- Murray Horton
Dean Parker, although never a CAFCA member, was a key member of the wider CAFCA team in recent years. He was one of the judges for the Roger Award for the Worst Transnational Corporation Operating in Aotearoa/New Zealand for the Roger's final three years (2014/15/16). He declined our invitation to be Chief Judge one of those years. I didn't know him and the only time we ever met was at the 2017 Auckland event to announce the winner of the last ever Roger Award.
The full set of two decades of Judges' Reports can be read here. It was unusual for individual judges to be quoted in those Reports but that changed in the Roger's final years. Dean was wonderfully economic with his verdict on insurance transnational Youi, the last ever winner (2016): "Youi - outright criminals!". Of finalist Coca Cola he noted that it is "insanely damaging" to peoples' health.
In 2015, he said of Serco, the runner-up: "Handing prisons over to private companies seemed at the time totally insane. Private companies' sole concern would be capital gain, surely? Social benefit would be of little concern. Now this has been shown. We need to highlight Serco as an example of what happens when areas of social need are handed over to private market operators out to make a fast buck". And he said of Bunnings, which came third: "Every company seems to have stumbled upon this new weapon, flexible hours, as a way of squeezing its workforce".
Thank you, Dean, for your vital work on the Roger Award. And thank you for your enormous contribution to New Zealand culture, which was up front and unapologetic about which side you were on. "He had a sardonic relationship with the Auckland Theatre Company, which was logically his production house. But think of the Remuera crowd, they would plead with him as he presented them with another well-crafted play written from a working-class consciousness. F... them, he would reply" (Stuff, Paul Maunder, 27/4/20, ). Good on you, comrade.
20/08/1947 - 14/04/2020
- Mary Ellen O'Connor
Kua hinga he totara i te wao nui a Tane!!l (A mighty totara has fallen in the forest of Tane!)
Dean left us suddenly with very little warning and no fuss whatever. That was typical. He combined an acute political vision and aesthetic with a complete lack of personal agenda, beyond that of getting his work staged/televised/published. This was extraordinarily difficult, given the politically alternative nature of the work, but he just kept on keeping on. And like the drip wearing away the rock, he eventually got some of the recognition he deserved. In 2010, he was awarded a Laureate from the Arts Foundation of New Zealand and two years later, he was the inaugural winner of the Playmarket award given to a playwright for significant contribution to theatre in New Zealand. These were hard won plaudits.
However, the ideas presented were always more important to Dean than any successes. His politics were clear and uncompromising - he was a communist (Scoop, 15/4/20, Playmarket press release). "I would describe myself as a lass-conscious writer. I'm with Lenin. I'm for the working-class seizing control of the wealth it creates, for the replacement of Parliament, the Army, the Police, the judiciary - all those deadly manacles of State control - with workers' committees and militias, and all this done as part of a worldwide struggle".
A desire to build a working-class party, saw him join the Trotskyist Socialist Workers Party in London in the early '70s, and later in Auckland, the Soviet-aligned Socialist Unity Party, of which he became Auckland Branch Chair. As neo-liberalism bedded in, he represented traditional Leftwing commitment in a world of slippery post-modern politics.
Dean saw theatre in a UK National Theatre sense - as playing a vital role in the democratic debate among citizens, a position which put him at odds with Auckland, the commercially-minded city he lived in, and loved. His challenging plays proved too much for Auckland theatre companies who wanted something light to entertain their wealthy theatre-going patrons.
That said, the Auckland Theatre Company took a risk on "Polo" (a humorous take on the polo-playing community but really an ode to Auckland) and the exotically titled "Midnight In Moscow". This play about the New Zealand Legation in Moscow (who is the spy?) 1947, carried its own special curse - the February 2011 Christchurch earthquake put paid to its Court Theatre run, then the Maidment fire nearly did the same in Auckland. It eventually opened in Auckland at the Aotea Centre in 2013 to very good reviews and went on to play a season at Circa in Wellington.
Increasingly, it was Bats and Circa, in politically-focussed Wellington that took a punt on Dean's plays. It was in these theatres, that "Tigers Of Wrath", "The Hollow Men", "Once We Built A Tower", "Slouching To Bethlehem", "Baghdad Baby", "Other People's Wars", "The Man Whom Lovelock Couldn’t Beat" and most recently, "Wonderful", opened. In fact, his first plays "Smack" and "Two Fingers From Frank Zappa" opened at Downstage Wellington in 1974 and 1975, which sounds like a perfect beginning to a successful playwriting career.
But Dean wanted to reach a different audience - those who never made it into expensive theatre seats. So, he turned to television and film in the hope that working people might actually see something they could relate to, through a more accessible medium. His collaboration with Greg McGee proved fruitful. Together they wrote the trucking series Roche, and the gold mining drama Gold.
His screenplay with Ian Mune for the big screen feature "Came A Hot Friday" won best film screenplay in 1985. Writing again with McGee, the screenplay "Old Scores", the Welsh/Kiwi rugby tale, won best film screenplay for 1990. "Share The Dream" - about workplace dynamics in deregulated New Zealand - won best TV drama script 1998.
