Nine reasons to be stoked about this new government

…and some of the areas we know we need to keep pushing for positive change

I’ll be honest with you, this scene from Parliament on Wednesday made my heart swell with pride for our amazing little country:

This is our new Speaker of the House, Trevor Mallard, holding Labour MP Willow-Jean Prime’s baby while MPs discussed a bill to extend the amount of time new parents can take off work and still get paid from 16 weeks to 26.

It made my heart sing, not only because baby Heeni is adorable. But because this is what a compassionate society and government should look like. Looking after each other. Ensuring everyone can participate. Taking care of our babies.

Over the past three years, hundreds of thousands of us, have been working hard to accelerate positive change in Aotearoa. Often in circumstances that felt like pushing a boulder up a hill. But here we are, with a new government, and a new set of circumstances.

It’s time we took pause to celebrate.

Here are nine reasons to be proud of Aotearoa right now:

  1. We’re fixing the mental health system and looking out for our young people
Previous Associate Health Minister Peter Dunne, (now Health Minister) David Clark and (now Associate Health Minister) Julie-Anne Genter accepting our 12,000+ petition on mental health.

For the past two years, tens of thousands of ActionStation members have been coming together to bravely share their stories and experiences of the mental health system, sign petitions, donate to polling and billboards, and put pressure on the government to fix our mental health system. We were dismissed by the previous Health Minister as “left-wing anti-government protesters.”

Today the new government has committed to:

  • Conduct an Inquiry to fix our mental health crisis
  • Bring back the Mental Health Commission
  • Provide free counselling for under 25s
  • Ensure everyone has timely access to quality mental health services

It’s not yet clear exactly what form the inquiry will take, or what it’s scope and terms of reference will be. So we’ll be following closely to check that it will be a genuinely independent inquiry, with a sufficiently broad scope, and will let you know if we need to rally together again to remind the new government what they promised.

But for now, take a minute to celebrate these wins, because these policies will save lives and it would not have been possible without the immense people power which made it happen.

2. We’re looking after our babies and the people who look after them

In 2015, more than 2000 ActionStation members came together to support grassroots group 26 for Babies in their campaign to get MPs to support a bill that would have increased paid parental leave from 16 to 26 weeks.

Hearing our voices, Labour, Greens, the Māori Party, NZ First and United Future all supported the bill. It started to feel hopeful. The bill could pass.

Then in 2016, Bill English, as Finance Minister at the time, issued a ‘financial veto’ to stop the bill from passing. The veto is a mechanism which allows the government to stop spending it does not agree with, even if the majority of MPs in Parliament do.

It was a tragedy for our babies. But thankfully not for too long.

Just this week, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced that new parents will be entitled to an extra four weeks of paid parental leave by July 2018, and the full 26 weeks, we and many others called for, by 2020. Hooray!

3. Together we’re building a more compassionate justice system

Our Director of Campaigns Laura O’Connell Rapira with volunteers from youth-led criminal justice transformation group JustSpeak, as well as new Labour MP Kiritapu Allan and social justice advocate Dr Kim Workman.

This year, ActionStation members agreed on a vision that states that we want:

A more compassionate justice system built on community and connection, which prioritises prevention of crime, restoration of harm and rehabilitation of people, so that every person in Aotearoa New Zealand has access to a justice system which gives them a chance to put right any harm they have done and to build a better future for themselves and their families.

We agreed on this vision because New Zealand’s justice system is not working, our rate of imprisonment is one of the highest in the developed world, and it is unjust. If you’re Māori, you are three times more likely to be arrested, convicted and imprisoned than non-Māori.

The good new is that our new Justice Minister has made two excellent decisions in the past month that we feel are worth celebrating:

The first is that the Labour-led government will scrap the ‘three strikes law. The idea of the law was that this harsh approach would reduce offending rates, but evidence from overseas always indicated it was unlikely to work and after eight years in effect that’s also clearly the case here. New Zealand has one of the fastest growing prison populations in the Western world. As the Justice Minister has said: “We have to find a better way to reduce offending and keep communities safer.”

