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The stark choice facing New Zealand voters

Contact: Rod Donald MP
Check out conference happenings, including audio and full text of speeches, on our Green Party AGM as it happens web page.

Welcome to Crusader country — also known as the People's Republic of Christchurch, where even the local manufacturer's association questions free trade agreements.

The Crusaders put their success down to being a champion team, rather than a team of champions. I would make the same claim for the Greens. We pride ourselves on our teamwork and I believe our achievements over the last six years are because we do work well together, while playing to our individual strengths. And we all know it's the final score that counts, not who scores the tries.

Our current score is not as good as it should be. This week's Molesworth and Featherston rolling poll put us at 5.68%. Yesterday's NBR poll has us at 5.4%. These numbers should steel our resolve.

As we committed to at our conference last year, we do want to work with Labour, despite its many shortcomings. We add so much value to Labour. They want to be re-elected. We want to make a difference. A real difference — now and for future generations.

We were weeks away from an election at our conference three years ago, even though the country didn't know it yet. This year I am confident the election won't be until September, despite, or perhaps because of, the Government's poor polling yesterday.

That still gives us only 15 weeks to campaign. This conference is the unofficial launch of our bid to increase our share of the vote. We need more seats if we are to have serious influence in or with the next Labour government. And we are serious about achieving that goal.

We have a track record of electoral achievements. Major milestones include winning MMP in '93, winning our first seats in '96, winning in our own right as the Green Party in '99 and increasing our vote by 35% in 2002.

This election, I want us to do even better and I believe we can. There is a lot at stake. I don't just mean our own political future. I mean the future of our country, and this planet. We've got to put our backs and our brains into this campaign. It looks like Labour is going to need us. The country sure does.

Yesterday's NBR poll had National nudging ahead of Labour and Winston Peters holding the balance of power. It's going to be a tight election. That should concentrate our minds and bring into focus the stark choice that lies before us as a nation.

It is a choice between a Labour/Green Government, which believes in compassion, diversity, and tolerance, and has a strong social and environmental conscience, and a National/NZ First Government, which stands for divisiveness, intolerance, bigotry, and ignoring the poor to give tax cuts to the rich.

I cannot stress enough how very different these two versions of New Zealand's future would be. If we choose the progressive forces of Labour and the Greens, we will help build a society that is positive, vibrant, inclusive, ecologically sustainable, and committed to making sure every member has enough to meet their needs.

If voters choose the reactionary forces of National and NZ First, a much bleaker future awaits us. A future that appeals to the worst, basest instincts of human beings: of bigotry, of selfishness, of short-term opportunism, and of a head-in-the-sand denial of the real environmental challenges that face us.

Let me be clear on this point. Don and Winston are today's Roger Douglas and Rob Muldoon. They seek to repeat the worst mistakes New Zealand has made in the past three decades. Don Brash seeks to emulate Roger Douglas' slash and burn approach to public services in order to fund tax cuts for the rich.

Winston Peters seeks to emulate Rob Muldoon's ugly style of politics which pits one group of New Zealanders against another. New Zealand should not let Don and Winston take us back to these mistakes of the past. We cannot afford to let them.

That is why it is so important that the Greens are returned to power in much greater numbers this election. Because only the Greens can ensure that New Zealand, and Labour, fulfils its promise.

Helen Clark has been a good Prime Minister who has striven to create a more compassionate, socially inclusive New Zealand. We look forward to working more closely with her because we believe that, with Green involvement, she can lead a great government.

On the other hand, imagine what would happen to New Zealand if we ended up with a National-NZ First Government with Don Brash and Winston Peters fighting over the driver's seat! Tax cuts for the rich, service cuts for the poor, environmental destruction, Maori-bashing and xenophobia all round.

Voters shouldn't be seduced by the superficial appeal of National's talk of tax cuts. They are all smoke and mirrors. What services would they cut to pay for them? How much would they mortgage our future to bribe voters? Remember the pain of the high interest rates Don Brash inflicted on us when the Reserve Bank was under his control? Multiply that pain if he ever gains control of the treasury benches.

As for Winston Peters as kingmaker: this consummate showman is a snake oil merchant. I make no apologies for that statement. Peters is the ugly face of New Zealand politics — all the more so because he is smart enough to know that his proposed "flying squad" searching the homes of "undesirables" echoes Hitler's Germany. It's no coincidence that the leader of the National Front has quit politics — NZ First has stolen their policies.

How far would Don Brash pander to Peters in his one desperate bid for power? Treasurer and deputy PM? Dawn raids? Ethnic cleansing of Asians and Pacific Islanders? Australian-style detention centres?

And what would Winston Peters demand from Labour? You can kiss goodbye to our tolerant society if any of New Zealand First's divisive immigration policies became the price of power.

What could be worse? Labour having to make unpalatable concessions to two reactionary, right wing parties at the same time.

How many asset sales would Peter Dunne demand if his vote was needed to form a government? NZ Post, Meridian Energy, Air New Zealand? Kiwis are still angry with previous Labour and National Governments for selling our family silver for a song. We must make sure that United doesn't get the chance to force Labour to lurch to the right again.