And he wrote for many television series including Buck House, Mortimer's Patch, Bettys Bunch and Close To Home. His adaptation of Ngaio Marsh's "Opening Night" was the first New Zealand TV drama to be screened in the United States. However, disenchantment slowly set in as he discovered that TVNZ executives were just as market-driven as Auckland Theatre Company directors. Dean summed it up (Spinoff, 16/8/17):
"I've seen Tom Stoppard quoted as saying: 'To be a playwright is to have your heart broken every day'. You could argue that's a good thing for playwrights and their precious little hearts, but it could never happen here (New Zealand) for here the first requirement of a playwright's survival is a heart of stone". But he hung in. "Life's A Riot", a TV1 Sunday Theatre drama - the story of Jim Edwards and the 1932 Queen Street riot, screened in 2009 - brought together Dean's punchy screenplay, Ian Mune's direction and practised actors. A two-hour docudrama "A War Story" screened in August 2019, was the riveting story of journalist Peter Arnett meeting Osama Bin Laden in Afghanistan in 1998, a prequel to 9/11.
It was probably his 1988 adaptation of Charles Dickens' "Great Expectations" that got him writing for the theatre again. Adaptation then became a strong suit. "The Trial" adapted from Franz Kafka and "Enemies" from Maxim Gorky were both staged in small Wellington venues. Nicky Hager's books "The Hollow Men" and "Other People’s Wars"* provided rich raw material for Dean's plays of the same names.
Inspired by Covid 19, he had just finished stage adaptations of Daniel Defoe's "A Journal Of The Plague Year" and Albert Camus' "The Plague" when he died. *Those two books by Nicky Hager were reviewed by Jeremy Agar in Watchdogs 114, May 2007, and 128, December 2011, respectively. Ed.
Blurring Fact And Fiction
Dean's penchant for blurring fact and fiction became a trademark theatrical conceit, which he employed to great effect. For "The Man Whom Lovelock Couldn't Beat", Dean invented Tommy Morehu, an athlete of working-class, Maori, Catholic background who carried the weight of the story about class/race/religious disadvantage in his long sporting struggle against the privileged, middle-class, Pakeha, Protestant Lovelock. Many theatre-goers were completely taken in by the tale - "You know, I had no idea about that!" until Dean was forced to add a postscript to the play about the non-veracity of Tommy Morehu. He may have been mythical but he had well and truly served his purpose.
Dean was forever extending his subject matter and style. "The Slippery Opera", (1983) a parody of the famous Bertholt Brecht/Kurt Weill musical ("The Threepenny Opera") set among the bodgie gangs of 1960s Napier; "The Red Feds" commissioned by Art at Work to encourage trade union involvement in theatre (1989), right through to "Who Killed Blair Peach?" (2019) 40 years on from the event, were all memorable niche productions for small appreciative audiences. Blair Peach was a New Zealand teacher killed by cops during a 1979 London anti-racism, protest. Ed.
In February 2020, he attended a very engaging reading of his play “Shirley And Bill” (Sutch) at Circa, Wellington, based on a biography of Shirley Smith (lawyer, campaigner and the wife of Dr WB Sutch). Some have noted that he had reached a new level of interest in women, artistically speaking, with this play, and also the completion of his mirror novel, from the perspective of Hilary, the romantic interest in "Johnson" (see below).
It would have been very interesting to see where this development might have led. His partner Isabel commented that as time went by, Dean became a lot more accepting of the collaborative process that went into producing the magic on stage rather than jealously protective of the purity of his script. But despite repeated successes, he was never confident. On opening night, he would sit nervously at the back of the theatre still mentally pacing up and down. Later, as the audience departed, chattering happily, Dean would breathe a great sigh of relief and the first night angst would lift.
But not all his theatre involved serious political point-making. The annual Bloomsday celebration billed as "the only Hibernian, Hebrew, Pasifika event in the world", took place at the Thirsty Dog in Auckland's Karangahape Road. (Bloomsday is June 16, the 24 hours in which James Joyce's novel "Ulysses" plays out, always celebrated street-style in Dublin. It is named after Leopold Bloom, the book's protagonist). It was Dean's unique "K" Road interpretation of this event, the extracts from Joyce's text punctuated by local characterisations and contemporary references, which gave this event its particular flavour.
Set pieces always included the dominatrix Bella Cohen, played by Bruce Hopkins in outrageous drag, the citizen and the dog played simultaneously by Joe Carolan, a mezzo-soprano piece to utilise the talents of friend Yuko Takahashi and the Molly Bloom soliloquy at the end interpreted over the years by a series of high profile female actors whom Dean had persuaded into the role.
All to the accompaniment of the Jews Bros. musical arrangements ranging from the compulsory "Love's Old Sweet Song" through Catholic hymns to the best of Abba and even klezmer (descended from Eastern European Jewish folk music) numbers. As Farrell Cleary, one of the Bloomsday troupe, said in his poroporoaki to Dean, it was: "a utopian venture beyond the reach of film producers or TVNZ executives. A slice of Paradise Now. Now suddenly, K Road Bloomsday, is bereft of its magician" (Farrell Cleary at Dean's funeral service 28/4/20).
Radio, Magazines, Newspapers
Dean also wrote extensively for NZBC radio and its successor RNZ. His best-known radio play, "The 25 th April, A True Fiction", frequently broadcast on Anzac Day, is the tale of the (non-existent) WW1 poet and peace activist, Rufus Dewar. This mockumentary making use of commentary, reportage, re-enactment and poetry is made very believable by the inclusion of CK Stead, Marilyn Duckworth, Kim Hill and David Grant playing themselves and commenting on the political climate of the time. Only at the very end do we realise we have been royally tricked - the entire story is invented, aside from the backdrop carnage and despair of WW1.
