Kia ora ngā mihi nui kia koutou katoa. I whānau mai au i te taha o te awa o Tairawhiti. I raro i te maru o te maunga o Kaiti. He uri ahau no Wales, no Scotland. Kei te noho au kei Ōtepoti. Ko Gareth Hughes toku ingoa. Tena koutou katoa.
I’m Gareth Hughes, the new Country Lead for the Wellbeing Economy Alliance Aotearoa New Zealand and I wanted to introduce myself. Above is a little about where I have come from in Te Reo Māori, the first language in New Zealand. I’ve spent my entire adult life campaigning for progressive causes as a campaigner at Greenpeace, as a Green MP and an activist. I describe my background as banging on the outside doors of Parliament as an activist then banging-on from the inside. I’ve taken part in non-violent direct action, like once infamously being arrested dressed as Ronald McDonald, passed laws and led campaigns that helped end offshore oil exploration and shark finning in New Zealand. I’ve always felt a passion and a calling for social justice and to protect our planet and I’ve tried to pull all the levers to achieve it.
After working on the symptoms for so long I am excited to now focus on the source of so many of the problems we face. I believe the most important mission facing us is working together to build an economy that works for people and the planet.
In 2020 I ended a decade-long career as a Member of Parliament. I am proud of what I achieved there but I was also frustrated how often the focus was on the short term, policy tinkering or debating what type of ambulance should be at the bottom of the cliff. Things like climate change, homelessness, poverty and inequality were seen as if they were bugs in the system when in fact they were consequences of a system that needs to change fast. My final speech in Parliament was a challenge to all political parties for transformational change – this is what I’ll be focused on in this new role. As such, I have stepped away from political party membership so I can advocate effectively to all parties.
In my valedictory speech I ended on a note of optimism for the future. “Fortunately for us in Aotearoa, we have an alternative value system focused on collective wellbeing, long-term thinking, and a strong connection to nature in mātauranga Māori. I believe if we truly became a Te Tiriti o Waitangi – respecting nation, we could escape the fatal embrace of short-term, individualistic, environmentally damaging thinking that has dominated our politics.”
In my office I used to have a poster of the first whole image of the Earth taken from space hung on my wall. It was a reminder we need to operate within planetary boundaries which is so beautifully communicated in the Doughnut Economy. In the last year I have been researching and writing a biography of the late Jeanette Fitzsimons who was one of the pioneers of challenging infinite growth on a finite planet and GDP as a measure of success in New Zealand. This deep-dive into her work and the wider thinking that has occurred by many people over multiple decades has further inspired me to focus on a wellbeing economy. These are well-established ideas and the move towards them is now urgent.
I’m also a Dad to two kids, Arlo 14 and Zoe 11 and partner to my wife Meghan. We live in paradise, next to the sea in a small village on the Otago Peninsula in the southern part of New Zealand’s South Island. I love travel but I want to see the world in a low-carbon way so in the last five years I’ve become passionate about sailing. Most weekends you’ll find me on my yacht Avanti.
I am proud to join the New Zealand Hub in this new phase, as it becomes an established organisation with full-time staff, and to continue to expand on the more recent work of our WEAll volunteers in New Zealand. I have a busy work plan and I’m looking forward to rolling that out and working with WEAll partners, citizens and all political parties.
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