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Wednesday, October 28

Sue Bradford Valedictory Speech



Here are the full text of Green Party Sue Bradford Valedictory Speech


Mr Speaker,

It is ten years minus a month since I first entered this place.  This is a short time compared to the contribution of lifers like Helen Clark and Michael Cullen, whose valedictories we have heard so recently.  Little did I realise that I’d be next.

But although ten years isn’t much compared to many who serve this House, it is long enough in the scale of a life time, and over the four months following my loss of the Green co-leadership election in May, it became clear to me that my heart was no longer in this job, and that it was time for me to move on, despite the fact that so much remains to be done.

I never expected to become an MP.  Some of you may remember the run up to the 99 election, when Nandor Tanczos and I were on the receiving end of some fairly vicious attacks.  I will never forget Helen Clark standing up publicly for me at that time, nor the Green Party for having the courage to support both Nandor and I in to high places on the party list, despite our backgrounds in radical and street politics.

I tried to repay the confidence shown by my party by doing the best job I could every day of my time here, even in the period since I lost a portion of my usually innate hope and enthusiasm earlier this year.

I know it is an enormous privilege to be elected as a Member of Parliament, and to be paid a high salary to represent the parties and voters that put us here.  I have always taken this very seriously, remaining acutely aware that so many hundreds of thousands of people are living  on wages or benefits way below what it costs to maintain even a remotely quality standard of living.

Every time MPs’ salaries have been lifted, it has been deeply embarrassing that there isn’t a mechanism whereby, for example, our pay could only go up if the minimum wage was lifted at the same time.

So, we all have an obligation to do the best job we can, and I think most of us take that pretty seriously, no matter which party we are from.  It continues to sadden me that so many people, particularly in the world of blogs and talkback, so casually dismiss New Zealand MPs as corrupt, or lazy or incompetent, or all those things simultaneously.

While there are of course exceptions, I believe most MPs do put their heart into their job to the best of their ability – and those citizens who so easily condemn us would do well, I think, to contemplate what it would be like if we didn’t have a parliamentary democracy in this country, and were subject to governance through the machete and the gun, as happens still in so many other parts of the world.

In the last few weeks people have kept asking me what I think I’ve achieved in this place.  While I think it is far more appropriate for others to pass judgement on this matter, I will  make just a few comments.

First, I think there is no question that my Member’s Bill amending s59 of the Crimes Act and removing the defence of reasonable force for the purposes of correction is the most significant thing I have been able to accomplish here, and will be what I will go down in history for, whether I like it or not.

I am deeply grateful that with huge support from NGOs outside Parliament and from 112 other MPs inside we were, in 2007, able to pass a law that now means children are entitled to the same legal protection from assault as adults enjoy.

I also commend John Key and the National Party for sticking to their principles on this, in the face of huge pressure from the proponents of the recent referendum, the results of which were deeply flawed because of the confused proposition on which it was based.

I do realise that the s59 controversy is an issue that hasn’t gone away.  The debate is not over, and many New Zealanders continue to believe that a parent’s right to physically discipline their child supersedes a child’s right to grow up free from violence.

However, it is my firm belief, and  research is beginning to demonstrate this, that ever since the child discipline debate began there has been a steady and growing change in thinking on the issue, with more and more people coming to believe that bringing up children without violence is better not just for the children and babies involved, but also for families, communities and society as a whole.

One day I do believe people will look back and wonder why on earth our country tore itself apart over whether there should be a legal defence for assaulting children or not. Meanwhile, there is a job for all of us to do in working for a society in which all children and young people are treated as worthy of innate respect, rather than as the property of their parents.

Last week I was in a carpark building in Auckland when a young woman approached me tentatively, in that way strangers do when they recognize you, and said, ‘oh, you’re that lady…’  I stopped, expecting her to say something, positive or negative, about s59 – but she went on, ‘oh, you’re that lady who got us proper wages – I took my school out on that demo we had in support of your bill.’

That was a lovely moment, to know that for some people this is what I’m remembered for.  I sincerely hope that no Government will in future turn back the clock on the youth minimum wage.

I also welcomed the support that came from every single party in the House for my member’s bill extending the time some mothers can keep their babies with them in prison.  I hope this small but significant reform will help underpin further much needed changes in the way we deal with mothers and babies who are caught up in this particularly tragic set of circumstances.

I had a brief brush with Government too, in my one term tenure as spokesperson on Buy Kiwi Made.  Jeanette Fitzsimons and I shared the unique constitutional innovation of government spokespersonships under the last Government.

While of course the experience didn’t come near to the genuine participation in Cabinet to which we both aspired, I learned a little more of the inner workings of government, and was honoured to do what I could to help  nurture New Zealand manufacturing, a sector of our economy that deserves a lot more recognition and support than it often gets.

But finally, I think the achievement that counts most to me is that from the perspective of my own personal and political core values, and those of the Green Party, I have never sold out.

Before I went to Parliament, I talked with a number of close friends and colleagues and asked them to let me know right away if they ever saw me forgetting where I came from or whose side I was on.  They promised to let me know, and if that ever happened, I knew I would have to either change my position, or leave.

