We’re really pleased to have Jeanette Fitzsimons respond to your questions as part of our Interview the Leaders series.
Question to all leaders:
Of which of your achievements in politics are you most proud?
Well, there are so many! But probably the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Act 2000 and the work I have done leading the development of the Strategy under that Act over the last two years. Consumers have saved $148 million on their power bills (and a heap of carbon emissions) so far as a result of energy performance standards for household appliances and that total grows every year. EECA was about to be killed by the National government in 1999 but instead it has continued to insulate tens of thousands of homes, making those families healthier, and helped business to save well over $100 million in energy costs and hundreds of thousands of tonnes of carbon emissions, making them more profitable. The new Strategy sets fuel economy standards for cars entering the country that will see them 25% better in 2015 than now. It has achieved, and will achieve, far more in carbon savings than the Emissions Trading Scheme at less cost, and it prepares us to cope with peak oil, constant price rises, fuel poverty, and the growing threat of climate change.
It’s hard to know whether that is more or less important than the culture change I believe the Greens have achieved in Parliament and in the community. There are just so many issues that had never been recognized in Parliament until we spoke about them: the risks of genetic engineering, climate change, peak oil, unhealthy food, and the stupidity of our economic measurements that value only the size of our economy, not its quality, and count as success every extra dollar we have to spend on dealing with pollution, waste, crime, accidents and other social harm. We have also led the debate on human rights, violence against children, restorative justice and the need for much better public transport.
From reader Robinsod: “If the Greens had the opportunity to implement one core policy without compromise what would it be?”
An economic package to shift our economy towards sustainability. It would help create a society that can weather the severe shocks that are coming from climate change and peak oil and ecological collapse, eg of the oceans, and make sure the brunt of these is not borne by the weakest and most vulnerable New Zealanders.
It would include a nationally agreed measurement of economic success that counted human wellbeing such as levels of health and education, reduction of homelessness, reduction of infant mortality, the safety of our rivers for swimming, accessibility of public transport, reduction of working hours needed to provide for a family to give more work-life balance. It would also include measurements of ecological sustainability such as the proportion of renewable energy and transport fuel, the state of our fisheries, the health of our soils and freshwaters. It would show us very clearly whether we were consuming our ecological capital and leaving future generations in need. The size of our GDP would be one measure among many, and not the only measure of success as it is now.
We cannot manage what we don’t measure; moving towards sustainability starts with collecting the right data and measuring the things that really matter.
Part of this package, and resulting from these new measures, would be shifts in the tax system to reduce tax on the things we want to encourage like honest work, innovative and sustainable entrepreneurial activity; and to increase it on those things we wish to discourage like waste, pollution, scarce and overused resources and unearned income.
This would provide a strong incentive to business to shift production into sustainable products and services, and an incentive to individuals to buy healthy, sustainable products that won’t cost the earth. Anything less means our claims of sustainability are just greenwash
From reader Insider: “You and the green movement has been politically active for nearly 40 years, yet still gain only marginal support (both here and overseas). What is holding you back from greater electoral success (if that is an objective) and what lessons have you learned from that?”
While MMP was a huge step forward and led to the first Greens in Parliament in 1996, after 25 years of political activity, it is taking a long time for the media to start thinking past just two old parties. We are still interviewed far more often on which party we would support in government than on our policies and how we have changed the political agenda. This of course guides public perceptions too.
Then there’s the question of honesty. Other parties tell voters they can have tax cuts and improved services as well, they can fix climate change by changing one light bulb, that no-one in NZ is in poverty, that our fisheries are managed sustainably, that peak oil is still several decades away. The media rarely critique these reassurances so of course they are popular.
We think the public will come to appreciate the fact that we tell the truth, but of course there are a lot of powerful vested interests who want to keep the status quo.
Green parties overseas have done best when there has been a crisis like the dioxin-contaminated Belgian chocolates which led to 20% for the Greens. I really hope it won’t take that to build our vote in NZ.
We have shifted the debate in New Zealand, and everyone now wants to be sustainable, but just not yet.
Surveys show that we are most voters’ preferred coalition partner, regardless of who is leading the government. But if that’s what they want, they need to vote for us because it won’t just happen.
This year there is a strong mood for change in politics. It would be a tragedy if voters thought only about change in leaders; putting a strong group of Greens in a position of influence would also change the Government.