The second is that the Government will provide Teina Pora with compensation for wrongful conviction and 20 years of imprisonment, properly adjusted for inflation. Teina was the victim of one of New Zealand’s worst miscarriages of justice, and robbed of more than two decades of his life, in prison for crimes he did not commit. Properly compensating Teina is the right thing to do, and it’s great to see the new Minister move swiftly to right this very long and drawn out wrong.

4. We’re recognising the historic wrongs done to people in state care

Ngā morehu (survivor) of state abuse, Eugene Ryder, speaking at Parliament

Almost a year ago the ActionStation community rallied around campaigner Anneleise Hall to support her call for an inquiry into the historic abuse of people in state care.

Over decades more than 100,000 children and vulnerable adults were put into state institutions and suffered terribly. Many were physically, sexually and emotionally abused, and to this day there has never been an inquiry or an official apology from the state.

We ran the petition alongside the Human Rights Commission campaign ‘E Kore Anō: Never Again’ and in June, the survivors themselves delivered the petition to Parliament. That day meant so much for so many people who had been treated so horrendously for much of their lives.

On that day representatives of every political party were present on Parliament lawn to show support, except for National. Now the new government, a coalition of parties present that day, have made the inquiry a priority in their first 100 days.

The recognition and validation of the pain and experiences of the ngā morehu (survivors) by the government has now begun. Let’s learn from our past and ensure it never ever happens again.

If you would like to better understand this issue, we strongly recommend checking out current affairs show The Hui’s ‘Ngā Morehu’ which follows the moving personal stories of four survivors.

5. We’re giving hope, life and opportunity to 750 more people seeking refuge every year

Our Director of Story & Strategy Marianne Elliott with Murdoch Stephens (Doing Our Bit), Peter Dunne, Iain Lees-Galloway, Grant Robertson, Ibrahim Omer, Megan Woods and Denise Roche at our petition delivery.

For more than three years we’ve been working with grassroots group Doing Our Bit to make the case for doubling the number of people we annually grant refuge to in New Zealand from 750 to 1500.

It’s a drop in the ocean when you consider the United Nations estimates the number of people displaced by war, famine, persecution or violence at 60 million, but it was a necessary and overdue step closer toward doing our bit as good global citizens. It would also be the first increase since 1987.

3000 of us sent emails to MPs. 20,000 of us signed a petition. Many of you involved your children in sending messages of hope, and hundreds more joined Amnesty International to hold candlelit vigils throughout the country. We spelled ‘Double the quota’ in people on Parliament lawn. We crowdfunded a plane to carry our message above a sold-out All Blacks game.

And now, we are finally there.

On October 25, Iain Lees-Galloway (pictured above) was announced as our new Immigration Minister, and so was a timeframe for the new government to reach a quota of 1500 in the first term. This would transform the lives of 750 more people every single year and we should feel proud.

6. We’re protecting conservation land by stopping new mining

Coromandel Watchdog and others presenting their petition to protect Karangahake Gorge from mining at Parliament to MPs Catherine Delahunty and David Parker (who is now Environment Minister)

In August the ActionStation community got behind local group Coromandel Watchdog to help them protect their precious native bush, birds and environment from a gold mine. Despite huge public opposition the previous Government had been opening up conservation land for permission to open new mines.

The new government has just announced it will block all new mining on conservation land. It’s a great victory for the environment over an extractive industry.

“The mining industry now know that they will not be allowed to open new mines in our conservation estate and the community now has certainty conservation land will be for conservation,” said group spokesperson Augusta Macassey-Pickard.

The new Minister for Conservation Eugenie Sage pointed out in announcing the decision that tourism on the West Coast is now responsible for more jobs than the mining sector. “It’s crucial that we protect the very thing that draws visitors — unequalled beech and rimu forests, river valleys and a network of huts and tracks.”

Sadly, the new policy may not stop companies with existing permission to mine on conservation land so the fight for Coromandel Watchdog continues. So while we need to keep working to protect our shared beautiful places in nature, it’s worth celebrating this moment!

7. We’re looking into how the NZ Defence Force operates overseas so we can ensure justice and peace

In April evidence presented in the book ‘Hit & Run’ by investigative journalists Nicky Hager and Jon Stephenson showed that the New Zealand SAS was involved in a raid on an Afghan village in 2010 in which six civilians were killed, including a 3 year old girl, Fatima.

