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New Zealander of the year

Written By: - Date published: 9:26 am, January 1st, 2017 - 42 comments
Categories: activism, Unions, workers' rights - Tags:

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.

42 comments on “New Zealander of the year”

  1. tinfoilhat 1

    Indeed Helen would’ve been a worthy recipient, although she never did anything for the recognition.

  2. Anne 2

    Ahhh, but she is no longer alive so there’s not a lot of milage to be gained from her is there. She can’t front to interviews in her “best frock and new hair-do” and tell everybody how thrilled she is blah, blah, blah. Add to that she was a unionist and there is not perceived to be any glamour in the union movement. Indeed they’re still the baddies in the minds of the ignorant glitterati.

    Deeply cynical I know but not far from the truth.

  3. Rosemary McDonald 3

    “It is very difficult to understand how a lifetime of commitment and activism could be overlooked.”

    Not really. We have been manipulated by the media to see as ‘heroes’ those who have come recently to some kind of adversity, been confronted with inadequacies in the ‘support system’ and have ‘battled’ to change the system for the benefit of themselves and hence others.

    Much of the time these ‘heroes” success hangs on whether or not the MSM is prepared to give them a platform and favourable reviews.

    It is, after all, a performance.

    It was only at the last that Helen Kelly actually advocated for something that was personal to herself.

    A lifetime of activism and advocacy for others will be lost in the mists and her final campaign will be the one for which she is remembered.

    The other day I vaguely scanned a MSM list of notables who had popped their clogs in the annus horribilis that was 2016.

    Helen wasn’t on it.

    Talk about a shit list…..

    There must be some other way that Helen Kelly’s life and work can be remembered….a scholarship, perhaps?

  4. Carolyn_nth 4

    Helen Kelly is a great New Zealander of/for many years in my book. A shining example of the way forward.

  5. greywarshark 5

    Amazing if Herald did not mention her campaigning for medicinal cannabis on her death bed. Exceeds Renwicks’s also important contribution to encouraging rational medical help. What else had Renwick done in her life so far? I am not going to check out The Herald to see – other things to do.

    The media always latches on to heroic fights for treatment from the state by individuals who consider they are deserving of receiving expensive individual treatments. For the wealthy that is what government and society is for and they are so right to demand what they urgently personally need.

    The fact that numerous people who aren’t dying or very sick, are suffering while they attempt to live a normal life in conditions that government should be making a priority to alleviate just lacks that immediacy and ‘theatre’ (of the grotesque and absurd?) that grabs the media. And I call it absurd because often the most desired expensive treatments demanded will not cure but just may extend life for a month to a couple of years.

  6. Wensleydale 6

    This is the Herald we’re talking about here. Why is anyone at all surprised? Although, and it almost pains me to say it, that was a nice piece from Claire Trevett. It must have been a refreshing change from relentlessly bagging Labour while heaping praise upon Saint John, and most uncharacteristic in its sensitivity. There’s a real journalist in there somewhere, Claire. You just have to scrape the sludge off occasionally, and she comes shining through. Well done.

    • tc 6.1

      Trevitt is a shill who shovels out the occasional balance piece as a reference point, most msm owned jonolists do this.

      This gives then their constructed moral high ground they hurl rocks at anyone threatening the agenda from and keep their jobs.

      Something Andrea Vance seems to have become a lot more adept at since her and Dunnys run in with the national govt.

      • Wensleydale 6.1.1

        Granted, I don’t expect any of them to suffer a crisis of conscience anytime in the near future, and change the way they operate in any meaningful way.

  7. Bill 7

    Maybe a Helen Kelly award should be inaugurated and promoted that, besides being an award that either encapsulates, reflects or promotes Helen’s basic human decency/courage etc, could also act as an on-going mark of respect and commemoration?

    • Rosemary McDonald 7.1

      Totally agree.

      Up the page I did suggest a scholarship…perhaps in the social sciences or humanities?

      Or for a business/law student specialising in the field of workplace safety and employer/ big business attitudes to workers’ rights and welfare?

      And/or….a yearly award for employers who have demonstrated the kind of attitudes towards their employees that would make Helen smile. 🙂

    • weka 7.2

      Great idea.

