The Green Party's co-leader Jeanette Fitzsimons announced today that she will step down from her leadership position in June.
"It is the right time to pass the torch and I look forward to being an active 'backbencher'," Ms Fitzsimons said. "I have a number of projects I want to advance when I no longer have the additional leadership duties".
"It is a good time for the Green Party in that we have just increased our Parliamentary representation by 50%, and are off to a good start in this Parliamentary term.
"Russel has proven himself over the last three years and a change in June will give the new female co-leader time to establish herself before the next general election.
"The Green Party has always attracted competent women and I know the party will be spoiled for choice in June with several strong contenders for the position."
Ms Fitzsimons was elected to the co-leadership along with Rod Donald 14 years ago when the Green Party first created the positions. She was the first Green MP to speak in Parliament following the 1996 election and is believed to be the first Green candidate in the world to win an electorate in a first-past-the-post system, winning Coromandel in 1999.
In 1998, Ms Fitzsimons sponsored the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Act which became the first 'Green' legislation passed in New Zealand. Approved in May 2000, it has provided a framework for sustainable energy policy in Aotearoa and has saved New Zealand households more than $148 million on their power bills.
Other achievements include leading negotiations to secure the largest 'Green' budget package ever in 2008 of almost $100 million; acquiring more than $50 million to make State Houses warmer, drier and efficient; leading the climate change debate in New Zealand, in particular around emissions trading and other complementary policies. The Green Party co-leader has also increased funding for public transport, cycling, and walking; electrification of the Auckland rail system; vehicle fuel-economy labelling; and a commitment to fuel economy standards.
Her fellow co-leader Dr Russel Norman noted that Ms Fitzsimons' stature crossed party lines: "Jeanette organized support from all parties this month for the resolution asking to freeze MPs pay. It was an important symbolic gesture from Parliament in a time of economic crisis and is a small example of the high regard in which she is held as an MP.
"Green politics and ideas are gaining currency around the world very quickly because of the work of pioneers such as Jeanette. We will continue to call on her experience and deep understanding of policy as a backbencher."
At least two candidates will contest the co-leadership position in June with more expected when nominations open in March. Current Green Party MPs Sue Bradford and Metiria Turei confirmed their candidacies today.
Ms Bradford has served in Parliament since 1999. Complementing her background in community development and activism, the mother of five has an Master of Arts from Auckland University, a Post-Graduate Diploma from Canterbury University and has previously worked as a Unitec tutor.
Mrs Turei is now in her seventh year as a Green MP and serves as the Party's musterer (whip). Mrs. Turei was formerly a resource management lawyer at Simpson Grierson, and Tumuaki Wahine, Te Hunga Roia Maori o Aotearoa (Co-President of the NZ Maori Lawyers Association). She has also worked as an advocate for the unemployed.
Both Ms Bradford and Mrs Turei plan to continue serving as Members of Parliament regardless of the outcome of the co-leadership contest
Leadership is confirmed annually at the Green Party's Annual General Meeting which, this year, is scheduled for May 30 - June 1 in Dunedin. Ms. Fitzsimons said her announcement was made now to allow plenty of time for nominations.
The Green Party's co-convenor Roland Sapsford said nominations for female co-leader will open March 23 and close April 17. He noted that conference delegates representing the Green Party's electorate branches would vote by Single Transferable Vote (STV).
The Party's constitution calls for one male and one female co-leader. The last time a position was contested was 2006 following the death of Rod Donald, Mr Sapsford said.