Our community jumped into action calling for the need for a full and independent inquiry into what happened that night. Hundreds chipped in for an ad in the Dominion Post to keep the issue under the nose of our politicians. Our Co-Director Marianne argued the case for an Inquiry on Q+A. Then, a group of passionate volunteers got together to lead the campaign and keep the pressure on.

Prime Minister Ardern has this week said she will “talk further with the NZ Defence Force about Operation Burnham”. This is a hopeful sign.

A proper inquiry is needed to restore the integrity of the NZ Defence Force, for the public to know the truth, and for the people who lost their lives and their families to be brought justice and peace.

Share the petition to support the new Government to set up a proper inquiry to find out the truth.

8. We’re giving the relief of medicinal cannabis to those who need it

The incredible Helen Kelly, champion of the people

It’s hard to remember now but public opinion on the use of medicinal cannabis was once overwhelmingly opposed to reform. This changed dramatically after individuals such as the incredible Helen Kelly came forward with personal stories living with a terminal illness.

This year thousands of us got together to push Associate Health Minister Peter Dunne to change the law to allow those who need it to be able to access medicinal cannabis products. We made some progress when he announced in June that doctors would be allowed to prescribe these products.

Today, the new government has committed to introduce legislation to make medicinal cannabis available for people with terminal illnesses or in chronic pain in the first 100 days.

9. We’re taking action to protect Papatūānuku (Mother Earth) and ensure a safe climate future

Youth-led climate action group Generation Zero on the stairs of Parliament at their launch of the Zero Carbon Act

Climate change is an issue that impacts all of us, and is already causing serious harm. Villages in our neighbouring pacific island nations are having to relocate due to sea level rise.

That’s why we need political parties to work together and look beyond election cycles to take meaningful action on climate change.

Last year, youth-led climate action group Generation Zero developed the Zero Carbon Act which is a legal framework for ensuring a safe and healthy climate future. It has four key points:

  1. Establishing a target in law of zero carbon by 2050
  2. Ensuring stepping stone targets along the way to get there
  3. Establishing an Independent Climate Commission to ensure this all happens
  4. Developing a robust action plan to both reduce, and adapt to climate change

Today, the new government has committed to introduce a Zero Carbon Act, establish an independent climate commission and set robust target of zero emissions by 2050. But for the Act to last it needs support from all political parties. Sign the petition to show your support for robust climate legislation.

But the work isn’t over yet…

It makes for hopeful reading doesn’t it? Just think, if it weren’t for hundreds of thousands of people giving their time, energy, money, ideas, creativity, tautoko (support) or aroha (love) we may not be in the place we are today. It is the people in Parliament who get to enact these changes into law, but it us — and other community and grassroots groups like us — who create the waves of people power that crash on Parliament doors to give politicians the mandate and platform for change. We know our work doesn’t stop here.

Here are some of the areas we know we’ll need to remain vigilant over the next three years. We must:

  1. Ensure Labour keep their promise on TPPA, and do not sign the deal if it includes the toxic ISDS clause that would enable multinational corporations to sue our government;
  2. Push the government to go further than they are in improving the lives of renters. The Healthy Homes Guarantee Bill is due to be finalised in Parliament next week and it needs a lot of work. Can you sign our open letter?;
  3. Give the new government the support it needs to radically transform our tax system so that it taxes the ultra-rich and frees the poor;
  4. Ensure the Freshwater Rescue Plan is enacted and that Māori rights over water are recognised fully;
  5. Shift public opinion so we can build popular support for increasing benefits and ensuring that everyone, including those who cannot work have enough to live a dignified live;
  6. Advocate for more funding and preventative programmes (such as consent education in all schools) to end sexual violence in Aotearoa once and for all.

Just to name a few.

There is a whakataukī (proverb) in Māori that says: Nā tō rourou, nā taku rourou ka ora ai te iwi or ‘With your food basket and my food basket the people will thrive’.

This whakataukī encapsulates the notion that while working in isolation might result in survival, by working together we can take all of our people beyond survival and onto prosperity.

We’re excited to keep working with you over the next three years.

Ngā manaakitanga,

Laura, Rick, Eliot, Marianne — your ActionStation team.

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