

Because my job now is to deliver on the promises I made to you to get here.

I know that not everyone here supported me, but I am accountable to all of you.

My job is to listen.

My job is to learn.

And my job is to change the party so that we can change the country.

The campaign to put the Greens in government in 2017 starts today.

Thank you.