Happily, neither Parliament nor the Green Party has ever put me in the position of having to make that kind of choice.

I will now return to the Parliament of the streets, and leave behind my nine colleagues  to carry forward our collective kaupapa as strongly and clearly as I have always endeavoured to do.

The moment has come when I must make a few acknowledgements, with apologies to the many people whom I do not have time or space to mention.

First and foremost I should like to pay tribute to Jeanette Fitzsimons and the late Rod Donald, for their inspirational leadership of our first generation of Green MPs, and for their personal support for me, especially in those early years before there was much acceptance of the fact I might actually be up to this job.

I should also like to thank all my fellow Green MPs over the years - and Green Party members - for your support and friendship – and for the fact that I think we were the first political party in parliament ever to send MPs to officially take part in demonstrations overseas, when Nandor and I represented you at the WEF actions in Melbourne in 2000.

I would also like to thank former Speaker Jonathan Hunt for the kindly mentoring role he took with me in my early years here, and to acknowledge not only Jonathan, but also Dr Paul Hutchison and David Parker for the friendships we formed on that memorable Speaker’s tour.

Looking up at the Gallery today, I am touched by how many of you are here from various community, church and union organizations with whom I have worked over the last ten years.

I would have achieved nothing in this place without the close working relationships I’ve had with you and other key people in sector groups across all my multifarious portfolios.

From the beneficiary advocacy groups, I should particularly like to thank people like Kaye Brereton, Tony McGurk, Quentin Jukes, Graham Howell and Paul Blair for the way in which you have kept in touch, supported and advised me on how best to take the struggle for jobs and a living wage for all into this place of power.

To the NGO representatives involved in the huge task of amending s59 of the Crimes Act, can I particularly acknowledge today Beth Wood, Mike Coleman, Ian Hassall, Deborah Morris-Travers, Robert Ludbrooke, Sonya Hogan, Murray Edridge – and so many more.  The reasonable force defence was only removed because of your hard work and commitment over many years – the children of our country thank you.

I should also like to acknowledge all my union friends, including the late Luci Highfield, for your support and encouragement in our collective endeavours to defend and improve wages and conditions for the working people of this country.

From the racing portfolio, I would just like to make a special mention of Dr Murray Blue, who  has always stood ready to assist, with sound advice and a deep commitment to the welfare and wellbeing of the small clubs who make up the backbone of racing in the industry’s neglected heartlands.

I would also like to acknowledge the many friends I’ve made across the House in different parties – from people like Katherine Rich, Chester Borrows  and Simon Power in National who became unusual allies at times, to the many Labour, Maori Party and other parties’  members with whom I hope genuine friendships will continue long after I leave this place.

I must take a moment to also mention the amazing staff who work to support us in our jobs here,  from all the   EAs who have worked with me, the out of parliament and Wellington based Green staff, through to the PCO staff, select committee officials, security guards and messengers, library staff and so many others without whom none of our work would get done. 

Finally, I’ll take a moment to return to politics.

There is a Leonard Cohen song many of you will know, which starts ‘They sentenced me to twenty years of boredom, for trying to change the system from within.’

That song has been a bit of a theme tune for me in recent years, but I have to say, my ten years in the maw of the system have not been at all boring.

However, I am looking forward to returning to politics on the outside.

We are living in a time of economic and environmental crisis.  There appears to be no real willingness from either Labour or National-lead Governments to take real leadership on issues like dealing with the impacts of climate change, or on seriously reducing the deepening gap between rich and poor.

Until we are prepared to take a long hard look at our economic system, how it works, and in whose interests it operates, we are all on a hiding to nothing.

Capitalism is not providing the answers we need to find a way forward, and some of us at least must be brave enough to seek out viable, democratic and peaceful alternatives.

People elected to Parliament are expected to lead – but doing the same things over and over again that don’t work isn’t leading.

Unless we are willing to challenge the status quo, to examine power relationships and inequality, and do something about addressing core issues, nothing will change for the better for those who have least, or for the natural world our species is so bent on destroying.

There will be no safe and secure future as long as we have a system which supports and encourage inequality rather than being serious about addressing root causes.

Anyone who thinks we are not heading for an economic crash is quite deluded.  We got a a big warning, pretended for a moment we were going to deal with it, then kept doing the same things all over again, believing in the meanwhile all that nonsense about green shoots.

If people in communities, learning institutions, marae  and workplaces around this country want things to change structurally for the better, we are going to need to be committed to working for change  ourselves, without expecting politicians to do it for us or to come up with all the answers. Chances are politicians won’t take the leadership needed, not unless they are really pressed.

I am going back out into the world, determined to contribute what I can to raising peoples’ awareness of the power  we hold in our hands if we really want to change the world – and to help as best as I am able with the never ending task  of working to help make our country a better place for all of us to live, not just some.

Once again I thank all my family, friends, colleagues and comrades for your love and support over the past ten years, and I look forward to continuing our collective mahi in the days, months and years ahead.