Sue Kedgley Maiden Speech

Published: Wed 9 Feb 2000 05:48 PM
Sue Kedgley Maiden Speech
Mr Speaker, it is an auspicious time to enter Parliament -at the start of a new century and a new millennium, as a member of a new party in Parliament, working with a new government with a bold new agenda for change. I detect a more optimistic mood in New Zealand, a sense of new possibilities, a feeling that we CAN change things and create a more just, more equal and sustainable society.
It is an auspicious time to have 7 Green Members of Parliament, and I want to pay tribute to Jeanette Fitzsimons and Rod Donald, whose courage, integrity and leadership in the last Parliament paved the way for our Green presence here today. I want to thank all of those New Zealanders who helped to bring us here, and to pay a tribute to those who have fought against genetically engineered food, for safe food, animal welfare, public transport, preventative health and other Green issues. I am here in this House to represent and give voice to your deeply held views.
I bring also my own views, my own set of experiences, and my own agenda for change.
As a Safe Food Campaigner for many years, I want to put food safety issues and the urgent need to restore consumer confidence in food regulatory authorities, high on the political agenda, where they belong.
As a City Councillor for many years, I want to see more grassroots participation, more democracy and far more Maori representation in local government. I will strongly support legislative changes such as proportional representation, limits on campaign spending and full financial disclosure in local elections to help achieve that goal.
As a public transport advocate, I am concerned that we still have not accepted the well-proven lesson that building more roads only creates more traffic and more congestion. In Auckland and Wellington we hear the catch-cry of the addict -just one more road! -while public transport is starved of capital. All the signs are that the truly successful cities in the 21st century will be those that have clean, fast and efficient public transport systems. And as a Wellington MP, I look forward to the day when we will finally lift the designation on the inner city by pass which has been there for 40 years, and invest the money saved in a state of the art public transport system.
As someone who has worked for many years in the New Zealand film and television industry I am distressed by the standard of New Zealand television. Studies show that many children spend more time watching television than they do in the classroom. Watching our state-owned television, children will see more images of Los Angeles than they will of their own suburbs and communities. They will absorb the values and the mindset of compulsive consumerism, and a violent and predominantly American view of the world, but little else.
TVNZ needs a new mandate, a new vision, a new Charter and a local content quota -so that we can tell our own stories, hear our own voices and celebrate our own, unique identity.
In a broader sense, my hope as we enter the millennium is that we can move away from rampant consumerism, greed and violence and find a way of living rich, fulfilling lives without destoying the environment that sustains us and gives us life, or the other species we share the planet with.
Mr Speaker, we humans are but one among the ten million or more species which inhabit the Earth. We're as much a part of the natural world as any other creature, totally dependent for our survival on the air, the weather, water and soil.
But instead of acknowledging this, there has been a view of the world --and its been a fairly mainstream view for some time now -that the earth, and the entire natural world belongs to us; that it is essentially a pool of resources that exists solely in order to be exploited by human beings --a sort of giant factory producing things for human consumption.
According to this view of the world, humans are entitled to use all of the earths natural resources, and all other species, for our own purposes ---to extract whatever we want from our depleted earth, to denude it of its forests, to degrade its soil and pollute its waterways, so long as we can keep our economy and our patterns of consumption growing.
According to this view, we have a right to turn animals into biological machines which can be manipulated, experimented upon, cloned, reprogrammed, patented, so long as it makes them more efficient producers of meat.
According to this view, if the life forms that are found in nature are not productive enough, the solution is not to moderate our wants, but to redesign life forms.
Genetic engineering is the ultimate expression of this world view. It acknowledges no boundaries, no laws of nature that are sacrosanct, no ethical or cultural considerations. It ignores deeply-held beliefs and practices of the tangata whenua that the transfer of genes across species is unnatural and interferes with the life force of people, and ultimately of whakapapa, of plants and animals.
It assumes too, that scientists have a right to tamper with the very basis of life, to break all the biological rules of evolution, and to permanently alter plants and animals in ways that could never happen in billions of years of natural evolution or breeding. All over the world genetic engineers are snipping, inserting, recombining, rearranging and reprogramming the genetic heritage of the earth, and introducing genetic material into our food from bizarre sources such as scorpions, viruses, leeches which have never been part of the human diet before.
Like genetic engineering, much of modern industrial agriculture is based on waging war, rather than cooperating with, nature---killing thousands of insects and organisms that are regarded as pests and thousands more that are harmless and even beneficial. Each year in New Zealand we spray more than 3000 tons of pesticides onto crops. Residues of these pesticides permeate our environment, our waterways, our streams and lakes, degrade our soil, and impair our health.
They're also found in more than half the food we eat, including ordinary staple foods like bread and potatoes. I wonder how many New Zealanders realise that, according to MAF, the average potato is sprayed 11 or more times while it is growing in the ground; The average onion about 18 times-despite the fact that we know that some of these sprays can cause cancer, birth defects and immune system damage. In parts of New Zealand like Pukekohe, constant spraying has created such widespread fungicide resistance, disease, insect problems and soil degradation that officials concede the onion industry there is in a state of crisis.
