Re­tir­ing Fitzsi­mons still green at heart

The Timaru Herald - - Local National - By DENISE IRVINE

WHEN Jeanette Fitzsi­mons was a young mother in Geneva, Switzer­land, in the early 1970s, her fa­ther Jack sent her a cou­ple of news­pa­per clip­pings about the newly formed Val­ues Party back home in New Zealand.

Nearly 40 years later,the re­spected co-leader of the Green Party still re­calls how she read the clip­pings and thought with plea­sure, ‘‘there are ac­tu­ally other peo­ple in the world who think the same as me about peace, hu­man rights, fem­i­nism and car­ing for the land’’.

Ms Fitzsi­mons, 64, is now a sea­soned, sil­ver-haired cam­paigner, a prodi­gious re­searcher with a sure, con­fi­dent grasp of her is­sues, a po­lite-but­de­ter­mined style of de­liv­ery, and an un­wa­ver­ing com­mit­ment to the Green cause. She also walks the talk, own­ing with hus­band Harry Parke a labour-in­ten­sive farm in the Kauaeranga Val­ley, near Thames, where ev­ery ef­fort is made to nur­ture and sus­tain their beau­ti­ful en­vi­ron­ment.

Last week, though, she an­nounced she was ready for a breather, that she would step down in June af­ter 14 years as Greens co-leader, and see out her fifth and fi­nal par­lia­men­tary term as a back­bencher.

Ms Fitzsi­mons laughs that some of the com­ments laud­ing her work and achieve­ments since her an­nounce­ment have sounded ‘‘more like a fu­neral ora­tion.

‘‘I’ve got lots more things to do. I will find other ways to help the Green move­ment’’.

Some of the ‘‘things’’ Ms Fitzsi­mons wants to do, though, are per­sonal, cen­tred on her much-loved farm at the end of a wind­ing gravel track. She and Mr Parke bought the land 17 years ago, built their wooden homestead, and got set up be­fore pol­i­tics took over Ms Fitzsi­mons’ life.

She wants to spend more time with her hus­band, her two sons, Mark and Jeremy, from her pre­vi­ous mar­riage, and her grand­chil­dren.

The plau­dits since Ms Fitzsi­mons called time on her Par­lia­men­tary ca­reer have fo­cused on her strong in­tel­lect, her work ethic, her fair­ness, her re­spect for oth­ers, her abil­ity to build and weld the di­verse Green team, the main­stream ac­cep­tance of many Green is­sues, and her steely determinat­ion. Her own as­sess­ment of her lead­er­ship legacy is mod­est, point­ing to the strong voice the Greens have pro­vided on dif­fer­ent is­sues.

No­body, she says, was talk­ing about the en­vi­ron­ment, cli­mate change, toxic pol­lu­tants and peak oil be­fore Green MPs were elected in 1996 and Ms Fitzsi­mons is proud of the way ‘‘we have changed the dis­course in Par­lia­ment’’.

She isn’t im­pressed with the way the new Gov­ern­ment is rolling back var­i­ous en­vi­ron­men­tal pro­grammes. ‘‘We fi­nally got an emis­sions trad­ing scheme, and now that is on hold, gone to se­lect com­mit­tee. It will be wa­tered down, and we are wast­ing a lot of time.’’

She is un­happy about Na­tional’s plan to can­cel the home in­su­la­tion scheme the Greens fought for, and also the planned over­haul of the Re­source Man­age­ment Act; she fears the lat­ter will make it harder for com­mu­nity groups to op­pose big de­vel­op­ers.

She is sim­i­larly unim­pressed with the re­peal of bio­fuel leg­is­la­tion, and the re­ver­sal of only al­low­ing schools to sell healthy food in tuck­shops.

‘‘On the whole, I’m not at all happy with the (Gov­ern­ment’s) first 100 days,’’ she says.‘‘It’s very dis­heart­en­ing, but you pick your­self up and try again.’’

And, in this spirit, Fitzsi­mons says she and co-leader Rus­sel Nor­man con­tinue to meet and talk to Prime Min­is­ter John Key and his deputy, Bill English. ‘‘We will still seek to work with them on is­sues where we have com­mon ground.’’

Jeanette Fitzsi­mons: The soon-to-re­tire Green Party co-leader is scep­ti­cal about Gov­ern­ment re­vi­sions of Green-led poli­cies.

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