A photo of the Green champions, featuring last on the Green list Gerrie Ligtenberg. (Photo: Supplied)

Last on the list: I won’t shy from uncomfortable truths in making the Green case

In the third in the Spinoff’s Last on the list series, Gerrie Ligtenberg explains what inspired her to stand for the Green Party in Rangitata. At the 24th spot on the list, if the Greens can win around 20% of the party vote, Ligtenberg is parliament bound.

Ngā mihi ki a koutou. Ko Tatimana te iwi, no Horana ahau, ko Temuka tōku kainga ināianei, ko Gerrie tōku ingoa,  I live in the area of the lofty Aoraki Maunga revered by our tangata whenua Waitaha, Ngāti Māmoe me Ngāi Tahu. We live in between the Rangitata and Waitaki rivers, the traditional source for food and recreation. Climate change has significantly changed our environment with a history of native bush destruction, while the increase of intensive farming has caused soil deprivation and contamination of our drinking water. 

The Horizon poll of May 9, 2019 indicated that 43% of New Zealanders thought climate change was an urgent issue. If half of them voted for the Green Party, I’d be in parliament come September.

There’s no shame in being at the end of the Green Party list as I’m in the company of many talented people who would all bring different competencies to the caucus. It’s the same in every organisation where people have their preferences and look out for those they know well.

But I dare say, we’re in total agreement that the people in the top half are there because of their mana in the party. Be that because the eight members of parliament have had to share all of the portfolios and make considerable contribution to the government’s decisions, or because they’ve contributed to Green causes throughout their lives so the members felt they needed to be placed high on the list. And rightly so. I too have placed Teanau Tuiono, Elizabeth Kerekere, Steve Abel and quiet achiever Scott Willis high on the list and wish there had been room for others too.

Ligtenberg at a climate march in Ashburton and an anti-TPPA march in Timaru (Photos: Supplied)

I don’t feel I’m at number 24 because I wouldn’t be a good MP – it’s an honour to be anywhere on the list after the rigorous process to get there in the first place. My quiet achievements in various governance positions combined with my work, first as a theatre nurse and then in aged care for the past 15 years, have set me up well for the challenges of parliament.

I’ve served as deputy chair of the theatre nurses organisation, on a worker’s council of a hospital and on a nursing advisory board. Since being a member of the Green Party, I’ve been secretary and convenor of our local branch, served on the provincial and national executive and, until recently, as a member of the policy committee.

My interest in politics goes way back to my high school years when my bemused parents were suddenly confronted with a daughter lecturing them about their political choices so I can relate well to the current wave of school strikers. While they get thousands of people to rally in the streets, sign petitions and even make it to the front page of the papers there’s still a job to do by getting their peers to vote.

A lack of civic education has led to a disinterest in the political process and how this affects people’s lives, combined with politicians who aren’t serving all of us but are mainly promoting a “what’s in it for us” mentality which inevitably leaves out those who need a strong government the most. The erosion of our social safety net, the low wage economy and exclusion to an adequate income of every worker, paid or unpaid, when looking after people has concerned me as much as climate change. Standing up for social justice has been equal to caring for the environment which is why joining the Green Party was a natural decision.

I don’t shy away from speaking the uncomfortable truth which is a good attribute when looking at the antagonistic way speeches are made in parliament. I prefer making an argument based on principles and research on how bills affect our people rather than calling people names or dismissing their legitimate contributions.

I have to acknowledge the late Jeanette Fitzsimons who was staunch and gracious at the same time. It was an honour to have had one-on-one conversations with her as have so many others in the Green Party. She would’ve been so proud of us coming out with a truly transformative policy around a basic income and dignity for all New Zealanders in a genuinely inclusive society. I’m excited to be campaigning on this because we’re the only party bold enough to take up the challenges and opportunities post-Covid lockdown. So Party Vote Green in September and you’ll see me in parliament post-election.

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