Russel Norman – one door closes, another opens

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Contributed by Alex Barrow

Russel Norman has officially closed the door on his long term career in Green Party politics and opened another to the non-governmental organisation Greenpeace.

Having had a life-long passion for politics, sustainability and social justice, both career paths have been natural progressions since his tertiary studies where he achieved a doctorate in political science.

Although Dr Norman was Australian born and raised, he completed his PhD in New Zealand and has stayed ever since.

“I didn’t come over here with the intention of staying forever. It just ended up that way because there were lots of great things about New Zealand”.

The Green Party was always in Dr Norman’s line of interests, and he has worked hard to build the party up to where it is now.


When asked what his most significant achievement has been while he has been in office, Dr Norman alluded to Green Party votes climbing to 11% and maintaining that benchmark in the past two elections. “I think what we demonstrated was that if you stick to your principles and you have something that can convince people as being worthwhile, and you are persistent about it and disciplined about it, then over time you can build a political force”.

Even before his commitment to Green Party politics, Dr Norman was heavily engaged in political movements.

“I was involved in the peace movement during the ‘80s. In the ‘80s there was a real sense of crisis about nuclear war, so I was really involved in that. The anti-apartheid struggle was a big deal, then a lot of student issues. Aboriginal land rights in Australia, the bi-centenary in ’88 so yes there was a series of issues that were important to me”.

When discussing the proactive approach of Greenpeace when dealing with environmental issues, Dr Norman said he was looking forward to working at the fore of Greenpeace to build a better environmental future, particularly with the topical sustainable tuna campaign happening right now.

“What so interests me in going to Greenpeace is the way that civil society can push political parties to do things that they might not otherwise do”.

Dr Norman has co-led the Green party since 2006 and since then has promoted several campaigns for the welfare of the environment. Over the past nine years of Norman being in office the Green Party have addressed social, economic, and most influentially, environmental concerns.

Norman’s notable pledges have included agricultural reduction, water pollution issues and, perhaps most conspicuously, the Tibetan flag incident of 2010. During his time in Parliament though Dr Norman has admitted his perception of New Zealand politics was constantly evolving, and that governmental parties are now in growing need of appealing to young voters.

“Young people in particular see that politics is irrelevant to them and I think that’s a challenge for the political establishment and political parties about how we make sure to connect with those people”.

In last year’s election the Green Party won 11% of the national vote, falling 4% short of their party aim. “We did okay to hold our own. We got quarter of a million votes which is great and the Green Party’s been established as the third party of New Zealand politics but clearly there’s a challenge to get beyond that”.

Despite the lower than expected campaign support, Dr Norman is confident in New Zealand’s ability to see the bigger environmental picture as promoted by the Green Party.

When asked what he thought what would be the best approaches in tackling environmental issues, Norman advocated sustainable transport such as catching buses or cycling as an alternative to driving, and reducing the number of dairy cows in New Zealand. As quoted in his valedictory speech: “We have got a major pollution problem on our hands. It needs to be said that there are too many cows”. However the question as to how this would damage the New Zealand economy considering the dairy industry being one of New Zealand’s biggest sources of financial income, was not addressed and still remains a question for the Green Party to answer.

Dr Norman’s departure from Parliament is the end of an era for New Zealand politics, and the start of one for the environmental NGO sector. With several environmental issues circulating with global warming, deep sea drilling and the upcoming US navy visit in relation to New Zealand’s stance as a nuclear-free country, Norman is certainly going to be busy in his new role.

His continuation in the public sphere underscores his ability to tackle things from the get-go and a dedication to following through for the future good of the environment.

  • Dr Norman is now the executive director of Greenpeace, taking over the reins from Bunny McDiarmid.