    • Anne 7.3

      Excellent idea Bill. I’m sure its the sort of thing that would meet with her approval. What’s more, it keeps her name and life time of achievements permanently in the public space for others to emulate.

    • lprent 7.4

      Give it for competent journalism?

      I always suspected that the reason she promoted the long form pieces about the forestry industry deaths and maiming through here was because the journos simply didn’t see that kind of systematic and structural abuse of workers as being news.

    • adam 7.5

      Well we could set up a trust and take donations.

      I’m for IPrents idea a award for journalist with Bills ethos, then maybe extending it out to what Rosemary McDonald has suggested.

      Great points all

  8. RedBaronCV 8

    And also each of us could strive to take some individual action that reflects Helen’s basic values. And multiply that up..

  9. Ad 9

    +100 mickey

  10. Rae 10

    Personally, I disagree with the person should be living to be awarded, but it seems, them’s the rules. I would argue if the person is alive during the year of nomination, they should be eligible.

    I am sure Helen would have been happy to see Leisa Renwick awarded as she would be very happy to know that because of her, a lot more other people will receive effective treatment for melanoma.

    We can always regard Helen as person of the year, nothing stopping that, after all that was a Herald award, maybe different rules could apply to a Standard award.

    • Sacha 10.1

      Those were the rules of *Kiwibank’s* similar competition as publicised recently.

      • Rae 10.1.1

        True, still I expect they ran similar rules.

        • Sacha 10.1.1.1

          Doubt it. The Harold somehow chose the nearest person to Helen Kelly without being her – the description of what their winner achieved is strikingly similar (only over far less time and with background support from pharma companies as compared with the corporate resistance Kelly faced).

  11. Keith 11

    The Herald are there to ensure what is good for business, in their owners warped views, is all that matters. Someone who so genuinely articulated for those mown down by Neo Lib lies is not really material for New Zealander of the year. Those sorts remind us how awful this system really is.

    But back to the Herald and why Kelly was a non event in their world. Today, for example, on the front of their internet page is a happy smiley man who is just glad he lives in an era where his 8 x 2.5 metre shed, on wheels, is his home. We used to call such things caravans but now they are “tiny houses”. He even has a website, a You Tube channel and a blog site Tiny wives all dedicated to this fun. See Kiwi’s, see, you dont need a silly home with things like room, oh no, rather a space that is a bit bigger than your average prison cell will suffice.

    This debacle which is only one up from living under a motorway over-bridge is valued at $85K, land not included.

    This diversion from reality of course warms the cockles of the cold hearts of National voters who will feel much more comfortable with their speculator inflated real houses and of course, investment homes. Housing crisis solved, nothing to see here but happiness. Fuck, the East Germans had nothing on 2017 New Zealand when it came to bullshit for the masses.

    The Herald is a shit dying publication that is choking on its own rotten propaganda for rich men. I cannot wait for it to cease!

    • tc 11.1

      Get used to it, the rivers of loss that flow from this form of media are simply written off as part of the holistic business model against their more profitable ventures.

      It’s not going anywhere soon, there trying further consolidation to stem the losses (NZME) but the message delivery will continue regardless.

  12. Adrian Thornton 12

    The Herald hasn’t managed to “forget” Helen, it is a paper that actively discourages citizens from trying to achieve or even imagine a fair and equal society, so why would they remember or acknowledge Helen now?
    Although that being said, one of the best comments I heard on Helen’s passing was from Matthew Hooton, I think on RNZ. he said even though he disagreed with Helen on many issues, he admired and respected her, because, as he pointed out, you always knew she absolutely believed in what she was saying. and he acknowledged that she could have been the leader that Labour so desperately needs.

  13. Colleen Spiro 13

    When Helen passed away. The Bay of Plenty Times which is a subsidiary of NZ Herald, did not even have the decency to run a story on her passing….When I challenged them on this, they said it was because they were a LOCAL newspaper and she was not local…They today have just run a story of a wee lad from Hawera, who tragically lost his life to asthma…. I also received a threatening email from them, for challenging them, and asking if they were too lazy to copy the link from their main site to the local site.
    Helen will always be NZér of the Year to me….even though Ms Renwick is from the city I am in, Tauranga. She fought harder, for longer…..ALL HER LIFE.

