Golriz Ghahraman an exciting breath of fresh air

There is excitement, relief, anger and anticipation about the new Coalition Government in New Zealand.

I’m currently reading a book by British philosopher, Professor A. C. Grayling, entitled Democracy and Its Crisis. It is an interesting read. Grayling talks about Brexit, the rise of Trump, and right wing extremism in Europe. Here in New Zealand our problems began with the introduction of free-market liberalism, or neo-liberalism, in 1985 by Roger Douglas. This economics had taken hold under Thatcher and Reagan, and has thrived in New Zealand under successive governments for 30 years.

The new Coalition Government here in Aotearoa New Zealand has a golden opportunity to start reversing the inequality, the poverty, the homelessness, the incarceration and the poor health outcomes that have been neo-liberal’s bedfellows.

I interviewed one of the two new Green Party MPs, Golriz Ghahraman. She and fellow newcomer, Chloe Swarbrick, are set to be important players in the restoration of fairness and justice in New Zealand. After increasing frustration, annoyance, and often disbelief that the former government just didn’t get it, I was excited by the wit, charm, maturity of thought, and sheer intelligence of Ghahraman. She restored some of my hopes for democracy in just a single hour’s discussion.

Those of us born and brought up in New Zealand don’t know how lucky we are until we hear the stories of refugee families like the Ghahramans. Little Golriz remembers bombs, hiding in shelters, trying with her parents to survive a war in her native Iran, where America backed both sides, even supplying weapons to Sadam Hussain. She was nine years old when the family escaped and were accepted as refugees in New Zealand. Golriz had had little education and spoke only broken English. Her parents were academics, but political outcasts in Iran, and sacrificed everything to come to New Zealand.

Ghahraman has lived in and around Freemans Bay since her arrival 27 years ago. She attended Auckland Girls Grammar School and then Auckland University. Her interest in human rights naturally led her into law. She graduated LLB and with an arts degree in history (gender studies, although she jokingly told me they simply referred to it as sex studies).

Her work in human rights has quickly taken her around the world, working at the United Nations, helping on a prosecution of Khmer Rouge leaders, and working with women and children in Nigeria. She is still a UN consultant and has recently completed a report ‘A code of conduct for prosecutors in Nigeria’, which she was expecting to go to Nigeria and teach.

Golriz has been given a raft of shadow portfolios to manage, including Justice, Human Rights, Immigration and Foreign Affairs. She is excited to have been given Trade and Defence, often regarded as male preserves. Last week Ghahraman gave a stirring maiden speech. She talked about her background and praised her parents, who were both present, for bringing their little girl to the safety of New Zealand. Disturbingly, she talked of hate postings on social media telling her to go home, threats she should not have to face.

Her two abiding memories of the day she arrived are the warm welcome from officials, and how green the country looked.

Now in parliament, Ghahraman is humbled but excited. “We were told by the previous government that we had a surplus, so could afford some tax cuts, and that we were living in a rock star economy. When you’ve cut all public services, people are homeless and without secure jobs, how are tax cuts fair? That doesn’t sound like a rock star economy to me.”

She went on to say that 10 dollars a week was not going to buy private health insurance, and that John Key’s tax cut would be nearer 100 dollars a week. Another boost to inequality.

During her maiden speech, Golriz emphasised that human rights and nature’s rights were inextricably linked, and are related to corporate responsibility. Decimating important acts like the Resource Management Act just takes omitting a few key words she explained. If you change a ‘must’ to a ‘may’ in an important clause, you have introduced discretion, which changes the enforceability. This new MP will be invaluable for scrutinising bills as they go through the house.

Golriz Ghahraman has no regrets about giving up prestigious opportunities in international organisations around the world, where she clearly has already made her mark. She made the interesting observation that maybe it should be a prerequisite to have had
a career to give up in order to go into parliament.

Now in her 30s, Golriz Ghahraman is in the prime of her life, with a fierce positivity about the next three years as an MP. She has already been engaged in her portfolios through TPP discussions and the fate of Manus Island refugees. Green policies may not always be the same as those of her coalition partners, which can add tension to negotiations.

I predict her sense of humour, incisive intelligence and clarity of thought, will make her a formidable member of parliament, and a huge asset to the Greens. We at Ponsonby News wish her well.