He contributed frequently to the former Listener and the NZ Herald, of later years writing some very intriguing pieces about his travels to Japan, which he visited annually after his son Emmet settled there. The most recent Herald piece was about tragi-comic puppet theatre in Osaka, a very different theatre experience that he obviously relished. Branching out again, in 2017, he completed a novel "Johnson", a sequel to John Mulgan's "Man Alone". Dean identified strongly with Mulgan, particularly his involvement with the Greek partisans towards the end of WW2.
And when he wasn't writing? Dean was a football enthusiast following the fortunes of the English league teams especially Liverpool. Not for nothing was "You'll Never Walk Alone" (Liverpool theme song) selected as the recessional hymn for his funeral. Dean played enthusiastically in the Halt All Racist Tours (HART) soccer team 1976-86, becoming the manager 1987-91.
Direct Action, Prison Sentence
But he did more than play football for HART. During the third test of the 1981 Springbok tour, the microwave repeater station north of Auckland, was targeted. In a daring and well-planned raid on the tower near Puhoi, the microwave pipe was crushed and the video feed to South Africa cut. The political prisoners on Robben Island were delighted when they heard that their wardens could no longer watch the game.
But Dean became separated from the activist team and was arrested that evening on a Puhoi backroad for his part in this attack. He received a two-year jail sentence, appealed by his lawyer, and got off with community service. Murray Horton's obituary of HART is in Watchdog 72, March 1993. Ed.
Still in the guerrilla spirit, a favourite pastime was graffiti. He had his own permanent wall on the electricity substation on the corner of Ponsonby's Lincoln and John Streets where regular, humorous political graffiti would appear. Closely related was the placing of misleading "historical" plaques, including the one immediately outside his residence which claimed that the olive trees on the kerb (which he planted) were a relic of early Sicilian settlers in Ponsonby.
Trade Unionist, Irish Republican
Dean helped found the New Zealand Writers Guild which set itself up as a union to negotiate on behalf of writers. He was determined that this would be a trade union affiliated to the Council of Trade Unions (CTU) and throughout his career fought hard for both its primary negotiating function and its affiliation. One of the colleagues he most admired was Mervyn Thompson - coalminer, playwright, theatre director and academic - and he grieved his premature passing in 1992. Murray Horton's obituary of Mervyn Thompson is in Watchdog 70, August 1992. Ed.
Dean's study was something to behold. A bust of St. John Vianney - the Cureé of Ars (the patron saint of parish priests) - with a parrot on his shoulder, greeted you at the door. The desk, computer and printer were bizarrely decorated with little icons of differing significance - Marxist souvenirs, Catholic relics, little plastic racehorses and collages incorporating all of these, constructed by Dean himself, for some mischievous project.
Shelves were crammed with books; pride of place being reserved for first editions with interesting inscriptions that he had picked up in out-of-the-way bookshops. One of these was signed by Guy Burgess, one of the Cambridge spies whom Dean was fascinated by, as the embodiment of the deceptive, the shadowy, the blurred line between fact and fiction.
Fiction as fact was the thrust of a lot of humorous swipes at his friends, their foibles being grist to his mill. For a while, he acted as chief arbiter of The League for Revolutionary Purity which had an organ known as Purge used to detail the expunging of various comrades for crimes ranging from drunkenness and gambling to general amoral living, at odds with the truly staunch Marxist-Leninist spirit that he (arbiter, supposedly) represented.
But when it came to Ireland, he had a penchant for accuracy. With others, he founded The H-block-Armagh Committee, later known as Information on Ireland, an organisation financed by darts competitions in members' homes, which aimed to offset the mendacious, British version of events in Northern Ireland we received through the mainstream media. The organ for this was Saoirse (Freedom) a quarterly which he doggedly self-published for nearly 20 years, 1982-2000.
Dean was a professional ex-Catholic who got great amusement out of the more far-fetched aspects of the Catholic religion. He once went to the miraculous shrine of Lourdes and solemnly dipped his maxed-out credit card in the water. He also purchased quite a few souvenirs which he later re-purposed for his own hilarious ends. Over the last few years, Catholicism featured more in his musings, writings and references. He gave up drinking for the six and a half weeks of Lent 2020 and he had just had his first post-Lenten drink on Easter Sunday, two days before he died.
In the Rona Bailey lecture of 2019, he outlined some of his experiences. Here is Dean at his sardonic best, but veering into meaningful, in his account of his schooling at Napier Marist in the early 1960s. "We were taught at school that General Franco saved Spain from depravity, that Mussolini's corporate state was the highest form of democracy, that Our Lady would one day appear in the red sky above the Kremlin and that those from Hastings should take home a note telling their parents no longer to support Labour candidate Ted Keating as Labour was opposed to State aid for Catholic schools. We were told to cover our tracks when sitting public exams like School Certificate and UE (University Entrance) and not refer to Henry VIII as a heretic burning in Hell and if we mentioned Catholics to use the term Papists".
"But... we were also taught by clergy who took a vow of poverty. We were taught: 'For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?' ... We were taught that to steal a penny from a poor man was a mortal sin, whereas to steal sixpence from a rich man was venial and it didn't take long to figure maybe you should steal the sixpence from the rich and give it to the poor and next thing you know, bingo! you're in the Smash Capitalism Revolutionary Proletarian Party". (We are very lucky to have that Rona Bailey lecture filmed - thank you Rod Prosser, Russell Campbell and the Labour History Project - because it is the closest thing to autobiographical that we have from Dean. http://www.lhp.org.nz/index.php/video-of-the-2019-rona-bailey-lecture-by-dean-parker/). David Grant's obituary of Rona Bailey is in Watchdog 110, December 2005. Ed.
