Kennedy (Ken) Graham was elected to Parliament in 2008 and re-elected in 2011. He served as the Green Party's parliamentary Musterer from 2008-2011. (The Musterer is now Gareth Hughes.)
Ken has most recently taught international politics and international law at the School of Law, Canterbury and Victoria University, and as Visiting Professor at the College of Europe in Bruges. He has previously worked for NGOs in New York, the UN in Europe and the Middle East, and as a NZ diplomat in Asia, Europe and North America. He was involved in negotiating the South Pacific Nuclear-Free Zone, defending the policy before the UN in Geneva and New York. He was also Director of a UN academy in Jordan.
Ken holds a B.Com from Auckland University, a BA Hons in Political Science from Victoria; an M.A. from the Fletcher School of Law & Diplomacy, Boston (Fulbright); and a Ph.D. in Political Science from Victoria University. He was also a Fellow at Cambridge University, studying in the Global Security Programme. Ken has authored and edited five books including ‘The Planetary Interest – A New Concept for the Global Age’ which looks at issues of climate change, sustainability and nuclear weapons from a global perspective.
Ken is married to Marilyn, and has two adult sons. He follows rugby and classical music with equal passion, and adores his four grand-daughters, being putty in their hands.
Kennedy Graham’s childhood memories of family dinner table conversation don’t include much by way of political detail. In a household of four boys (who together drove their mum mad, while Kennedy, being the youngest, drove everybody mad) there were more pressing concerns: the fortunes of the local footy team being just one example.
Date of birth: 4 April 1946
Family: Married to Marilyn, sons David and Chris, grandchildren Mia, Kahli, Mala, Oshani, and Salpadoru
Hobbies: Reading history and philosophy, music (classical, folk, reggae), yoga, watching rugby
Favourite NZ animal or bird:Kiwi
Favourite movie: As it is in Heaven
Favourite novel: The Story of Civilisation (12 volumes)
Music I play on Saturday mornings:Handel, Bob Marley
My never-fail recipe: Confidence mixed with humility
Greatest sporting achievement:Curtain-raiser to All Blacks-Springbok test, aged 10. Missed 5 of 5 shots at goal
Year entered Parliament: 2008
Green Spokesperson for: Global Affairs, Climate Change, Defence, Disarmament, Trade and Foreign Investment, Constitutional Issues, Population
First political action: Leading parliamentarian crisis delegations to Burundi and Haiti, 1993-4
Most embarrassing political moment: As a new MP, sitting in the PM’s seat during the induction programme
Proudest political moment: Submitting Member’s Bill on International Non-Aggression; the Lawful Use of Force, June 09
Hero: Dag Hammarskjöld, former UN Secretary-General
So, after almost forty years of a lauded diplomatic career that has spanned the globe, it seems somewhat surprising that Ken’s most vivid political image remains that of his father, passionately protesting the damming of the Aratiatia rapids near Wairakei. It was an atypical moment for Graham senior, and one that perhaps defined his atypical politician son.
Dr Graham, who adores his four granddaughters, each the cutest little girl in the world, must have enjoyed seeing his father in such renegade circumstances. His professional approach, it seems, has always been to challenge the prevailing orthodoxy and question the rules of engagement.
Perhaps that’s why within just a few months of entering Parliament, Kennedy volunteered for the role of musterer for the Green Caucus, a role that even those for whom Parliament has been home for many terms would find challenging. Ken of course sees it differently: “It’s a chance to gain insight into all levels of Parliament, and a way to allow my colleagues space to pursue their strengths in the House.” Asked how he was finding it, he responds cheerfully that he had declared his own ‘Hundred-day Programme’ – one mistake a day for 100 days – and he mentions that he was formally appointed on 1 April…
Leadership has come naturally to a man who was once more concerned with becoming an All Black than he was with much else. (One teacher advised him that if he spent as much time studying as he did on the field, he’d be top of the class — he never was.)
However, perhaps the words of his old teacher eventually got through; Ken transferred his energy into his tertiary education, completing his BComm and starting out in an accounting career as a cadet in an Auckland firm. It was a short career.
Accounting isn’t for everyone after all, and with a young family to support, Ken made the decision to trust his gut instinct and return to university – this time to embark upon and complete a course of postgraduate study in international relations.
Foreign Affairs soon beckoned, as did the world. Diplomatic, United Nations, NGO (non-governmental organisations) and academic positions meant postings in the USA, Canada, Thailand, Switzerland, the UK, Sweden, Jordan, Belgium and, briefly, Bangladesh.
That extraordinary range of experience has given Ken an enviable insight into New Zealand’s place in the global pecking order, and allowed him to advance causes such as peace, disarmament, human rights, and a just global legal order.
He was, for example, part of the delegation that negotiated the South Pacific Nuclear Free Zone in the mid-eighties.
Ideas he’d like to advance now as a Green MP include radically changing the way New Zealand judges itself. He believes we need to move to a point where we can freely acknowledge the need to effect policy that has a positive impact on both the real economy and the real environment, rather than continuing to treat them as mutually exclusive.
That’s pretty heady stuff coming from a bloke who, as a school boy, used to put rugby ahead of school work. Although, even after academic pursuits took pride of place, Ken still found time to play, coach and referee rugby.
Pretty heady too are Kennedy’s literary and scholarly achievements, which include three authored volumes and two edited collections. Former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan says the work Ken is most proud of, The Planetary Interest, “is the kind of forward-looking concept we need as the world goes though a period of profound transformation”.
The desire to turn a distinguished and decades-long international political career into a party-political one was not taken lightly. But sitting in UN headquarters in New York in January 2005, Ken officially joined the Green Party of Aotearoa.
“People are always driven by their beliefs, so it pays to be clear about them.”
Given his reluctance to be subsumed by prevailing orthodoxy, Ken realised that only the Green Party could possibly deliver on the promise of multidimensional, honest politics. It is this Party, he says, that will illustrate the benefits of pegging policy to both the traditional Left-Right axis, and to a more prescriptive vertical axis: that of sustainability.
Dr Kennedy Graham may sound, y’know, a bit flash, but he bristles at the concept of elitism (“I was prepared to climb the building from the outside”) and at any suggestion his is an overly intellectual approach (“What’s with the worried distinction between theory and practice? People are always driven by their beliefs, so it pays to be clear about them”). The sense of humour is certainly dry enough to tumble, but the wit is keen, and enjoyable.
A good sense of humour must have served him well in his diplomatic service, whether that meant acting as Secretary-General for a global parliamentary network, or defending and enhancing New Zealand’s foreign policy all over the world.
While the work he pursues has its share of heft and gravitas, there’s a family side to life that provides a counter-balance. On this side there are times when Ken heads to the beach with his granddaughters. On the other side, there’s Dr Kennedy Graham who wants nothing more than to make a real contribution to a better planet so the girls can continue to enjoy the sand and surf.
His achievements to date suggest a considerable ability to do just that.