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Packing Up A Political Life

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Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media
Jeanette Fitzsimons
Jeanette Fitzsimons

By Maggie Tait of NZPA

Wellington, Jan 28 NZPA - Green Party founder and former co-leader Jeanette Fitzsimons has been packing boxes for weeks before announcing her resignation today.

Ms Fitzsimon, who turned 65 earlier this month, will leave Parliament on February 11. She was the first Green MP to speak in Parliament following the 1996 election -- the first under MMP -- as a member of the Alliance Party. In 1999 she returned on a Green-only ticket winning the Coromandel seat and in following years returned as a list MP.

Thirteen years down the track and Ms Fitzsimons is now about 80 percent packed having already sorted out the office at her and husband Harry's home at their organic farm in the Coromandel.

Boxes went back to the 1970s when she was with the environmental-based Values Party and then the Alliance Party.

Two ute loads of paper had gone for recycling.

"I've been finding all kinds of things that I campaigned on," she told NZPA.

Her list of files is a slice of New Zealand environmental campaigning history; opposition to Project Aqua which would have harmed the Waitaki River; campaigns from the 1990s against genetic engineering; toxic chemicals; an inquiry into the dioxin 245T; nuclear power; and energy.

"It's been like, in a way, reviewing my life and clearing out my head ready for whatever the next stage is. I've never been good at clearing out files and throwing things away, there's never been time so I've had to do it all over the last month or so and it feels really, really good to have that clearance."

Among notes were her thoughts at the 1997 climate conference in Japan where the Kyoto protocol was developed. It was her first year as an MP after the Greens got seven MPs into Parliament over a week after the election based on party votes.

"I wrote back about what the US was arguing, the positions of various other countries, and my intense frustration that we weren't making much progress. And I read that again when I just got back from Copenhagen and I thought I could have written that this year."

It saddened her that in 12 years progress had not been made.

Ms Fitzsimons said she had "loved and hated" her time in Parliament, glad to be able to make constructive change such as getting through energy efficiency legislation and home insulation policy but sickened by the point scoring in the House and tired by the long hours she had to work.

The party's best chance of getting in government was in 2002 which was blocked by Labour, Ms Fitzsimons said. However, the party had achieved legislative and budget gains without that.

"I am quite willing to say it's a regret I was never a minister because I think I would have made a good minister but ... the whole point about politics is you play the hand that you are dealt."

The move is another step in the changing of the Green guard. Last year she stood down as co-leader and Sue Bradford resigned when Metiria Turei was chosen to replace her. Ms Fitzsimons had wanted to leave earlier, but the death of co-leader Rod Donald shortly after the 2005 election changed that.

The warmth of reaction from other parties today showed how well respected Ms Fitzsimons was. But she said her Green colleagues would fill the gap she leaves and the party's style was not presidential and there would be no collapse on her departure.

"It might well be that the others can only flourish when I am out of the way. Sometimes it's frustrating for people if all the media are coming to me instead of to them. It certainly wasn't like that when I first came in, you build it over time, I've just been here longer and got more experience -- it's the message that counts."

Asked to encapsulate that message she said: "We can have prosperity without constantly using more, we can have a great way of life and be happy and meet all our needs and still leave a planet in good shape. But we can't do it if we believe the only measure of success is for the economy to keep growing forever and if we believe the only thing that makes us happy is bigger incomes."

If Parliament agrees Ms Fitzsimons will deliver her valedictory speech on Wednesday February 10 just before the dinner break and have a farewell party that night.

On Thursday she will finish packing up but work won't be over as she is to attend a policy conference in Raglan that weekend.

But after that she will go home to Harry and their organic farm.

"He just needs me to come home and he's really, really pleased."

The couple will then be packing again -- this time for a three-month trip around Europe to make up for lost time together.

They would catch up with oldest son Mark, other relatives, visit Geneva where she was living when Mark and other son Jeremy -- both now musicians -- were born, and immerse themselves in culture and spend time in the Mediterranean.

After six months she would make a decision about the future -- but any new job would have to be about the Green vision Ms Fitzsimons believes in.

She would continue to be interested in energy, sustainable farming and forestry, and connections between farming and climate change, as well as the international green movement.

"But who knows."

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