  14. Anthony 14

    I worked for Helen Kelly in the early 2,000s, and she was special. She was passionate about the rights of the vulnerable, fiercely loyal to her staff, a shocking cheat at cards, and someone always worthy of the greatest respect. She was my NZer of the year by a country mile (kilometre?)

  15. Philj 15

    The Herald is a rag so no surprises as to this decision to promote right wing agendas under the guise of faux journalism.
    Helen is a great New Zealander who held the powerful to account and fought for the powerless. You can rest Helen, You have made an invaluable contribution and shown the way.

  16. Why hasn’t Helen Kelly’s case been argued more in the past, when she was healthy and doing more?

    Choosing and debating a single ‘person of the year’ seems a futile thing to do anyway. The achievements of individuals will have different degrees of appeal to different people, and trying to rank them is odd.

    Why not just acknowledge and recognise significant achievements without arguing over a ‘winner’ – contributing to society isn’t a competition where most people must be ‘not winners’, or losers.

    • One Anonymous Bloke 16.1

      Why hasn’t Helen Kelly’s case been argued more in the past, when she was healthy and doing more?

      [citation needed]

      Looks like a poison-pen lie to me.

    • Jenny Kirk 16.2

      Helen Kelly’s case has been/was argued for – when she was still alive, Pete George. A huge number of people on Facebook sites took up the call for her to be named NZer of the Year – but like all the posters have said above NZers would rather deal with the hero of the day ….. not the hero who kept working in the background for years to better things for others.

      • Pete George 16.2.1

        So what more is needed – thousands of people have argued her case for what she has done over decades, which shows she was highly regarded. Arguing over naming her apart from all others in one year seems a bit of a distraction – wouldn’t it be better if all that effort and attention went towards working for something she championed?

        What do you think would be more important for her – being named by some as their stand out for last year, or getting a commitment from Labour, Greens and perhaps ACt and UF and Mana and the Maori Party to pledge changes to drug laws to make medicinal cannibanoids more accessible to those who are suffering and dying (that’s just one example of something she stood for)?

        What would be better – ‘Helen person of the year’, or the Helen Law?

  17. Ennui 17

    Helen Kelly was a legend in her lifetime for those who were left disempowered and voiceless. She defended them from the establishment.
    To expect any recognition for Helen from the establishment is a ridiculous concept. We who agree with her principles applaud her. Remember her. Take pride in her achievements. Let the establishment remain in silent fright.

  18. mosa 18

    Helen Kelly showed what a great Kiwi can be.

    The Herald and its parent company shows how evil, out of touch and nasty deep down they really are and would not recognise grace, loyalty, kindness and strength of purpose and real leadership if it was right in front of them holding a sign saying just that.

  19. repateet 19

    Every year there is the spectacle of the Oscars. The (US) Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has an awards ceremony where the Academy’s members’ opinions of which is best are recognised.

    Them thinking that say, Forest Gump, is the best movie, does not mean it is. We give credibility to their view by talking about it.

    Likewise New Zealander of the Year. Let us not give the Herald the status, the right, to say, to tell us who the New Zealander of the Year is.

    • Carolyn_nth 19.1

      And it tends to make an individualistic competition out of it.

      Helen Kelly was, and continues to be inspirational. I suspect she would also say that for her the New Zealanders of the year were the Pike River families and the people who have suffered work place injuries/deaths and the people close to them.

      Also candidates for New Zealanders of the year are all the homeless, whether in cars, campsites, in tents, on the streets, in garages, or couch surfing – surviving while doing it tough.

  20. Wendy 20

    Maybe this recipient was not a bully like Helen was to those she decided to rally her unions against..

    [lprent: You mean those who weren’t paying their workers while holding their passsports? Or the ones that who were killing their contractors. I suspect that you need a bit of brain transplant before you’d make an adequate parrot. What you just did was to make an assertion of fact, for something that you cannot and did not even attempt back up. Moreover you did it on a site where everyone apart from fuckwit wannabe trolls knows that you are just lying.

    Banned for a week so that you can use a dictionary to read the about and the policy. I can’t be bothered giving someone this stupid a warning. They wouldn’t be able to understand it. ]

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