Free content by Fresh Content.net

Thursday, October 22

Greens to the Council of Trade Unions Biennial Conference

Dr Russel Norman, Green Party Co-Leader:
Speech to the Council of Trade Unions Biennial Conference


 Summary

Party's Ongoing Committment to Social Justice

There’s been a lot of rubbish spoken lately from some in the Labour Party and elsewhere that somehow Sue Bradford stepping down as a Green MP means that the Greens no longer care about social justice.  Well I say that’s garbage. The Greens are the only party in Parliament that consistently speaks out for working people and unions and we will proudly continue to do so. We work with the Labour Party when they do the right thing, and they often do, but it doesn’t always happen. They appear left wing in opposition but in government another side of their character emerges. 

ACC

The so-called ‘blowout’ in ACC is smoke and mirrors. ACC may need some tweaking, but there is no crisis.  There is nothing that justifies $100 surcharges being paid by injured workers... John Key told you the Government has proposed “modest changes” to ACC.  But it seems to me the changes are immodest, immoderate and immoral.
MMP

Let there be no suggestion of bias, no screwing of the scrum.  Put an independent body like the Electoral Commission in charge of writing the MMP referendum questions.... We believe the Trade Union movement should have a strong voice in this debate.... You know what has been achieved by third parties, in MMP Parliaments: paid parental leave, the end of youth rates, Kiwibank, the Buy Kiwi Made campaign, Super Gold Card, and flexible working hours are examples of the difference between the old voting system that served the few and the new system.
 

Full Text - Russel Norman's Speech
Tena koutou. I bring you warm greetings on behalf of the Green Party and on behalf of my co-leader Metiria Turei.

I am the grandchild of a couple of carpenters who barely survived the depression with their families intact; I am the child of a man who was given a chance to get an education and become a fitter and turner and then an engineer. We grew up in a housing commission house in Brisbane and went to the local state school. I was the last of six children and the first to go to university. The opportunities my parents and I received were the result of decades and centuries of struggle by working people. I am proud to be addressing the national conference of the trade union movement of Aotearoa New Zealand on behalf of a party that has never flinched in its support for working people and their unions. 

I am proud to stand before you as Co-Leader of the Green Party.
A Party that fights for an Aotearoa New Zealand where we look after all our people.

A Party that fights for an Aotearoa New Zealand where we look after the earth on which we depend for life.

A Party that fights for an Aotearoa New Zealand where our economy is both fair and sustainable.

Environmental sustainability, social justice, peace, democracy and respect for the Treaty are the Charter foundations of the Green Party.  Some people see these as separate but we see them as one. The Greens are based on the idea that the planet is finite so we need to share around the finite resources.

We believe that a fair society – a society that is not torn by inequality and suffering – is a just society, and it is the kind of society that is best placed to make the transition to sustainability. 

We believe that a sustainable society, one which lives within its resource limits and leaves some space for the natural world, is a society best placed to avoid ruthless fights and competition for ever diminishing resources. 

We believe that the idea that has imbued social democracy from the beginning of the twentieth century, the idea that we can forever grow the size of the economy, and that workers should be happy with a small proportion of an ever growing cake, we believe this idea is dead and buried.

We simply cannot continue to grow our resource use and pollution forever. We are starting to undermine the very basis of the existence of life on earth as our economy grows beyond the limits of our planet. 

We believe that that there is enough for everyone’s need but not for everyone’s greed. We need to share the resources around – our planet can afford for everyone to live in a decent house but it can’t afford to have billionaires flying around in their own jumbo jets. 

How can it be right that Westpac illegally avoided paying more than half a billion dollars in tax while there are still 160,000 children living in poverty in our country?  Indeed how can it be right that Westpac was convicted by the High Court of taking more than half a billion dollars from the taxpayers of New Zealand and not one of their executives is locked up? Imagine if one of us broke into the Reserve Bank’s vault and nicked half a billion bucks?

How can it be right that the government’s emission trading scheme will hand over billions of dollars in taxpayer subsidies to the biggest polluters, yet it can’t afford pay increases for hospital cleaners?  Indeed how can it be right that there are 160,000 children still living in poverty after nine years of a Labour government?

Social justice?
And now I need to address a rather unpleasant business. There’s been a lot of bullshit spoken lately from some in the Labour Party and elsewhere that somehow Sue Bradford stepping down as a Green MP means that the Greens no longer care about social justice.  Well I say that’s garbage. Green policy and kaupapa remains unchanged.

For the record I would remind you that it was the Greens who tried to get the last Government to extend the “working for families” payments to beneficiary families; but they refused, and punished the children of the poorest for the fact that their parents were out of work. That’s wrong. It was the Greens who pushed for a $15 an hour minimum wage, which Labour refused to implement. And we wonder why New Zealand is still one of the most unequal societies in the OECD after nine years of a Labour government? We think that’s wrong.

The Greens are the only party in Parliament that consistently speaks out for working people and unions and we will proudly continue to do so. We work with the Labour Party when they do the right thing, and they often do, but it doesn’t always happen. They appear left wing in opposition but in government another side of their character emerges.  But enough of the past, we need to look forward. 

Three recent steps
It is easy to talk the talk about putting the people of our country first, but you also have to walk the walk.  The Green Party has walked this path in Parliament for 10 years and we continue down the path proudly. Here are three of the most recent steps we’ve taken:

Number one: The Green Party has just signed its first memorandum of understanding with a trade union. We will have closer co-operation with the Service and Food Workers Union as a result.  We would welcome the opportunity to work more closely with other member unions of the CTU as well.