What other extremist policies would Dunne's morally conservative party demand? Flogging and castrating criminals? Repeal of civil unions? Gutting employment relations legislation? How much more irrational drug policy would they inflict on New Zealanders?

A party vote for Labour carries the risk of Labour being dependent on NZ First or United. So our message to voters is straight forward: Keep it clean, party vote Green!

Yes, we are committed to clean politics, because we want to focus on substance rather than sleaze. Yes, we are committed to cleaning up the environment because our very survival depends on it.

But, most of all, we want to deliver New Zealanders a full strength Labour-Green Government — a government they can trust to work in the best interests of all of us, now and in the future. Only by voting for the Greens can progressive-minded, socially-liberal voters ensure that Labour does not have to rely on the reactionary forces of NZ First and United Future.

We can be proud of our parliamentary achievements to date. From 1999 to 2002 we gave stability to the minority Labour-Alliance government. During that period our votes enabled 30 bills to pass and we successfully implemented a number of budget initiatives, many of which continue to this day.

In this term of parliament, we have worked with Labour to deliver some major milestones — altogether 17 bills have only passed with our support.

Without the Greens there would be no Maori Television Service.

Without us there would be no Supreme Court.

Without us there would be no civil unions, no constructive response to climate change and no clean slate rules.

And our tough negotiating achieved improvements in health and safety in the work place, employment relations and — just this week — prisoners' and victims' claims legislation.

We have made the difference where it counts. Voters in all those sector groups that have benefited need to know that it makes sense to party vote Green to make sure a Labour Government goes in the right direction.

Labour certainly needs a decent helping of Greens to freshen up its stale diet and tarnished image.

It's an understatement to say that they have failed to meet voters expectations in recent weeks and months. Let's put to one side the various scandals and focus on issues of substance.

Dr Cullen's budget was a public relations disaster. I know his hero is Arnold Nordmeyer but he didn't need to deliver such a grey budget. Last year, the "Working for Families" package was bold, and we supported it. In the last term, he launched his super fund, and we opposed it, but at least it was a bold initiative.

This time, a 67c per week tax cut in 2008 for low and middle-income earners has done nothing to excite voters and everything to turn them off Labour. His failure to address mounting student debt is alienating a whole generation of young people, and their parents and grandparents. His Kiwi Saver package is a good move but, for many people with no discretionary income, it only highlights the growing gap between the haves and the have nots. And his home start scheme, while restoring help for first home owners that National axed in 1992, is a token gesture in the face of rocketing house prices.

Only bold policies like a ban on foreign investment in our land will end overseas investors artificially inflating the price of entry-level residential properties. It's also worth investigating a capital gains tax on all but the family home to end the speculators' dream run that has become a nightmare for first-home seekers.

I have to give Michael Cullen credit for one thing, though. He said his budget is all about securing the future. That's pretty close to "Invest now to secure our future" — the title I gave to my 2001 Conference speech opposing the good Dr's superannuation fund.

The Green Party continues to oppose the New Zealand super fund. It simply doesn't make sense to gamble our taxes on the overseas sharemarket when we need the money for sustainable infrastructure to future-proof our economy, to educate and train our young people so they can be productive citizens, and to meet the community's health, housing and other social needs. These initiatives will all pay handsome dividends well above the purely monetary profit on the super fund shares.

Dr Cullen already has almost $6.5 billion in his super fund and is planning to put in another $2.3 billion in the new financial year. At the same time, total student loans stand at $7 billion and are forecast to increase to $8 billion in next year. That is inter-generational theft, twice over.

We want to reinvest some of that super fund into progressively writing off the debt of our young graduates. And we would use a portion of planned contributions to pay for our student allowance policy. Those are the sort of bold policies voters can look forward to in the first Green budget after the election. After all, it's plain common sense.

What doesn't make sense is forcing our young people to borrow for a tertiary education when we need them to get that education so that they can contribute to our economy and our society.

All Labour is doing is driving our best and our brightest overseas or denying them the opportunity of a qualification because they fear not being able to pay their loan back. Tertiary education is a public good — it should be taxpayer funded. Fullstop, end of story.

We will make a bold commitment this afternoon to the young people of this nation because we believe they deserve better.

During the campaign, we will be launching a range of policies to support children and their families, working people and the business sector, because they all deserve better.

We have already confirmed that we want to remove tax on the first $5000 of income. That would mean an extra $15 a week in everyone's pocket. For lower and middle-income earners and beneficiaries struggling to make ends meet, that's a big step up from 67c a week.

How would we pay for it? Not by selling assets and not by borrowing, either, as the reactionary parties propose. We are committed to the introduction of a suite of eco-taxes which are designed to shift tax off work and enterprise and on to waste and pollution. The Labour Government is already taking the first step with the introduction of a carbon tax. We would bring that tax forward and add an excise tax on diesel which, together, would pay for the first year of the three year phase-in of our income tax cut. Other eco- taxes would be introduced over the next term.

It's just plain common sense to reward people and businesses for improving productivity and for reducing waste, pollution and the consumption of resources. And it also makes sense to charge those who don't make the effort to reduce their ecological footprint.

