Obituary speeches in Parliament for Jeanette Fitzsimons

Jeanette Fitzsimons is a rare politician or ex-politician who has been widely praised for what she achieved and the manner in which she conducted herself in politics.

Jeanette died suddenly last week (5 March 2020), aged 75, and most parties and leaders in parliament gave obituary speeches today, which not surprisingly were full of praise from across the House.

Both leaders Marama Davidson and James Shaw spoke for the Green Party. It was obviously emotional for them.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern spoke on behalf of the Labour Party and also “on behalf of our coalition partner, the New Zealand First Party” – no MP for NZ First spoke.

Coromandel MP Scott Simpson spoke on behalf of the National Party and the people of Coromandel – Jeanette was MP for Coromandel in 1999-2002 and lived at the base of the Coromandel Peninsula.

David Seymour spoke on behalf of the ACT Party.

MARAMA DAVIDSON (Co-Leader—Green):

I seek leave to move a motion without notice on the passing of Jeanette Fitzsimons.

SPEAKER: Is there any objection to that course of action being taken? There is none.

MARAMA DAVIDSON: I move, That this House mark the passing of Jeanette Fitzsimons, the Green Party’s first female co-leader, celebrate her contributions to Aotearoa New Zealand, and express deep condolences to her whānau and friends.

[Authorised Te Reo text to be inserted by the Hansard Office.]

[Authorised translation to be inserted by the Hansard Office.]

It is my honour to stand with my co-leader, James Shaw, and all of our Green MPs here in this House to celebrate the life and acknowledge the passing of our much beloved first female co-leader of the Green Party of Aotearoa, Jeanette Fitzsimons. I acknowledge and send deep aroha to Harry and her children, Jeremy and Mark, and all of their mokopuna. I am thinking particularly of Rod Donald and family at this time, and especially of our friend Holly Donald, who works here in this House. I know that the loss of Rod while Jeanette was a co-leader had a massive impact on her and indeed on all of us.

I am standing here thinking deeply of all of the past Green MPs and particularly those who served with Jeanette in this House. I am thinking of our founding members of the Green Party movement of our party—those who have had a long association with her. Those people are really feeling the loss at this time very deeply, and I want to acknowledge their mamae. I am thinking of Metiria and Russel, with whom Jeanette had a close impact and working relationship. I am thinking of the Young Greens, who held their summer camp just recently in February, as we do every year on Jeanette and Harry’s farm, and were privileged to spend that weekend with her on her beloved riverbank, on her beloved campsite.

I am thankful for the people who have messaged us their love and their thoughts—the many organisations, the many individuals who have had a long association with her over generations and over decades. This kōrero that I stand with much honour to give now is on behalf of James and I and our Green MPs, and I acknowledge James will also be speaking later.

As I start to talk about her achievements, I note—ironically—that one of the biggest is she is noted for her humility, that people recall that her work was never about her as an individual, that she was very clear she was simply doing a job for the wellbeing of our planet and for our mokopuna and generations to come. She was part of the founding movement of our Green Party, right back from the days of the Values Party, through to The Alliance, and then to become the Green Party that we have today. I wanted to start her achievements by recalling her own words, in that her mokopuna have been the touchstone of much of her work. She, of course, was the only Green to ever win an electorate seat, in 1999—ground breaking and still, to this day, the only Green to win an electorate seat.

She also was the Government’s spokesperson—a quasi-Minister, in her own words—who, in 1998, introduced the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Act, establishing energy efficiency and solar water heating frameworks, and the legacy of which we are still working through today, thanks to her pioneering. She, of course, helped to bring the climate change conversation into Parliament. She was a leading voice for a new, compassionate, ecologically sustainable economics that has influenced the Government’s new wellbeing approach to this very day. In her valedictory speech, she called this an economy based on respect for people and for nature—simple, but something that to date had not been called for yet. She expanded legal aid for environmental cases and funding for community conservation groups. She, of course, also chaired the Local Government and Environment Committee for six years, in her words, scrutinising the executive, listening to the people, and knocking the silly corners off bad legislation.

Over the weekend, our councils of the Green Party met for a weekend hui that we had long planned, and we started by having a round and reflection for the impact that she had on all of us. Whether you were someone who knew her for decades and generations or whether you were someone who hadn’t yet had the privilege of meeting her, we talked about the fabric of experiences that all of us hold and the marvel and achievement of the work that she led and the person that she was.