Number two: We are active in support of Unite’s living wage campaign.  Our party volunteers are collecting signatures for Unite’s national petition and we use our voice in the House to advocate for a $15 an hour minimum.  I know the Prime Minister spoke to you yesterday. I know he said we’re all worried about the wage gap between New Zealand and Australia.  

Mr Key – if you want to walk the walk then here is your first step – raise the minimum wage.

Number Three: We have developed a Green New Deal for New Zealand.
It is a way to tackle economic and environmental problems at the same time, based on the idea of Roosevelt’s New Deal from the last great financial crisis.
We’ve offered the Government a series of practical solutions.  They’ve accepted just one – the $323 million home insulation scheme that has already made 14,000 Kiwi households warmer and healthier in just three months.  The home insulation scheme has lowered power bills, lowered our need for energy and lowered the environmental impacts of generating power while creating jobs at the same time.

We have other equally practical plans that just need the political will to make them a reality. We could, for example, build 6000 energy efficient state houses over the next three years and create more than 28,000 jobs and house thousands of families.

Likewise, if we invest in public transport, we can protect low income families from the worst of the petrol price hikes that are coming our way. We can have a faster and cheaper way to get to work while reducing greenhouse gas emissions and cutting congestion on our existing motorways.

I understand John Key told you yesterday that he wants New Zealanders to have the reliable public infrastructure they need to do their jobs. But apparently that doesn’t mean buses and trains or footpaths or cycleways, because the National government is investing $7 dollars in roads for every dollar in public transport.  We have different priorities.

In total, our Green New Deal economic stimulus package would create 43,000 jobs at a time when thousands of New Zealanders need work. It would breathe life into a struggling economy and make it more sustainable. 

Meanwhile those 43,000 jobs would save the Government nearly half a billion dollars in unemployment benefits. That is half a billion dollars that our community needs for local economic development and core social services like education. 

Industrial action
While we take action in support of a fair and sustainable economy, we know that many workers across the country have also been forced to take action recently, but a different more direct type of action.

To the members of the Dairy Workers Union fighting Talley’s Open Country Cheese in the Waikato – we stand with you.

To the members of the New Zealand Tramways Union and the Akarana Bus Drivers Association and the other union members fighting NZ Bus in Auckland – we stand with you.

To the members of the Service and Food Workers Union who are cleaners across New Zealand and fighting for modest wages – we stand with you.
To the members of the Engineering, Printing and Manufacturing Union fighting Telecom – we stand with you.

To members of the public service, daily vilified by the new government, we stand with you. 

ACC
It is also important to acknowledge that the fights we share are not always from frontal assaults.  Sometimes the attacks on a fair society come from the side, or from the back.

I know that you will be concerned as we are regarding the Government’s plans to cut ACC entitlements.  I can also tell you the so-called ‘blowout’ in ACC is smoke and mirrors. ACC may need some tweaking, but there is no crisis. 

There is nothing that justifies $100 surcharges being paid by injured workers - especially when their injury was caused by their employer’s negligence.

There is nothing that justifies cutting the weekly compensation payable to casual and seasonal workers – almost a quarter of the workforce – by assessing their compensation as if they were in permanent full-time employment.

And there is nothing that justifies forcing highly skilled workers off weekly compensation into low-paid jobs – or to no jobs at all.  

I understand that John Key told you the Government has proposed “modest changes” to ACC.  But it seems to me the changes are immodest, immoderate and immoral.

The Green Party stands with the union movement in opposing the National Government’s attempted demolition of New Zealand’s world leading injury compensation scheme. 

MMP
Now, if this is the type of representation you want in your Parliament, then there is another battleground for you to consider.

Voters at the 2011 election will be asked a question about the future of MMP.  The public’s response to the question will determine whether we retain MMP or consider alternative systems.  MMP has given us more women in Parliament, more Maori in Parliament.  MMP has given us more diverse voices in Parliament.  If you want every man and woman’s vote to count in New Zealand, then there are two immediate issues.

The first is this: who gets to shape the MMP question that will go on the ballot in 2011?

The electoral system belongs to all the people of New Zealand – it does not belong to just the politicians.  We believe it's best to keep the politicians’ hands off the process - and that includes us.  

Let there be no suggestion of bias, no screwing of the scrum.  Put an independent body like the Electoral Commission in charge of writing the MMP referendum questions.

This leads to my second question, if it’s not right for us – the political parties – to write the rules for ourselves, then it follows that we should not be the only ones to shape the public debate.  For the Green Party that means, while we support MMP, we need other voices to speak out in the campaign to protect our fair electoral system.

We believe the Trade Union movement should have a strong voice in this debate.  We believe the trade union movement can counter the hard right that want a return to the 80s and 90s when big business took control of the Beehive.

You know what those years of ‘Rogernomics and Ruthanasia’ meant to workers. You know that that experience was the main driver to replace the winner- takes-all system with MMP.

You know what has been achieved by third parties, in MMP Parliaments: paid parental leave, the end of youth rates, Kiwibank, the Buy Kiwi Made campaign, Super Gold Card, and flexible working hours are examples of the difference between the old voting system that served the few and the new system that is more fair and more representative, the new cornerstone of our democracy. None of these things would’ve happened without MMP.  Between now and 2011 this is another challenge we face together. 

Conclusion
We have much to do. I wish you well with your conference. May the union movement prosper and may we together build a world that is both just and sustainable.
Kia kaha