Within the Global Green community New Zealand is a leading nation. Our Values Party was the first Green Party to contest a national election in 1972 and the 1975 Values manifesto 'Beyond Tomorrow' is still considered to be a foundation document for all Greens. In terms of political influence at a national level the New Zealand Green Party is a success story. Most political systems around the world are not proportional systems like ours, many are very corrupt and most are designed to allow a select group to remain in power (for us to have 14 MPs is the stuff of dreams for other Green Parties). The UK Greens only managed to get one MP despite winning 1.1 million votes (proportionally they deserved 25).
Over twenty countries in the Asia Pacific region have Green Parties and around half of those were represented at the Asia Pacific Green Federation (APGF) congress near Wellington two weeks ago. During my time talking with delegates from Taiwan, Pakistan, Papua New Guinea and others I was forced to re-evaluate New Zealand's standing internationally and it made me feel more than a little uncomfortable.
Although our country is admired for our Green political history and our past reputation for standing up for the environment and human justice, our nation's standing on the global stage is now spiraling downward:
- Spying. We are a member of the Five Eyes intelligence alliance that has been exposed by whistle blower Edward Snowden as having been involved in mass surveillance. It was revealed that New Zealand has been involved in collecting mass data from our Pacific neighbours for the alliance and the US Appeals Court has ruled that mass collection of phone records is illegal. International terrorism was used as the reason for mass surveillance but it has been revealed that human rights activists and world leaders have also been targeted. It does appear that the purpose of much of the spying is to support existing political regimes and limit opposition. Among the individuals spied on in the past have been Nelson Mandala, Princess Diana, Jane Fonda and even Angela Merkel. In New Zealand our SIS spied on past Green MP Keith Locke from the age of eleven. One of the APGF congress remits passed the other weekend regarded a request for the mass surveillance of Asia Pacific countries by the Five Eyes to stop.
- Military Alliances. John Key referred to our sending troops to Iraq to support the war against ISIS as the price of being part of the "the Club". He clearly meant the Five Eyes and joining the US in its ongoing military interference in the Middle East under the excuse of fighting terrorism. In actual fact the destabilising effect of US military intervention and the supply of US manufactured weaponry to rebel groups is considered to be the most likely cause of the ongoing conflict in the region. In joining the US we are complicit in the illegal activities and sanctioned cruelty and human rights abuses that have been part of US operations for many years. Rather than winning the hearts and minds of those who we are supposed to be helping we are more likely to be considered a joint aggressor aligned to fabricated information, drone attacks on innocent people, illegal torture and incarceration without trial that have been associated with the US war on terror.
- Humanitarian aid. While being associated with the causes of international destablisation and conflict, the millions of refugees that have resulted find little support from the Five Eyes Alliance. Australia has one of the worst reputations for the treatment of refugees with many being detained for more than a year in inhumane conditions and being treated like criminals. New Zealand has an equally dodgy history with dawn raids targeting Pacific Islanders in the 70s and we are currently ranked 87th in the world for our annual refugee intake per capita. Our miserly 750 limit hasn't been increased for almost 30 years and our Prime Minister has supported Abbot's fear mongering stand against boat people. We clearly don't pull our weight regarding the humanitarian support of displaced people.
- Climate Change Action. The main focus of the APGF congress was climate change and yet again New Zealand did not come out well. The main causes of our changing climate have been the GHG emissions of developed nations and our Five Eyes partners are amongst the worst in the world for both total volumes and on a per capita basis. The United States is the second worst in the world by volume and, in relation to population: the US is the 8th worst, Australia 10th, Canada 12th and the United Kingdom 33rd. Considering New Zealand gets most of its electricity from clean renewables we are still ranked amongst the worst out of almost 200 nations according to Government data. New Zealand does not have a good reputation for our determination to deal with our emissions and our Government wants us to be followers, not leaders, in climate action. Our Asia Pacific neighbours are already suffering terribly from extreme weather events and rising sea levels. New Zealand is dragging its heels in this area rather badly.
- Inequality. New Zealand has amongst the fastest growing inequality in the world and is also one of the worst for child health and welfare. 25% of our children live in relative poverty and third world diseases are becoming increasingly common. We are similar to other Five Eyes nations where inflated CEO salaries, corporate welfare and financial bailouts to large financial institutions are an ongoing reality. While we were once considered an egalitarian society and a great country for bringing up children this is no longer the case, especially if you are poor.
- Homelessness is also a growing feature of the Five Eyes nations and, despite our general wealth, families living is cars and tents or sleeping rough are now common. In the US 'tent cities' can be found in most states. New Zealand joins Australia and Canada for having amongst the least affordable housing in the world related to income (less than 50% of New Zealanders now own their own home).
- Corruption. New Zealand has been considered one of the least corrupt countries in the world but this reputation is beginning to slip. With our growing trading ties with China, and their culture of bribing and paying off officials, similar behaviour is becoming more common in New Zealand. SkyCity and our housing market have also been identified as being useful for money laundering. Up to $10 billion of criminal funds are believed to be laundered in New Zealand every year.
- Human Rights. New Zealanders may think our country upholds human rights better than most but much legislation being passed recently ignores basic rights and the number of human rights recommendations from the UN have increased from 64, four and half years ago, to 155. An area of special concern is the number of Maori and Pasifika people who dominate prison populations, negative health statistics and live in substandard housing. Low waged workers also fare badly with zero hour contracts and large numbers working for minimum wages and little job security. Our abuse of migrant workers is also a recent concern.
George Bush used the term 'Axis of Evil' to describe Iraq, Iran and North Korea. It was very clear, even at the time, that this was a gross exaggeration of their real threat to the world (despite the internal human rights abuses of their respective governments). I contend that most of the world has more to fear from the Five Eyes nations. Our collective GHG emissions are forcing the world's climate to a dangerous point, our willingness to support disastrous and expensive military interventions and our reluctance to spend even moderate amounts on humanitarian causes. We are happier to spend millions to have close trade relationships with some of the worst abusers of human rights, China, Saudi Arabia and Indonesia than deal with the inequality and poverty within our own borders.
The Five Eyes are not the defenders of the free world, with our spying and interventions, but enthusiastic advocates for corporate greed, dangerous neoliberalism and the unsustainable exploitation of the world's resources. Our existence and activities threaten the wellbeing of our planet far more than the countries we point our fingers at. What have we become?