Protestant Work Ethic
While Dean may have been brought up a Catholic, his work ethic was entirely Protestant. He would rise every morning, get into his uniform, the blue shirt and black jeans, walk to his office in Great North Road where he had no distracting Internet connection. There he would write solidly, 500 words over five hours.
Nothing would interfere with that schedule, not even invitations to coffee with co-dramatists Roger Hall or Tom Scott. His discipline around writing was the key to his productivity. Then at one o'clock he would go home, check in with his beloved cat, Pompey, attend to emails, do some favours, often for younger or emerging writers, go to a movie or have friends for dinner, get a bit drunk and share a bit of gossip.
Dean and Isabel were immensely hospitable and generous people, the political translated easily into the personal. The visitors staying at their central Auckland residence were often young people in needof accommodation, the parties they held often functioned to cheer up someone in need. Dean had a particular interest in the younger generation; as he got older, they were his link to the new. In his videoed funeral tribute, his son Emmet spoke about the enjoyment he got out of kids, the stories and poems written for him and others, as well as his very pointed teasing. Isabel has been surprised by the number of tributes from young people that she has received since his death.
Dean chose his own path and lived it consciously. He was a man of many parts; a committed partner and father, a writer who straddled and mastered multiple forms, a Leftwinger, unionist, political activist and critic, a football buff, an Irish republican champion, a prankster and an extremely hospitable host. He will be sorely missed, but vividly remembered.
Moe mai rā, e te tuakana!
- Murray Horton
Jeanette Fitzsimons was a CAFCA member, in two bursts a decade apart, spanning the period 1997 until 2017. She was also a generous regular donor to the CAFCA/ABC Organiser Account, which provides my income. The last time I saw her was at the Thames public meeting during my 2014 CAFCA national speaking tour. In recent years, in her capacity as a campaigner against coal, she contributed an article to Watchdog - "Westpac Finances Bathurst: Foreign Bank Funds Foreign Coal Miner To Destroy NZ Biodiversity & Global Climate" (134, January 2014).
And of course, throughout her time as Greens Co-Leader, CAFCA had an active and productive working relationship with that Party, primarily with her fellow Co-Leader, the late Rod Donald (my obituary of Rod is in Watchdog 110, December 2005, and I refer you to that for the historic details of the CAFCA/Greens relationship - which continues to this day, although it is nothing like as close as during the Rod years).
Wearing my Anti-Bases Campaign hat, ABC has had an activist relationship with the Greens ever since they first entered Parliament in 1996 and every Co-Leader (bar James Shaw) has spoken at one or more of ABC's Waihopai spy base protests during those 20-plus years. The biggest crowd to attend one of those in many years was in January 2006, when the Greens combined with ABC to honour the memory of Rod Donald, who died in November 2005. That was the one Jeanette spoke at.
- Catherine Delahunty
Jeanette Fitzsimons lived a big and generous life, full of a tenacious commitment to green ideals. She was my neighbour in the Kauaeranga Valley in Hauraki, my flat mate in Aorangi Terrace, Thorndon (Wellington), and my Co-Leader when I first entered Parliament. Writing about her life and legacy is challenging because she was a friend and I cannot really feel she can be gone. Her voice is still speaking to us about climate change, about limits to growth and walking our talk.
I have written a number of obituaries of her and none of them feel like the whole story. The whole story would be a book about her as one of the most critical people in the creation of the Green Party in Aotearoa. However, I could never write that book, I was not a founding member of the Green Party, I can only share what I know. Some people are remembered not only for what they do but also for the grace with which they do it. She is one of those people.
Jeanette Gaston was born in Dunedin (as her family lived in Mosgiel) in 1945 and was proud to be from Te Wai Pounamu, the South Island. Although she spent most of her life in the North Island she did not forget where she came from. The family moved from Mosgiel to Awhitu area near Pukekohe when she was an early teenager and she then gained her later education in Auckland. She was an academically able and truly intellectual person as well as a talented musician who played the violin.
She was called by both music and academia but her true calling as a politician emerged later after other adventures. Jeanette married Bevin Fitzsimons and they lived for some years in Geneva where he was working. She was also working raising their two sons Mark and Jeremy and starting her involvement in environmental politics. It must have been a stimulating time to be there in a political European city as some of the Western world woke up to the fight for the planet and groups like Friends of the Earth were taking strong international stands.
Back in Auckland the Fitzsimons household was a hub of the emerging green debates and Jeanette was developing her passions and knowledge about clean energy, energy conservation and limits to growth. She was also part of the back to the land ethos being a shareholder at Waterfall Farm, communal land near Warkworth where she plunged into organic farming activities. These were heady days as the organics and environment movement began to find a political voice in the Values Party.
The Values Party started in 1972 and invested years of work into developing structures and policies that would express a new vision of genuine sustainability for this country. They were pioneers of political party-based environmentalism and they did gain electoral support but without winning any seats due to the First Past The Post system. Jeanette and Rod Donald were both active members of Values.
Jeanette started lecturing in Environmental Science at Auckland University and participating in some of the big energy battles of the 1980s. This included the Methanex Synthetic fuel plan hearings. By 1988 she had separated from Bevin and was starting a relationship with Harry Parke, her second husband, who was also a Values Party member and part of Waterfall Farm.
