Last evening in Auckland we celebrated both an opening and ending. In the opening powhiri Russel indicated the importance of the meeting for setting the scene for the election campaign. There are always remits that generate a range of positions and he reminded us the importance of achieving consensus and working towards our common purpose.
Later that evening the focus was around an ending. Sue Kedgely and Keith Locke would both be retiring after the election and this was an opportunity for the general membership to recognize their enormous contribution to the Party and the nation. Despite being the last of the first group of Green MPs in 1999, and both being in their sixties, neither of them showed signs of the battles and abuse they had endured through their parliamentary careers. Many people shared their memories of Keith and Sue and reminded us of their many achievements.
Sue was remembered for her passion and tenacity around safe and healthy food, her battles for the humane treatment of animals and her gains in the area of public health. There were numerous tales of Sue purposefully striding through the Parliamentary corridors, skirts swishing furiously, while representatives of all parties cowered before her. Sue has been a formidable presence who has never lost an opportunity to insert Green policy where there was an opportunity and compromise was never an initial strategy. Her supermarket tours were popular around the country and I know many of those who are retired or elderly appreciated her advocacy in researching and campaigning for properly regulated care and that there are processes to ensure compliancy and maintaining standards.
Keith probably has endured more abuse and negative attention than any of our other MPs. His advocacy for social justice around the world and within Aotearoa has meant making unpopular stands that many saw as "anti American" or pro communist. His support of Ahmed Zaoui was ultimately vindicated but not without some criticism for helping a supposed terrorist. The thing that has stood out most about Keith is his humility and humanity, he believes in treating all people with respect and compassion even when he was totally opposed to views they held. The respect he has from those who know him but hold views on the opposite end of the political continuum was most exemplified when his impending retirement was announced in Kiwiblog. There were the usual strongly voiced opinions that described Keith in terms you wouldn't repeat in front of your grandmother (and probably not anyone else for that matter), but both David Farrar and David Garrett felt compelled to step in and mention the respect they had for Keith and his decency as a person.
While it is always sad and difficult to have people with the stature of Sue and Keith move out of their public role it also emphasizes the strength of the Green Party when the momentum continues and there are people in the wings ready to fill their shoes. The Green Party is extremely well served by the quality of our MPs but we are not reliant on one or two individuals for the sustainability of the Party and this fact is the reason for us attaining the position of 3rd Party and holding that position for the foreseeable future. We are here for the long haul, our country's very existence depends on it.