Parliamentary Tribute to Rod Donald (Keith)

Yesterday I spent some time in Christchurch with my dear friend Rod in his beautiful home, and spent some time with his lovely wife and his daughters.

It was just so sad, looking at Rod, so still and so at peace, and realising the tragedy that he and his family and us had so much more to do together, so many more good times ahead. There was so much that he wanted to do.

I will say a little more about Rod later, but at the moment I am hearing him in my ear, saying: “Don’t just talk about me, talk about David. He’s important too.”

I think there are some similarities between the two people. It has been referred to already that their deaths have struck a chord in the New Zealand people. Both lacked the airs and graces that are commonly associated with politicians. They were very down-to-earth people, and as has been indicated, both had a sense of humour. There was nobody quicker with a quip than David Lange. Both were seen as very people politicians, down-to-earth, ordinary MPs, and in the case of David Lange a Prime Minister.

David Lange to me championed the underdog from the time he was a lawyer in Auckland. I really appreciated Pita SharpIes’ speech about how David Lange could mix with everyone in society and help everyone in society. I think he always saw himself in that way – even through his period of being an MP and Prime Minister.

I was very fond of David Lange, although I got to know him only after he left Parliament and before I entered Parliament. He would come into the Trade Aid and One World Books shop that I was managing and have a little chat. He was always quite supportive of my political endeavours, even though I was not in Parliament at that stage, just as he was supportive in his later life of what we can call the broad left.

He formed close associations with people like a previously harsh critic, Bruce Jesson. They had a very close relationship, and he was proud to give the

inaugural Bruce Jesson memorial lecture

to the Bruce Jesson Foundation in the year 2000.

He was not averse to giving friendly advice to people like me in the Green movement and on the left. Most recently he sent me an email, giving me some very useful advice on the Ahmed Zaoui case.

I think David Lange was a very humble man. He went through an amazing journey, from being a people’s lawyer to being Prime Minister through tempestuous times, and turned in his last years into a quiet thinker for the left, and making a contribution there.

Some people blame David Lange for the role he played in the new right revolution in New Zealand, but I like to think of him as the man who did take a cup of tea, who did stop things short, and during his later life developed a critique of the new right revolution. I think it is instructive to read his Bruce Jesson lecture, given a few years ago.

I think the thing the Green Party remembers most is the role David Lange played as Prime Minister in making our country nuclear free. That was not very easy because he was up against some very strong resistance from the foreign affairs , mandarins. We saw that at the time when,

USS Buchanan

was steaming towards New Zealand, and which way New Zealand would go was in the balance. He came down on the side of the people and established the basis for our nuclear-free legislation.

The thing that impressed me, too, was that during that time he identified with the very large people’s movement in New Zealand, out on the streets, campaigning for a nuclear-free New Zealand. When the


was steaming towards New Zealand, my sister Maire Leadbeater was instrumental in organising a big demonstration up Queen Street against it coming here. I was quite pleased to hear that shortly after that, after the decision had been made to reject the


, David Lange sent my sister a note, thanking her for organising that protest.

Of course, later on he had to resist further pressures from foreign affairs in terms of establishing the legislation. Foreign affairs did not want him to go overseas and deliver the Oxford Union lecture, which to me was very important in us being not just a nuclear-free country but in taking our nuclear-free campaign to the world.

That is something we continue to do. It is very much a part of us becoming proud New Zealanders-a part of our journey towards real nationhood.

David Lange continued to do that in other ways, too. It is quite interesting that when Nicky Hager published his book

Secret Power

on Echelon and the satellite communications and reception station at Waihopai, David Lange volunteered to do the introduction. He was concerned whether that station is serving our national interest. He said that there were things he had not been told regarding its real functions.

That, to me, links up with Rod Donald because Rod Donald and I have several times been engaged in protests outside the spy station at Waihopai. In fact, just a few days ago the group that organises those protests, the Anti-Bases Campaign, sent a little circular to Rod and myself, asking whether we would be coming back this January, when the group is having another protest. Murray Horton who is the main figure in that campaign added a cheeky little note in the communication to Rod Donald asking: “If you had become a Cabinet Minister would you still have been coming to the protests?”, and last Friday Rod scrawled on the correspondence to be returned to Murray the words: “I sure as hell would have come.”

I think that shows us that Rod was a very out-there politician and he has been referred to by Jeanette and others as being a champion of peace and human rights around the world, and he has worked with me on a lot of those issues. He held the Tibetan flag on the steps of Parliament and worked on many other issues, driving the campaign against sporting contacts with Zimbabwe. I could also mention Algeria, because he was so proud when I introduced him to Ahmed Zaoui in Mount Eden Prison, and he really backed the campaign to the hilt for Ahmed Zaoui to be a refugee in New Zealand.

He has been described in some obituaries as the pragmatic person in the Green Party and that can be a compliment, or not. It is a compliment if he is seen as practical and hands-on, which are things that he is, but he was never pragmatic in the sense that he did anything contrary to his ideals or the ideals of the Green Party.

He was always such a strength in supporting us, not pulling back on things we held dear and believed in. For example, he was never for us pulling back on the issue of marijuana decriminalisation, because we believed in it. We had to fight it even if it meant that we might lose some votes in certain sectors of the community on it. Perhaps those people who use the term pragmatic may sense that he was bolder than the rest of us.

He engaged flat out with all and sundry in the community. He would go around the country and all the small towns and he would just be bold as brass and go up to the editor of the local newspaper and lecture him or her on the single transferable vote (STV) and “buy local” – you name it – the issue of the day, and one would find a few days later that his picture would appear in the paper with a story. He was great in his boldness and ability to communicate to bring people in.

He would get people on board in these campaigns. He would just bowl up to the mayor’s office. There were a lot of things beyond Rod just being a parliamentarian that others may not have seen, such as the huge amount of work that he did building our party on the ground; going all over the country helping people, not only organising the campaigns but doing everything through the 3-year cycle.

Jeanette mentioned that he was always on the cellphone. He was just constantly at . work encouraging and helping people. One of the hardest things I find as I go around is that I cannot believe that I will not get another cheery call from Rod just with a bright idea, with a suggestion, with a bit of encouragement, or with a bit of a plaudit for something I might have done that had a bit of an effect.

That is the Rod I will remember – an energetic, outdoor person.

So farewell my dear friend.

We will miss him terribly but he will be in the hearts of all of us in the Green Party and an inspiration to the Green movement in New Zealand forever, and also the Green Parties around the world that will also miss him.