There is very much a grieving sense of loss. As I continue to say, I thought we had her for quite a bit longer. I took for granted that she was going to continue to be around to mentor me as co-leader, to mentor us as Green politicians, and to hold us, as the Green Party, to account. I really did think that we had her for a lot longer.

I want to acknowledge and respect that a beautiful funeral, a small family and community and private affair, was held in Coromandel yesterday and respect and acknowledge the beauty that took place. We will be organising a wider, more public event here in Wellington in the weeks to come; I understand people are waiting for that.

I remember her telling me the time when one of our MPs rang her from this House to tell her that he was voting differently to what had been agreed. It was one of the funny stories when she was sitting me down as I was about to take up the mantle of co-leader and saying there is no job description, there is no expectation for what you might expect in doing this role, Marama, but one thing is for sure: you can expect the unexpected.

I recall Harry talking about her trying so hard but failing—after she left Parliament—to get arrested for protecting our marine environment against fossil fuel exploration and drilling. This is only a testament to her work never stopping long after—and to the very end of her life. She was a champion for a progressive vision that would protect our children, our people, and our planet. And she put herself on the line to exemplify exactly that.

Jeanette’s face keeps flashing up in front of me. I was very privileged, at that young Greens summer camp that I mentioned, to stay the night with her on her farm, to have a political huddle—that sort of time was special then. That sort of time with Jeanette was valuable to me in and of itself then. But right now, it’s feeling even more special than I realised it ever was going to be. It was a huddle that confirmed her clarity of purpose for what we—as humans of this world—need to be taking responsibility for, need to be working together for, need to be seeking the change that is indeed going to protect our future, our planet, and our communities. It was an affirmation that she maintained her commitment to those political visions right through to the very end.

Many people have many personal relationships and stories and reflections on her life. I’ve enjoyed reading through a lot of them and hearing a lot of them over the weekend, and there will be more to come. For my time here in this House today, I simply wanted to signal our deep gratitude for her commitment to a kaupapa that was going to be for the good of all of us. There is grief and loss in the gap that has been created, but there is hope in the legacy and the commitment that she maintained and an added drive for all of us, particularly for us in the Green Party and movement, to continue to be steadfast on our principles and our values and to do good in this world. Once again, I send my love to Harry and her children, all of her friends, and her family. Tēnā tātou katoa. Kia ora.

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN (Prime Minister):

I rise on behalf of the New Zealand Labour Party and on behalf of our coalition partner, the New Zealand First Party, to acknowledge the death of former Green Party co-leader Jeanette Fitzsimons CNZM, who passed away suddenly last Thursday night aged 75.

Jeanette will be remembered as a ground breaker, the first female co-leader of the Greens, the first Green MP to ever speak in this House, the first Green MP to win an electorate seat, and the first Green MP to hold an official Government position as spokesperson on energy efficiency. But this official record of impressive firsts only tells half the story. Her true parliamentary legacy will be the paths she laid on important environmental and conservation issues and the shift that she helped lead in our entire country’s thinking, especially on climate change.

In many ways Jeanette was by necessity a politician ahead of her time. Her job here was to agitate, to educate, to force change from those reluctant to make it. It seems strange now, but when Jeanette was first talking and writing about climate change, or global warming as it was often referred to then, she was an outlier, a bearer of an inconvenient truth. She was mocked and she was ridiculed for her earnest and persistent call for political action on the state of the planet.

I entered Parliament some time after Jeanette and even I recall that the response to climate change at that time was not what it is today, and it’s easy to forget that she was the champion of an issue that was not popular, that was not spoken of, and that was often rejected outright. I believe it is in large part to her tenacity that we are now taking this issue seriously, and that the paths she laid meant this House could vote unanimously for the zero carbon Act—a parliamentary consensus that would have been unimaginable when Jeanette was the lone voice when she first entered Parliament in 1996.

Jeanette was a true steward of the New Zealand environmental political movement. Starting out in the Values Party in the 1970s through to bringing the Greens into Parliament in their own right, Jeanette played a pivotal role over decades in building Green political representation in New Zealand and ensuring continuous representation in Parliament for the Greens since the first MMP election in 1996. She did that the old-fashioned way: holding public meetings, getting up media stories, writing op-eds, organising petitions, rallying, recruiting, and training new people. The bread-and-butter work of a political movement was never ever beneath her; in fact, I suspect that’s where she found her joy.