In May 1990 the Values Party and other groups set up the Green Party. The following year they joined the Alliance. In 1995 the leadership for the male Co-Leader role was strongly contested and Rod Donald, a young articulate upstart won it, but the female leadership was reported as no contest, there was just a remarkable woman, Jeanette Fitzsimons. She never faced a contest to her leadership and after the first contest neither did Rod. They were much loved leaders and Jeanette was also revered for her calmness, wisdom and coherence. Rod was admired for his energy, media savvy and strategic leadership.
In 1991 Jeanette and Harry Parke had moved to a steep piece of farmland in the Kauaeranga Valley near Thames where they married and started building a house and working in the land. Rod, Jeanette and Phillida Bunkle were the first Green MPs as part of the Alliance in the first MMP election (1996). The Alliance era was difficult for Jeanette who was a Co-Deputy Leader of the Alliance but struggled with Jim Anderton (Murray Horton's obituary of Jim Anderton is in Watchdog 147, April 2018. Ed.).
Their styles of politics were utterly different and Jeanette described to me a number of conflicts with the old school autocratic leadership model which Anderton imposed. A consensus-based Party could not accept this for long and in 1997 Jeanette was pleased that the Party hui at Tapu Te Ranga marae voted to leave the Alliance and become truly independent.
Jeanette and Rod stood alone but together as Greens in Parliament for the next two years, working harder and longer into every night, to try and establish their Party as a political presence. They flatted together throughout their time in Parliament often with Bronwen Summers who ran Rod's Office. They built a successful Co-Leadership model which was based on trust, respect and true warmth in private as well as public. They showed what shared leadership can achieve.
I started working for the Auckland Green Party in 1999 when Jeanette was contesting the Coromandel seat. Many Auckland Greens headed down to help the locals in the mammoth door knocking effort which electorate seats require. The hope was that with National in a deep political slump the seat could be won despite National having held it for as long as anyone could remember. Coromandel is basically a safe National seat but in 1999 there was a gap and Jeanette stepped into it. She was well known locally and she won by a whisker. This is thought to be a world first for a Green.
The Greens gained 5.16% of the Party Vote and seven MPs, plus the Coromandel seat after the final count. It was an exciting time as the Co-Leaders could at last hand over some portfolios and get on leading a Parliamentary Party with added muscle. I know that Jeanette found the negotiations with Labour pretty tricky. At one stage Helen Clark offered her the Environment Minister position but as that was really in exchange for key policy gains and was not Party mandated, so she refused it. That is quite a remarkable approach for a political leader but it shows her commitment to the Party's agreed goals.
She was always aware that Ministerial roles without real strength could lead to division between that person and the rest of Caucus, and she held to a longer view. The relationship with the Clark government was productive in some ways, especially when Jeanette and Sue Bradford gained Government Spokesperson roles and resources on Energy Efficiency and Conservation issues and Buy Kiwi Made. There were also struggles over the genetic engineering (GE) issue which culminated in a Green walkout of the House in 2002. Jeanette saying the Greens would not enter a Coalition next term without a strong GE moratorium was very badly received by Labour.
The amount of work Jeanette put into understanding the science and articulating the issues was huge. The public concern over GE was a defining issue and it's interesting to see how this has dissipated and lost momentum as it becomes a more nuanced scientific issue, or is at least perceived that way. I know Jeanette looked back and questioned the walk out decision but, when you read the Clark comments on how pathetic the Greens were to be worried about this technology, I can see why a line was drawn. However, I think she was most proud of her energy work and the establishment of EECA (Energy Efficiency and Conservation Authority).
Rod's Death A Terrible Blow
The 2005 election was even tougher than the previous years. The Greens had gained nine MPs in 2002 and some real policy wins, but the Labour Party chose to form a Government with NZ First and United Future. It's my personal view that being blocked from Coalition was a devastating blow to an exhausted Rod Donald who had fought so hard for MMP. He had pinned his hopes on having a real opportunity to make Green change happen as part of the Government. Jeanette was far more philosophical and able to roll with the punches until November 6, 2005, when Rod died very suddenly.
Rod's death was a terrible blow for the Party but worse for Jeanette. He was her political younger brother and comrade with whom she built the political wing of the Party and who shared the burden of leadership. I went and stayed with her for the days after his death in the house at Aorangi Terrace and shared her grief. She was carrying on alone and she felt it very deeply.
We all felt it when she stood by his coffin in the former Christchurch Cathedral and quoted from his favourite Pink Floyd song about "shining on you crazy diamond". His loss was so personal for her but also so huge for the Party and so unexpected. Jeanette was the one planning her retirement but now she had to hold the kaupapa without him. Rod's family suffered the worst loss because he had sacrificed so much time with them for the sake of the Party and all the public accolades mean nothing when Dad is never coming home.
The Greens struggled on to the 2008 election and Jeanette and Russel Norman forged a new partnership which was effective and respectful. They also began leading a change in the Green language around working with National, flirting with "maybe one day if they change", which was an effort to force Labour not to take them for granted. A number of us fought this issue tooth and nail for the next five or so years because we believed it to be disingenuous and far less preferable than opting for independence rather than a move towards the Right. I have always wanted to know what Rod would have thought about this as he was pretty staunch about being to the Left of Labour.
