The Herald has announced Leisa Renwick as its New Zealander of the year. I do not want to disparage what she did. She was suffering from Melanoma, managed to beat the condition through the use of personal resources to fund the use of cutting edge drugs, and then fronted a short but successful campaign to get Pharmac to include Keytruder on the list of drugs it will fund. All New Zealanders will benefit from this.
The decision was not a radical one. The drug was already available in Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States and its inclusion on Pharmac’s list was not a surprise. And if you look at some of the media on the subject it appears that the Government had been talking up its inclusion for quite a while.
All power to Renwick for campaigning on the issue and achieving what she did.
But in my humble opinion her contribution to New Zealand pales into insignificance compared to that of Helen Kelly.
At least Helen was considered as a finalist. The short description of her contribution in the Herald written by Claire Trevett I thought summed her up well.
It was Pike River Miners’ family spokesman Bernie Monk who encapsulated what former Council of Trade Unions head Helen Kelly meant to those she had worked for all her life.
“She was on our doorstep the first day. And she never left our doorstep,” he said after her death from cancer in October. “You get to a stage of ‘where do we turn to next?’ And she always knew where to turn.”
Kelly fought hard for workers’ rights – campaigning on work safety for forestry and farm workers, taking prosecutions when the Government would not act, and forcing change until her last days.
Whether her stand was popular or controversial, such as the dispute over the rights of people working on the Hobbit films, Kelly stuck to what she believed was right.
Her own life was cut short. She had more to do. But even as her own time counted down, she fought to improve the lot for others facing terminal illness, taking a public stand on medicinal marijuana.
But to those whose lives Kelly entered, she will most of all be remembered for her personal commitment – the families of forestry workers and miners killed on the job, who recalled Kelly turning up on the doorstep to offer her shoulder and her voice.
She gave the union movement a compassionate, titanium backbone.
It is very difficult to understand how a lifetime of commitment and activism could be overlooked. Good on Renwick for her determination to make a difference on an issue that matters. But Helen spent her life doing this on issue after issue and if the Herald was serious in assessing those that had the greatest impact on the lives of ordinary New Zealanders Helen should have been at the top of their list.