In fact, her commitment to the new generation could be seen in—as the co-leader of the Greens, Marama, has referenced—the hosting of the Young Greens camp each year on her farm in Thames. Passing the baton on and supporting the next generation of environmentalists was so core to who she was.

Jeanette once polled as the most trustworthy party leader in New Zealand; a fitting endorsement of her kind, caring, and passionate brand of politics. I think that she would be proud of the New Zealand Green Party today in that they keep those values in this House till this day.

I recall her presence in this House. I recall her quiet dignity. I recall her intelligence, her respect for others—even when she wasn’t offered that same respect in return. She was completely and utterly how she came across: a different type of politician and leader.

Her post-parliamentary career was not an opportunity for Jeanette to put her feet up and take some well-earned rest; she continued to campaign, to protest, to try and get arrested from time to time, to make presentations to select committee, and to train and support others.

Her final words spoken in this House were to the younger generation hungry for change. “Kia kaha—you are the hope of the future. Haere ra.”, she said. Now it’s time to say “Haera rā” to you, Jeanette. Thank you for your leadership. Thank you for your determined optimism. Thank you for laying the path that ultimately has meant that you left this place better than you found it. Haere rā.

Hon SCOTT SIMPSON (National—Coromandel):

Thank you, Mr Speaker. Jeanette Fitzsimons has left us far too early. I rise to speak on behalf of the National Party and the people of Coromandel. Jeanette Fitzsimons was a character and a personality larger than her sometimes diminutive stature might have foretold. She was always passionate, energetic, and articulate in her advocacy for the policies and principles that she held so dear and lived by every day of her life—those were primarily the environment, conservation, and humanity. She was staunch always with gritty and determined but often humble focus on achieving the goals that she wanted to. She never did it in a personal way; it was always about the policy, about the argument, about the debate, and about the issue rather than the person—something that we sometimes have too little of in this place.

In the Coromandel, she was always an active, articulate, and vocal presence in local communities, even after her time as the member of Parliament. She was never short of a well-considered, well-thought-out, and well-constructed contribution to any conversation or debate on any particular matter. She represented the Coromandel for just three years of her parliamentary career, from 1999-2002, but she left a local legacy that is much greater than often three years in this place might imply from an ordinary constituency MP.

Jeanette was well regarded, well admired, and well respected locally, nationally, and internationally for her views and for the way that she expressed them and presented them not only to those that supported her but those who were opposed or had a different view. No matter what our personal view might have been of those policies and thoughts and ideas that she had, one could never ever underestimate the sincerity or the level of conviction of those principles that she held dear and espoused at every opportunity. She lived, as others have said, by those principles every day of her life.

I had an opportunity to spend a couple of hours yesterday in the Kauaeranga Valley, near the farm, with Harry and the extended whānau and friends at a very beautiful and typically Green-type affair—if I might say—in a pleasing way. It was a very genuine, sincere, and pleasant afternoon beside the river, in the valley that she loved, with the people that she loved and who cared for her.

Towards the end of last winter, the Environment Committee was hearing submissions on the zero carbon bill. It was winter and a sub-committee had been meeting in Auckland for nearly two days in a rather drab Auckland City cold, colourless community hall—in Freemans Bay, from memory. Jeanette Fitzsimons arrived to make her submission on the zero carbon bill but before she started to speak, she presented on the submissions table a posy of bright yellow daffodils taken from her garden in the Thames Valley that very morning. They sat there, a bright beacon of hope and inspiration, while she gave her considered submission in that otherwise drab room. Then, when she’d finished her submission, the flowers stayed and they remained, and for the rest of the day those flowers stood on that table as a beacon of her contribution not only to the debate but as a measure of her views about the issues that we were talking. And they stayed there long after her submission had finished.

I want to extend condolences on behalf of the National Party and on behalf of the people of Coromandel to Harry, her children, and her wider whānau. A bright, green light has gone out on the Coromandel and across Aotearoa New Zealand too soon.

