Hope Down Under

If you’ve felt frustration over the American Green Party’s slow uphill battle for voter recognition, you may have registered in the wrong country. Seven members of the Green Party of Aotearoa, New Zealand were voted into office during the country’s elections last November—the first national election the Party had entered independently.

The world’s first Green Member of Parliament, Jeanette Fitzsimons, was directly elected in the Coromandel district, and because the Green Party also won more than five percent of the party vote, six more members also captured seats. These included Sue Bradford, officially banned from Parliament grounds for leading labor protests two years previously, and Nandor Tanczos, head of the direct action “Wild Greens,”—and the first Rastafarian member of any parliament, anywhere.

The newly elected Green “team” got right to work, putting eco-politics at the forefront of the new administration. The first Green Party bill to recently pass in New Zealand, introduced by Fitzsimons, was also the country’s first to address climate change, laying the foundation for a national policy on energy efficiency.

Because the party holds swing votes for the majority coalition, “The government has to take the Greens seriously,” says Press Coordinator Paul Bensemann. “And [it] has done so by embracing some of our key election planks—stopping West Coast logging and setting up the Royal Commission on genetic engineering.

“The yearly government budget in July included a $15 million stand-alone package negotiated by the Green Party,” Bensemann adds. The package emphasizes energy conservation, organic certification, better environmental accounting and environmental legal aid.

Leading the fight to legalize hemp cultivation and promote environmental justice, Nandor Tanczos was first mocked by the press, and then vilified by his opponents. He has been criticized for his religion and his dread-locked appearance, but since the election seems to have achieved new status as both sex symbol and respected intellectual figure.

“I was elected by vote,” the soft-spoken Rasta reminds his critics. “It doesn’t matter if there is a law mandating recycling. Individuals change their own life habits. If anything, I might be in a position to make it easier for them.”

Nandor sums up his party’s hard-won platform: “We favor simple ideas with big ramifications.” New Zealand’s Green Party membership has risen 60 percent since the 1999 November election—a big ramification indeed.