Kiwis don't just feel let down by Labour's budget. Kowtowing to China has upset New Zealanders right across the political spectrum. No one can understand how Helen Clark, who has a strong reputation for standing up for human rights, can turn a blind eye to the many abuses the Chinese regime perpetuates on the people of occupied Tibet and on its own citizens.

David Lange made us proud to be Kiwis when he stood up to the US nuclear bullies. We are embarrassed that Helen Clark is prepared to put a free-trade deal with China ahead of justice and human dignity.

Labour's approach to free trade is what you would expect from a National government. The Canterbury Manufacturers' Association says its members feel abandoned because the Government sees "manufacturing as the unavoidable road kill from FTAs with low-cost countries". As John Walley from the Association says: "it's all but impossible to compete with low- and no-wage - when your competition uses slave labour — countries".

When manufacturers close down or shift their operations overseas, that means jobs disappear in New Zealand. You can't blame workers whose jobs are being sacrificed for feeling angry.

We would like to thank Helen Clark for calling for international action against Japanese whaling when she visited Japan this week. We support every effort Labour can make to stop Japan slaughtering whales and we have been pressing the Government to take even bolder action.

However, the irony has not been lost that Helen Clark did not call for international action on Chinese human rights abuses at the same time. Especially as her visit to China coincided with the sixteenth anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre in Beijing.

In April 1989, a massive and peaceful pro-democracy demonstration was begun by Chinese students. They were quickly joined by workers, intellectuals, and civil servants, until over a million people filled Tiananmen Square.

On the night of June 3rd and the morning of June 4th, Chinese authorities sent in troops and tanks to end the demonstrations. Hundreds, perhaps thousands, were killed. Thousands of others were arrested. According to current estimates, as many as two-hundred-and-fifty Chinese are still serving prison sentences for Tiananmen-related activities.

Amnesty International have just released its 2005 report cataloguing the ongoing violation of fundamental human rights in China. With over 3400 executions last year, what the Chinese government does to its own people is no less brutal than what the Japanese government is doing to Minke whales.

If Helen Clark really wants to make her mark on the international stage, she should be committing the government to a timetable for increasing New Zealand's level of overseas development assistance. That will certainly be on our agenda after the election. We all know charity begins at home but it certainly shouldn't end there.

I believe most New Zealanders do want us to be good international citizens. We could stand proud when Norm Kirk was Prime Minister and our aid level reached 0.5% of GDP. Today we are in the bottom half of the OECD, in fact fourth to bottom, and we hang our heads in shame.

If the recently announced defence package had instead been invested in development assistance, New Zealand would have regained its international reputation by almost reaching the 0.7% commitment successive governments keep signing up to but never doing anything about meeting. While of course there is a place for a defence force, especially in peace keeping, fisheries protection and disaster relief, real peace comes from development, not out of the barrel of a gun.

We're under no illusion about what it would be like to work in Government with Labour. Michael Cullen's gratuitous attack on Keith Locke this week, on the same day Labour depended on the Greens to pass the Prisoners and Victims Claims Bill, reminds us of what we are up against.

But I don't want to die wondering about whether we've got what it takes. When I look behind me, I believe we have the best possible team to tackle the challenges ahead.

We need to encourage thinking voters to stand up to greed, ignorance and prejudice, and to vote for the values they believe in — a tolerant, caring society, a sustainable environment and a fair economy. And we need to convince them that we are worthy of their support — that the Green team has the clearest vision, the boldest policies and the most committed politicians.

Can you name one politician whose grasp of the energy issue, whose understanding of local and global environmental challenges, and whose commitment to sustainability exceeds Jeanette's?

If you want a woman of passion, a diligent worker, someone who has won over her sceptics, look no further than Sue Bradford.

Then we have Sue Kedgley, the leader of the food revolution. While parents adore her, the chemical, fast food and battery farming corporates tremble at the mere mention of her name.

Keith is a champion for fairness, justice and human rights. He has stood firm in the face of insults from our opponents only to be proved right.

Metiria has made an awesome contribution in this, her first term, not only, but particularly on the foreshore and seabed.

When senior judges court Nandor, you know that his influence and interests go beyond drug law reform.

And Mike is unique — the epitome of being green.

What a team — 48 years of parliamentary experience between us — about to be boosted by some exciting new talent.

But before we introduce them, I would like to acknowledge the one member of our team who is retiring. Ian has not only given six years of his life to parliament for the Greens but for the three years before that, he combined his love for organic farming with a role as my electorate agent in the Kaikoura electorate. It was his passion for the environment and its wise use that led him to become a Green candidate in 1996. Parliament has certainly changed Ian's life. From self-appointed boring old fart, Ian became a front-page sensation. We wish him well as he changes his focus from politician to parent.

Thank you for being Greens. Thank you for all the work you are putting into the campaign. I am confident it will all be worth it.

The Crusaders have demonstrated time and again that sheer determination and self-belief can lift you from behind to final victory — the same determination and self-belief we showed in '99 to give us victory against impossible odds. This year the odds aren't impossible but the task is no less challenging. Go well, go Green!

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Greens' Annual Conference
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