At the 2008 election John Key won and the Greens became the third largest Party with nine MPs. Jeanette continued to lead with Russel but she was preparing to leave. I lived with her for the last few months at Aorangi Terrace and watched her tired but resolute as she did her best to mentor the new team and prepare to hand over leadership.
I also did my best to sabotage her work habits by making her walk home with me at 10pm instead of staying on to 1am. She was so used to overworking but it was taking a toll. During those years she was very focused on the climate issues and became more disillusioned with the emissions trading scheme (ETS) as a solution to climate issues. She told me she had felt she had to support Labour's ETS as the only game in town, not because it was a better idea than a carbon tax with equity provisions.
This had been a big debate in the Greens because some of us had nil faith in market solutions to climate change, a position Jeanette came to agree with after Parliament. She was a pragmatic operator when she saw small gains but this was sometimes in conflict with her very strong values around limits to growth on a finite planet.
In my opinion one of her greatest contributions as a leader was her position on the Takutai Moana/Foreshore and Seabed issue when Labour took away tangata whenua customary rights to the coastal and marine area and breached Te Tiriti o Waitangi. Jeanette and Metiria Turei as a junior MP worked together to articulate the "double hulled waka" metaphor as a way forward under Te Tiriti o Waitangi during this challenging era.
This position reflected the Green constitutional commitment to Te Tiriti Articles and tangata whenua sovereignty which a group of us had been working on since 1999 and which was adopted in 2001. Jeanette showed her leadership in the Takutai Moana debate and provided support for Metiria to make her mark on this fundamental issue.
Voted "Most Trusted Politician"
Jeanette handed over the Co-Leadership to the winning contestant Metiria Turei in June 2009 and actually left Parliament in February 2010. Her final speech included lines such as "I have spent 13 years of my life weeping at the tragedy of so many people wasting the precious gift of life chasing the mirage of a bigger GDP" (gross domestic product).
She said her greatest concrete achievement was persuading Parliament to invest in large scale home insulation to better family health and reduce carbon emissions. Jeanette had been voted "most trusted politician" in a public poll which was an extraordinary achievement and it shows that her personal integrity was stronger than the stereotyping the Greens suffered during all the years she was in the House. She left the Parliament with no personal enemies and many admirers but a sense of frustration at what she had been able to achieve in terms of lasting change.
The Green Party will hopefully never forget the debt owed to Jeanette for the work she did during 14 years in Parliament. Also no one should forget the sacrifice made by Harry Parke, her husband who stayed at home and ran the farm. He is a former Co Convenor of the Party and as politically passionate as anyone I have ever met. He backed Jeanette so that she could play her role and he waited patiently for her to come home in weekends where at least half the time she was on the phone or the Internet.
Jeanette loved coming home to the farm. She loved milking the cow and using the chain saw and gathering the chestnuts and pecans. She was a dedicated farmer and she gained sanity and strength from the outdoor days at home. In later years in Parliament she also gained so much happiness from her two grandchildren and Harry's grandchildren who came to the farm in the holidays.
The children and the Woofers (Willing Workers on Organic Farms) had the benefit of her practical skills and her wisdom. While she was an MP Harry and Jeanette had some wonderful adventurous holidays in Aotearoa and the Pacific and the occasional trip to see her son Mark in England. They enjoyed these times all the more for the long months when they were apart.
Radical Activist "Retirement"
However, leaving Parliament was not retirement. Jeanette was extremely concerned about climate politics and became very active in groups such as Coal Action Network. She worked tirelessly on clean energy issues and projects and continued to travel to make speeches and inspire others to action. She did make the huge adjustment from Parliamentary leader to community leader with her usual serenity but it wasn't all easy. In conversations we had she made me aware of her sense of despair. She believed it was too late to stop the climate chaos which was beginning and that all our actions could only achieve so much.
This did not stop her from trying her best every day but it coloured the last decade of her life with that sense of sadness. She read the science, she did the numbers and she observed the refusal to change the systems that were killing her hopes. However, she also felt liberated from the burden of Parliamentary leadership and was determined to get arrested at the first opportunity. I vividly remember her dressed as "the elephant in the room" (climate change) at an anti-mining protest in Rotorua when we broke into a miners' cocktail party. An angry miner knocked the elephant over, only to discover it was Jeanette Fitzsimons. He slunk away embarrassed.
She was also more than happy to chain herself to a milk factory gate in South Canterbury to challenge Fonterra to stop burning coal. We also worked together with locals and Coal Action Network to stop a new coalmine for Fonterra at Mangatangi. Jeanette led the Climate Declaration work, a manifesto for immediate climate action supported by many notable people and she never stopped participating in climate work locally and nationally.
Her leadership to try and make the Resource Management Act recognise climate change took her to the courts as well as the streets. We had an enjoyable protest against gold mining in our home valley, whereby Jeanette, I and others were apparently so intimidating the mining company packed up and left. She was a regular visitor to the dirty energy frontline in Taranaki, joining the barricades against Big Oil.
I think one of her greatest experiences was joining the trip in November 2013 on the Greenpeace yacht Vega which challenged the oil drilling ship Noble Bob Douglas off the coast of Taranaki. Jeanette was on board with Bunny MacDiarmid and the crew for several weeks and I was present when she stepped ashore into Harry's arms looking refreshed and invigorated by this expedition.
Political legacy is a funny business. Often the concrete gains in politics are eroded by the next Government. I see this in Jeanette's work and in the remarkable list of gains that Sue Bradford championed. Legacy however is more than gains; it is manifest in the type of a leader a person has proven to be and where in history they have nailed their colours.