DAVID SEYMOUR (Leader—ACT):

I wish to join with other party leaders, on behalf of ACT, in condolence to Jeanette Fitzsimons’ family and in commemoration of her life and her contribution to New Zealand politics and this House. I’m sure that as a lifelong proponent of, and campaigner for the mixed member proportional system, she would want it to be so.

I did not coincide with Jeanette Fitzsimons in this Parliament, nor, unfortunately, was I able to know her, but in a way, the fact that what I know of her has been learnt by osmosis, has bled out through society and through secondary connections, speaks all the more strongly to those values that I know she had. There are politicians who believe it is an achievement to hold a particular office. There are politicians who believe that it is about what she might have called the “he said, she said” BS; Jeanette Fitzsimons was clearly a politician who believed that being in office was not an achievement but presented the opportunity to achieve not on the personality, but on the issues. That’s why we hear so frequently in the last few days, as people up and down New Zealand have come to terms with her passing, words like “principled”, “kind”, “dogmatic”, “humble”, “achieving”: values that I think all of us should aspire to and values for which all of us can have a great admiration for Jeanette Fitzsimons.

I want to extend, again, condolences to her Green Party colleagues and the wider Green Party whānau, and to those in her real biological whānau—they must be feeling such a sense of loss, and our thoughts are with them—and of course, to her, our commemoration of a great life, well lived. Thank you, Mr Speaker.

Hon JAMES SHAW (Co-Leader—Green):

Thank you, Mr Speaker. I want to acknowledge and thank the members who have spoken and the memories that they’ve shared. Those tributes, I think, reflect the extraordinary woman that Janette was. As others have said, Jeanette’s approach to politics was to treat everyone with dignity and with respect. Her belief in the practice of non-violent social change always led her to seek to build consensus and common ground, particularly with those with whom she disagreed most strongly. There’s a saying: “First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.”

I think, in the long run, Jeanette’s greatest success will be seen to be in the area where people ridiculed her the most: in economics. In her own words she said, “GDP is both too narrow and too generalised to measure anything useful. It does not tell us whether the poor are getting poorer, and if most of society’s wealth is held by a few. It does not tell us if we are paying more and more to control pollution and crime, rather than for real goods and services. It does not tell us if we are plundering the environment to [take] short-term monetary returns.”

Jeanette’s greatest regret was that she was unable to move the establishment on this point. Yet 10 years later the current Minister of Finance had this to say: “if we’ve got this so-called rockstar economy, how is it that we have the worst homelessness in the OECD? How is it that you can’t swim in most of New Zealand’s rivers and lakes? How is it that child poverty [has] grown to the extent [that] it has? The answer, in my view, was because the government wasn’t sufficiently valuing those things. And [because] it wasn’t being valued properly, it wasn’t being measured, and [because] it wasn’t being measured, it wasn’t being done.”

Now, I acknowledge that the other side of the House is, at best, sceptical about this Government’s wellbeing approach, and I also acknowledge that we are still a very long way from the holistic, social, environmental, and economic guidance system for the country that Jeanette envisaged, but we have gotten started. I hope that she knew, in the end, that she had won.

Jeanette had already had a political career spanning two decades with the Values Party when I met her some time after the 1990 general election campaign. I was 18 or 19 or so, and I will never forget it. There was a hui at a lodge in Ōhākune to make some choices about the future of this emerging political party, the Greens. There were some heated debates about whether to be a political party or an outside pressure group, trying to reach consensus on how consensus-based decision-making should work, whether to have leaders or not and, if so, whether there should be one or two, or some other model entirely.

Now, despite there being no clear consensus on that question at the time, it was clear to me that Jeanette was a beacon by which others navigated. The debates continued through dinner and through drinks and on into the lodge’s sauna, where I was a little bit startled to find that not only were the policy prescriptions very northern European, so was the dress code. That’s where I first learned to focus on the policy, rather than the person.

Now, thousands of people around the country will have their own stories of Jeanette: inspiring, challenging, humorous, poignant—endless stories of a life so rich, and which touched so many. Each and every member of this Green Party caucus here has their own, which Marama and I cannot hope to do any justice to today. She mentored and guided each of us, and all of us.

But none of us here served alongside her in Parliament. Gareth Hughes, today our longest-serving MP, entered Parliament when Jeanette vacated it, 10 years ago last month. Gareth himself will retire at the coming election, and someone else will take up the mantle. That is Jeanette’s legacy. She built a political party. She led it out of the wilderness and into Parliament. She helped to midwife it into Government, and it succeeds her.

