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Daily Linz 18 - Rod Donald, Green Convertible?
by Lindsay Perigo

This may be my only Daily Linz this week, as I am still immersed in readying the upcoming Free Radical for the printers. But I simply had to take time out to say a few words about Rod Donald, the co-leader of New Zealand’s Green Party, who died suddenly over the weekend at the age of forty-eight. (These observations, in any event, will be incorporated into my FreeRad editorial, Confessions of a Political Editor, looking back at my four years at Parliament.)

Rod Donald was tall, lean and fit. He bicycled everywhere, drank little, smoked not at all, ate organic fruit and vegetables. His death from a heart attack at such a young age is a chilling reminder that following the killjoy lifestyle regime some Greens wish to make compulsory is no guarantee of a long life.

Rod himself was no killjoy. My own conversations with him were peppered with hilarity. I called him “Young Donald,” he called me “Old Perigo.” Sometimes when I called him to record his reaction to some event or other, he would stumble over his words, and I would say, “Christ, Donald, you’re hopeless! Not enough protein in the brain! Now do it again!” Yes, the ultra-libertarian would coach the leader of the Green Party to help him sound better! Young Donald knew that I liked a good party, and was always most anxious to enlist my attendance at the regular Greens knees-ups (yes, the parliamentary Greens have knees-ups!). I would say, “I’ll come if you promise me you’ll have one of those delicious organic hams on offer. And the wine had better be organic, too!” (Tongue-in-cheek, of course, but the ham and wine were organic, as it happens, and delicious.)

He claimed to be every bit as concerned about individual freedom as I was, and in his own mind, I’m sure that was true. Problem was, he equated freedom with democracy. He was instrumental in bringing the MMP system of proportional representation to New Zealand—the very system that enabled a Green presence in Parliament. As a democrat, he was Parliament’s most vocal opponent of the regime in Communist China. My most enduring memory of him will be of his lone vigil on the parliamentary forecourt against some visiting Chinese delegation, waving a Tibetan flag, defying the efforts of security guards to remove him. He, an MP and party leader and all!

To a libertarian like myself, he was a bundle of contradictions. He opposed a ban on fireworks. He opposed the ban on the entry to New Zealand of notorious historian David Irving. He supported lower taxes, at least for low-income earners. Yet he was an avid supporter of tariffs, and a generally xenophobic trade policy (often, to be fair, on the grounds of the oppressive nature of the governments of some of the countries with whom we trade). He welcomed foreign immigrants, but not foreign goods—he was looking forward to launching a “Buy New Zealand-made” campaign with the government’s blessing, as per the Labour-Green post-election accord. He called himself a “radical capitalist,” yet was a devotee of government regulation if not outright ownership and administration of the economy’s “commanding heights” (and even the economy’s uncommanding flats. I never got to talk to him about it, but I suspect he would have been quite comfortable with his latest, typically Green-wacko pet project—saving the glass milk bottle from obsolescence—having legislative backing if it were on offer). Yet on Parliament’s “conscience issues” such as decriminalisation of prostitution and marijuana he was, of course, libertarian.

Though he itched to get around the Cabinet table, he was not prepared to sell out his beliefs to get there. We may be both relieved and respectful that this was the case. Who knows what lunacies might have become part of the government’s agenda if the Greens were part of it? Yet both co-leaders deserve respect for not wallowing in the woo-fest that followed the election.

A politician who speaks the truth as he sees it is a rare spectacle. Some start out that way but become corrupted by spin-doctors. They become purveyors of weasel-words and marshmallow-mush, each indistinguishable from the other. Their primary objective is not to offend anyone. Rod Donald spoke his mind without fear or favour, heedless (generally) of the consequences.

There were no false pretences between us, just an appreciation of our commonalities and a lot of humorous banter about our differences. We began by despising each other—“You just never go away, do you?” were his first words to me when I showed up at Parliament—but ended up respecting each other, and enjoying each other’s company. I fondly looked forward to converting him.

Goodbye, Young Donald! I may be damned to hell for saying it, but I shall miss you.
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