Jeanette was not primarily Left or socialist, her passion was ecological limits to growth, but she stood up for progressive measures for people every day of her political life. She was not an ardent feminist, as she felt personally free from patriarchal constraint, but she was committed to gender balance and supported all young women to take leadership for change. Her passions for clean energy and energy conservation were both philosophical and practical and her work on climate change connected her to thinkers and activists all over the world.
Not Happy With Green Capitalism
Jeanette always kept close to the Young Greens who met every summer at Pakaraka Farm. She and Harry loved having the young people camp there and participated in the activities and storytelling with them. Her eye was on the future while sharing the lessons of the past, and her time was generously shared. One of my last conversations with my friend was about the state of the world and the state of the current Green Party. She was not at all happy with either. Much like the Australian Greens the more radical founders have looked with anxiety at the risk-averse moves to the Centre which other Green Parties have made all over the world.
The slow electoral progress has caused some Greens to work for a move to green capitalism and a commitment to incremental not fundamental change. Jeanette did not settle in that camp as she saw the situation was too urgent for status quo thinking and for the Green Party to aim so low. It was understandable that other Parties were not transformative or radical but it was not her vision for the Greens.
It was quite painful for her to see the tinkering around the edges of an economic system which she said could never stop climate chaos and inequality. Of course, when you are no longer in power it looks quite different from surviving day to day, but Jeanette was more radical as she aged, less interested in wasting time on compromises that deliver so little change given the profound crises we face.
With her health struggles and her sadness at the absence of change she was sometimes depressed but never stopped working on the issues and being an active member of her local community. She never stopped mentoring many people across the country. I used to see her on Monday nights at yoga in our local hall and she would tell me how hard it was getting to carry on chain sawing and cutting gorse, let alone balance at yoga class as her body became less able to obey her will.
Nevertheless, it was a great shock the morning in March 2020 when I got a call that she had died in Thames Hospital after a fall and a stroke. I came home from the play I was part of in Wellington to MC her funeral, struggling all the way with the fact that she was gone. I sat by her coffin which my partner Gordon Jackman built and tried to say thank you for all she had been and done. We took her to the natural burial cemetery at Omahu which she had worked hard to help create.
She was not meant to be the first person buried there. Hauraki tangata whenua honoured her and called us into that place, welcoming Jeanette to rest in their whenua. They told me this was their honour. To rest in peace after such a life is her reality and our reality is missing her every day. Our reality and our responsibility are also to continue our best efforts for climate justice and an end to all systems that damage people and the Earth.
- Jane Kelsey
When people die, even their critics tend to become obsequious, not wishing to speak ill of the dead. That was certainly true of Mike Moore, whose obituaries have rewritten his history. One that at least captured Moore's contradictions was Richard Harman's "Mike Moore: Labour's Last Working Class Hero", (Stuff, 3/2/20) where Harman described Moore as: "A Rogernome; then a divisive leader and then an embittered ex-leader who reached the heights of international diplomacy; Moore had more than his fair share of critics". He did. I was one and for good reason.
Mike Moore was born in 1949, in the wake of World War II and just before the 1951 waterfront lockout. He knew real hardship. His mum was widowed with three children under 12. Moore was five. Being shipped off to Dilworth boarding school would have been hard, especially as he wore a leg brace after contracting a light dose of polio. Moore left Dilworth for secondary school at Bay of Islands College, before starting work at the meatworks in Moerewa at 14. It was a brutal stinking job in a workforce that was highly unionised and relatively well-paid.
Moore had become a printer by the time he entered Parliament as the Labour Member for Mt Eden in 1972 at just 23, as part of the tide that brought the Kirk Labour government to power. He lost that seat at the next election, as the tide turned again, returning as MP for Papanui to sit on the Opposition benches for another six years during the Muldoon government. I remember that he re-entered the House after defeating testicular cancer to a standing ovation, aged just 30. All this seems consistent with Harman's headline.
The next I remember is seeing a photo of Moore and the rest of the "fish and chips" brigade - David Lange, Roger Douglas, Michael Bassett - plotting to roll Bill Rowling, which they eventually did in 1982. Like others in the then Douglas/Lange inner circle, Moore rationalised the fourth Labour government's ideological purge of the New Zealand State, irrespective of the social consequences, as being born of desperation after Muldoon had run the country to the edge of oblivion.
Moore described his family's loyalty to Labour as tribal rather than ideological, which may explain the ease with which he was prepared to champion an ideology, policies and institutions that were blunt instruments of capital. To be fair, Moore was a pragmatist rather than a true believer. He argued unsuccessfully for an Australian-style compact with the unions and promoted a "new labour" agenda before Tony Blair.
I doubt either was designed as a tactic to enhance the legitimacy of the neoliberal project, which has been argued of their Australian and UK counterparts. Moore never struck me as that Machiavellian, or that clever. He really seemed to believe he could reconcile neoliberalism and the globalisation of financialised capitalism with internationalism and workers solidarity.
Trade Minister, PM, Opposition Leader
Moore was never a details man. While he could be self-deprecating, admitted mistakes, embraced pragmatism, it was always couched in a sublime self-confidence that the destination was right. No apparent concern for the casualties along the way. I knew him during the 1984-90 Labour government as New Zealand's Trade Minister, a portfolio he embraced with evangelic fervour.
