Last weekend Jeanette Fitzsimons delivered the inaugural Rod Donald Memorial lecture to a packed audience in Christchurch.
Here are some highlights of the speech and you can read the whole thing here.
Running through the history of democracy has been the issue of just who is a member of society? In ancient Athens women and slaves were not. In early nineteenth century Britain only landowners were. Many societies are still battling to include ethnic minorities. I was living in Switzerland in 1972 when women achieved the vote for the first time in federal elections. I was astonished it had taken so long, but even more amazed that the main opposition came from some women who saw it as a threat to the stability of families.
For several years there has been rising discontent in Canterbury about the over allocation of water from rivers and aquifers, and over deteriorating water quality. People who would never have seen themselves as activists created a new organization calling for a moratorium on new water rights until the problem was sorted. Farmers who were moving in large numbers from traditional dryland farming to irrigated dairying saw their livelihoods at risk. Councils tended to represent the farmers.
If democracy is about governing by the will of the people for the greatest good of the greatest number, then it also requires controlling our own economic destiny which includes ownership of our key productive assets, particularly land, and the ability of our elected representatives to make economic decisions in the future. Rod was deeply concerned that both of these have been steadily whittled away by successive governments. He would be even more concerned at the renewed attacks on them now.
There is no public movement—yet—to oppose Solid Energy’s proposals for massive lignite development in Southland which would release greenhouse gases significant on a global scale and make anything else NZ does on climate change largely irrelevant. Yet we had tens of thousands of people sign the Sign On petition asking the government to set a target to reduce greenhouse emissions by 40% by 2020, and hundreds of people actually came to the Minister’s public meetings to demand that commitment.