Retiring Fitzsimons still green at heart
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.