Her leadership was so profound that it has continued to guide the choices and shape the endeavours of a generation who only entered this place when she left it, and who remain even though she has passed beyond the veil. There are very few people in our history who can make that claim. She was not just a parliamentarian and a leader; she was a mother, a musician, a thinker, a writer, a wife, a friend, a farmer, an academic, an investor, a philanthropist, and a protester.

She wanted a world where we could be counted—as she said—not by the size of our GDP and our incomes, but by the warmth of our relationships with each other and with nature, by the health of our children and our elders and our rivers and our land. We want more people to share the secret of real happiness and satisfaction in life, which comes not from having more but from being more, and from being part of a society that values all its members and values the land, the water, and the other species with which we share them. Farewell Jeanette and thank you, and please give our love to Rod.

Motion agreed to.

Waiata

Honourable members stood as a mark of respect.

Fitzsimons ‘deeply distressed’ by Green support of waka jumping bill

Ex-leader of the Green party Jeanette Fitzsimons has joined the criticism of the Green Party support of Winston peters’ ‘waka jumping’ bill in an appearance before the select committee hearing public submissions on the bill.

NZH: Former Greens co-leader ‘deeply distressed’ by party’s support for waka jumping ban

A former leader of the Green Party, Jeanette Fitzsimons, says she was “deeply distressed ” her party supported the so-called waka jumping bill to its first reading and she hopes wisdom will prevail.

She spoke about the internal dissent and crisis within the Green Party before the last election over the admission by co-leader Metiria Turei of historic benefit fraud.

She appeared before the justice select committee to speak against the Electoral (Integrity) Amendment Bill, which allows a party leader to oust an MP from Parliament with the support of two thirds of the caucus.

If the bill becomes law, the Greens co-leaders with the support of two thirds of the caucus, could have had them booted out of Parliament.

“Integrity cannot be legislated for,” Fitzsimons said. “It is a matter of conscience and judgment.

“In some cases, leaving one’s party is an act of integrity – as when the party has departed from the policies it took to the election or has abused proper process.

“In other cases it may be just self-serving political expediency.”

Greens have always strongly opposed measures like those proposed in the bill, until they supported the bill at it’s first reading. Some Green MPs have also expressed concern about Green support of the bill.

Fitzsimons also referred to the upheaval in the Green Party before last year’s election.

“Dissent is a valuable part of the political process, ” she said. “Without it, MPs are just clones of their leader.”

Referring to the Greens’ internal strife before the last election when MPs Kennedy Graham and David Clendon withdrew from the party list because they could not persuade Turei to resign, she said she supported their right to dissent.

“I strongly disagreed with the stance of my former colleagues Kennedy Graham and David Clendon took on the actions of co-leader Metiria Turei, and I was highly critical of the way they went about it which was unnecessary and damaging.

“But I would defend to the end their right to freedom of conscience and to express their views in opposition to the rest of the caucus, without being thrown out of Parliament.”

I hope Green staffer and list candidate Jack McDonald hears that. He recently slammed and excommunicated Graham:

“In the context of Kennedy still apparently having many supporters in the Party who were upset he wasn’t allowed back on the list, we need to make sure there isn’t the ability for this to happen in the future and prevent the election of Green MPs whose politics are incompatible with fundamental Green kaupapa.”

See A culture of Green zealotry and intolerance

He could learn a lot from older wiser Green Party stalwarts. Fitzsimons:

“Dissent is a valuable part of the political process. Without it, MPs are just clones of their leader.”

But a seemingly growing number of Greens view dissent, and disagreement with and questioning of their ideals, as blasphemy that should not be tolerated.

It will be interesting to see whether the leader McDonald worships and clones, Marama Davidson, stands by fundamental Green kaupapa and votes against the ironically named Electoral (Integrity) Amendment Bill.

If anyone is respected for their integrity in the history of the Green Party it is Jeanette Fitzsimons.

Green versus glitz

Metiria Turei was interviewed on The Nation this morning, it was slogan overload with an absence of substance or reality. I’ll post examples when the transcript is available.

Imagery illustrates a major problem for Green appeal.

Turei (photo posted by Greens on Twitter):

Previous co-leader Jeanette Fitzsimons:

Green versus glitz.