As we head into the new century it is time to question the wisdom of continuing down the path of chemically dependent agriculture and to switch to more sustainable ways of growing our food.
It is time also to change the way we view the natural world and to recognise, as the tangata whenua do, that we are children of this planet earth. As such we have a responsibility to protect it, and to recognise that life on earth is a delicate web, which we can easily destroy.
We need to recognise, too, that as the quality of our environment deteriorates, so does our own health (and that of other species). The hole in the ozone layer is causing epidemic levels of skin cancer. Numerous studies have implicated air pollutants, vehicle emissions, pesticides, heavy metals, agricultural and industrial chemicals and toxic wastes, in illnesses that affect our immune, nervous and hormonal systems, and diseases like cancer.
While we've made great advances in medical care, there has been a resurgence of infectious diseases such as tuberculosis, and we are increasingly vulnerable to devastating new infections and epidemic diseases. Already we're facing an epidemic of antibiotic resistance. We know that antibiotic resistance is likely to pose one of the gravest threats to our health in this century. Yet we continue to use antibiotics indiscriminately, and feed them on a daily basis to millions of animals who are not even sick.
Mr Speaker, every year we spend billions of dollars treating people who have become ill, but only a relatively tiny amount trying to prevent people from becoming ill in the first place. It's time we began to address the question of why so many people are sick, allergic to food, sensitive to chemicals and have damaged immune systems or suffer from chronic dietary related diseases at a time when New Zealand is more affluent than ever before. And it is time to invest seriously in preventative health policies which reduce the causes of ill-health.
Some studies suggest that 80-90% of cancers are environmental in origin, caused by exposure to cigarettes and other carcinogens in our workplaces, our homes and our food. It makes no sense, therefore, spending millions of dollars treating people with cancer each year if we're not at the same time doing everything we can to reduce our exposure to these carcinogens.
Equally, there's no point spending millions of dollars every year treating people with chronic dietary related illnesses such as heart disease and diabetes unless we are also trying to improve the diet and nutrition of New Zealanders.
Our diet has changed radically over the past few decades. We eat more and more food that is not fresh or nutritious but is highly processed, high in fat, sugar and salt, and laden with additives, some of which are banned overseas.
All of these foods that children eat, for example, contain amaranth, an additive that is banned in places like America and Russia after animal tests revealed it caused malignant tumours and birth defects in laboratory animals. And although it doesn't say so on the label, these two bottles of children's antibiotics contains the artificial sweetener saccharin -a controversial additive that has also been implicated in cancer. Our food regulations state that when saccharin is added to ordinary food, it must carry a warning, not recommended for children. What then is it doing in many of the medicines our children consume?
No one is allowed to bring a new drug onto the market without intensive testing, even though only a small percentage of the population may use a drug. Yet 18 genetically engineered commodies were allowed to infiltrate our entire food chain, without any labels, even though our own health authorities had not even assessed them to see if they are safe.
Three years later, there is still no requirement to label genetically engineered food, and a decision on labelling is being delayed yet again.
On a positive note, I look forward to the establishment of a Royal Commission of Inquiry into genetic engineering, and the opportunity it gives us to pause and take stock of the complex and far-reaching ramifications of genetic engineering. The Commission offers us a rare opportunity, as a nation, to choose a different path -the path of becoming a GE-free, organic nation. Fifteen years ago New Zealand was recognised internationally for its anti-nuclear stance. If we have the courage to become GE-free, organic nation, we could not only carve out a niche for ourselves as the leading producer of safe food in the world, but achieve international recognition for our leadership on this issue.
Other priorities for me include a reduction in our overall use of pesticides and eliminating the most toxic ones; reducing the amount of antibiotics we use in human medicine and in agriculture -ideally to less than half the present level, and prohibiting the practice of feeding antibiotics to animals who are not sick.
To help restore consumer confidence in the safety of our food we need to establish an independent food safety agency, as a matter of priority, and signficantly increase the resources allocated to food safety and nutrition.
I want also to see changes in the way we feed and treat food producing animals, and the phasing out of cruel farming methods which prevent animals from expressing normal patterns of behaviour such as sow crates and conventional battery hen cages, phased out. Mr Speaker, If people kept dogs and cats in cages all of their lives there would be a public outcry. Why then is it considered acceptable to keep hens in cages? Equally, if we fed groups of humans antibiotics in every meal, for every day of their lives, there would be a public outcry. So why is it considered acceptable to do this with animals?
My thanks to my friends and family and Green party members for all of their tremendous support along the way. And finally I would like to say what a pleasure it is, having arrived at this male citadel, to see so many strong and interesting women in this chamber and to note how much the face of Parliament has changed. Mr Speaker in pursuing my goals I pledge to work constructively with all of you, on all sides of the House, to ensure we have a stable and effective government over the next three years.

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