PoliticsOctober 19, 2017

30 ways campaigners changed Aotearoa for the better, despite nine years of National


As we wait for the government announcement today, let’s reflect on the power of the individual to effect change, whatever the political party in power, writes peace activist Jessie Anne Dennis.

Recently, a friend told me that part of what fuels her to be an activist is that she’s not a content person. Everything can be improved, and in so many cases, must desperately and urgently be improved to save lives. It’s a trait that many of us who work for social change carry with us. As you might expect, there’s downsides to seeing room for improvement everywhere we look. All too often, we move on too quickly and don’t stop to reflect or bask in the warm glow of success for long enough, or in many cases, at all.

When campaigning for change, victories normally come in baby steps. There’s no one moment that marks a successful finale; no climactic end-of-movie scene. It’s often only in hindsight, many years after the fact, that we see cumulative victory. We’re often also legitimately hesitant to spend much time in celebration mode when there are so many struggling, and so many issues urgently threatening our environment and people.

This week, whether we have a new government, or have three more years of National with a NZ First flavour, it’s a good time to reflect on what we have collectively achieved for Aotearoa despite nine years of a National Government.*

This is just a taste, in no particular order, of the many victories that have followed the powerful mix of love and anger and collective organising; even in the most trying of circumstances and with the least supportive governments. Most of these struggles aren’t finished, but these are wins worth celebrating.

Protest at parliament against sexual assault and rape culture, March 2017. Photo: Emily Writes

This list doesn’t include the thousands of small victories fought for in communities every day; the people standing up for better conditions in their workplaces, the social services continuing to care for our most vulnerable despite chronic under-funding, the communities stepping up and doing what needs to be done where our government fails us.

Whatever government we wind up with, let’s keep going, shift the goalposts, and make time to celebrate when we change our corner of the world for the better, even though there’s always more to do.

*There are of course many opposing opinions on the causes behind these victories; a worthy conversation, but one for another day and a much longer word count.

1) Zero hour contracts were scrapped in 2016, after a nationwide campaign led by Unite Union and fast food workers, some of the lowest paid workers in the country

2) The fossil fuel divestment movement, led by 350 Aotearoa and allied groups, took off, with various wins around the country. Over the last few years Victoria University, Dunedin City Council, Otago University, Auckland Council and others have divested from some, if not all of their fossil fuel investments.

Care worker pay equity campaigner Kristine Bartlett celebrates last week’s win.

3) In April this year a massive victory for pay equity was won, when care workers reached a $2 billion dollar settlement covering 55,000 care workers. This win followed years of campaigning by unions and care workers and Kristine Bartlett taking her historic case for pay equity to court.

4) In 2010, Government plans to remove conservation land from schedule 4 of the Crown Minerals Act were largely scrapped after a massive outpouring of opposition.

5) A ban on shark finning was applied to all fisheries in New Zealand in 2014.

6) Petrobras dumped its permits for oil and gas in the Raukumara Basin off the East Cape in 2012, following huge resistance from local Iwi Te Whānau-ā-Apanui and ally Greenpeace.

7) Councils around the country have come out against deep sea oil following public pressure, including Christchurch City Council and Auckland Council.

8) The nationwide anti-fracking movement had many important victories, such as Christchurch City and Kaikoura and Selwyn District Councils declaring their regions frack-free.

9) 42 Iwi settlements have been enacted, which were fought for in and negotiated in a context of a long history of struggle against colonisation.

The Whanganui River. Photo: Creative Commons

10) As part of one of those settlements (the Whanganui River Claims Settlement Bill), the Whanganui river gained the same legal rights as a person in 2017. Te Urewera also gained legal personhood status in 2014 as part of Tuhoe’s crown settlement.

11) Wellington’s mayor Justin Lester informed Peace Action Wellington that Wellington City Council had been instructed to disallow the annual New Zealand Defence Industry Association Weapons Expo to occur on council venues. This followed mounting pressure and direct action opposing the expo in 2015.

12) Marriage equality legislation passed into law in 2013, following decades of campaigning by LGBTQIA+ communities.

13) The refugee quota was increased for the first time in 30 years, following public outcry about the Government’s lack of response to the Syrian conflict and resulting refugee crisis. The campaign for a bigger increase in the refugee quota continues.

14) Mass demonstrations against the TPPA took place across the country in February 2017, including in Auckland where thousands bought Auckland CBD to a stand-still. The TPPA is on hold, for now at least.

15) This year Countdown and New World announced they will phase out plastic bags by 2018.

16) Plans for The Ruataniwha dam in Hawkes Bay were scrapped, possibly permanently, following a land swap deal being ruled illegal by the Supreme Court and the council backing out of financing the project.

17) Shell delays its plans to drill a test well in the Great South Basin off the Otago-Southland coast, and is yet to return.

18) Norwegian based oil company Statoil announced in 2016 it will no longer look for oil and gas in the Reinga Basin, off the West Coast of Northland.

19) Following Statoil’s announcement, Anadarko, the Brazillian oil giant, dropped its permits in the Pegasus Basin off the coast of Wairarapa and Kaikoura, marking another win for the national movement against deep sea oil.

20) Following a select committee enquiry initiated by Jan Logie, Green Party MP, and support services around the country, the Government announced in March 2016 that it would increase funding to specialist sexual violence services.

21) In August this year, The Ministry for Primary Industries backtracked on a draft National Environmental Standards clause that would have overridden council control of GE organisms released in their regions, after 16,000 people said no to GE trees in their submissions.

22) Bans on animal testing for psychoactive substances (2014) and for New Zealand made cosmetics (2015) were introduced.

23) The Government backed down on plans to collect individual client level data in 2017, where social services were to have to hand over sensitive client information. Following opposition from sexual violence services this plan has been shelved for now.

24) The campaign for a living wage gained momentum around the country, with over 60 businesses becoming living wage accredited employers.

25) Government scrapped plans to remove ‘whanau first’ policy in child protection legislation, that would have made it harder for Māori children to stay within their wider whanau, Iwi or Hapu when being placed in a new home. This was following widespread opposition to the proposed removal of this clause.

26) In June this year, The Crown finally apologised for the atrocities committed at Parihaka in 1881, when the settlement was invaded and destroyed, with men being sent to prison and hard labour in the South Island and many women who were left behind raped or assaulted.

27) In 2012, Meridian energy pulled its plans to dam the West Coast’s Mokihinui river, after a concerted campaign of opposition from locals and groups including Forest & Bird, who cited the large environmental effects the dam would have including on endangered whio, eels, and fish.

28) Parents of disabled children won a court ruling in 2012 confirming they were being discriminated against by the Ministry of Health by not being paid for their care work. It is now possible to be paid for care work for family members.

29) In 2017 Evolution mining abandons plans to explore for gold in Puhipuhi, Northland. Ngati Hau had led a long running campaign against mining in the area involving hikoi, protests, pickets, blockades and occupations.

30) After the tragedy at Pike River mine in 2010, and efforts from the families of those who lost their lives and their supporters, health and safety laws were improved and new legislation passed in 2016, making employers criminally responsible for harm to workers.

Keep going!