This was the Uruguay Round era that led to the World Trade Organisation (WTO) and when the Labour government began unilaterally slashing tariffs, corporatising and privatising, and undermining unions. The trade policies had massive impacts on the working class, whether at the Hutt Valley car assembly plants or clothing factories in Levin, and instigated the deindustrialisation of the New Zealand economy.
Those I have asked about him during that time described Moore as a misogynist and a populist without principles who eventually alienated himself from the Parliamentary Labour Party he had converted to neoliberalism. During his time as Trade Minister, Moore also presided over the integration of the Department of Trade and Industry with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to form the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade. MFAT became one of the most powerful ministries, on a par with the Treasury.
I was always amused to hear Moore referred to internationally as a former New Zealand Prime Minister. He spent a mere eight weeks in the job after the Party deemed the 1990 election was unwinnable under Geoffrey Palmer. Moore stayed as Leader of the Opposition for a term after losing the election and appeared to claim victory prematurely at the 1993 election. He lost. Helen Clark took over, and Moore sat on the backbenches for another two terms.
Unlike Douglas and others, Moore drank the hyper-globalisation Kool-Aid. He genuinely believed in the Pollyanna version of globalisation: democracy, human rights, trade unionism, civil society participation could sit harmoniously with the free trade agenda of the WTO, and the radical neoliberalism he helped foist on New Zealand. Not a skerrick of doubt.
It was particularly galling to listen to eulogies that hailed Moore's term as the WTO Director-General. It was a dismal failure. Moore did not have the support needed to secure the position; developing countries wanted Thailand's Supachai Panitchpakdi. US Secretary of State Madeline Albright brokered a deal that Moore would get the first two years of the four-year term, and Supachai the second two years. That ensured Moore, rather than Supachai, would oversee the imminent 1999 WTO Ministerial in Seattle. Going into the conference, Moore lacked the support of a large number of delegates. It was a disaster in the making.
The conference was meant to launch a new Millennium round of negotiations. Moore's opening speech was typically circular and rhetorical: "Let me begin by paying tribute to our hosts, the United States of America, for its wisdom, leadership and strength in hosting this important conference. ... Ladies and gentlemen: This conference is doomed - doomed to succeed. Despite our differences inside and outside this chamber, the WTO will succeed because it is too important to fail. Too much is at stake. ... I have some empathy with some of these protestors outside. Not all are bad or mad. ... ".
Contrast that prediction to Nicholas Bayne (an academic I have never heard of), who described the Third Ministerial Meeting of the WTO as "a resounding failure. ... [E]ven before it could begin, the proceedings were disrupted by massive demonstrations. Central Seattle became a war zone, with tear gas and rubber bullets, and then a ghost town, with empty streets and boarded-up windows.
Inside the conference hall the atmosphere was little better. The conference chair (Charlene Barshefsky, US Special Trade Representative) and the WTO Director-General (Mike Moore, new in office) were booed in open session. In the end, the Ministerial Meeting was suspended with nothing agreed, only an exhortation from the chair 'to take time out' in the hope of resolving disagreements and reconvening later." Even a senior New Zealand free trader champion told me privately he couldn't believe Moore went to the Seattle Ministerial without a "Plan B".
Moore "succeeded" in securing the launch of the Doha Round of negotiations, which US Trade Representative Robert Zoellick attributed to a closing of ranks following 9/11. Moore branded Doha the "Doha Development Round" although there was never a possibility that rich countries were going to re-balance the skewed rule book that they had secured in the Uruguay Round. It's no surprise that almost 20 years later the Doha Round is dead, killed off by rich countries who have already launched a new agenda centred on digital trade.
In 2003 Moore published "A World Without Walls. Freedom, Development, Free Trade And Global Government. Saving Globalisation", reflecting on his time at the WTO. "Why Globalisation And Democracy Offer The Best Hope For Progress, Peace And Development" followed in 2009. These were classic "dictaphone books". The lack of intellectual rigour made it impossible to engage seriously with Moore's arguments. Dennis Small reviewed Moore's earlier book, "A Brief History Of The Future" in Watchdog 91 (August 1999). Dennis' review was titled "Free Trade Fantasies". Ed.
He perfected the skill of seeming to be eloquent while being utterly incoherent. I was at numerous press conferences, including at the WTO, where journalists looked at each other in bewilderment about what Moore had just said. One idea blurred into the next in a stream of consciousness. There was no evidence base, and often no logic. Some journalists found his incoherence endearing and amusing; for others, it was symptomatic of a chaotic mind. I recall one journalist adapting the Muhammad Ali saying "float like a butterfly and sting like a bee" to Moore's as "float like a butterfly and sting like a butterfly".
Servant Of International Capital
After his WTO term finished, Moore remained in the wilderness until the National government rescued him in 2010 with appointment as New Zealand's Ambassador to the US. That was just in time for the first rounds of the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA) negotiations and Moore was once more in his element.
Ill-health caught up with him again in 2014, first with a heart attack and then a stroke in 2015, and a slow decline. To reiterate, Moore was a Labour man born of habit and rhetoric, devoid of political economy and intellectual substance. That may sound condescending. But this was a man who was instrumental in the 1984 Labour government's radical neoliberal revolution in this country and that presided, temporarily, over one of the world's most powerful instruments to advance international capital. I have no doubt that Moore genuinely believed what he believed. And the hundreds of millions who were sacrificed at both those altars are his living legacy.