Respect people and nature

03:16, Jul 24 2012
tdn jackson wood
Jackson Wood

Jackson Wood remembers doing the career search at school. It was a software programme called Career Quest - details were tapped in; an appropriate career spat out and a percentage given in terms of strength for a job.

He got just two "hits": politician and comedian.

"My friends are doing it and they're getting a broad range of career choices and I get to the end and I've got two hits in the 90s and nothing else until the 60s."

That was it then. Politics it was - although he jokes the two concepts are similar.

A former New Plymouth Boys' High School student with family still in the city, Wood is a Wellington-based communications adviser. He's also a visible advocate for the Green Party, who was poised last year to stand as its candidate in the New Plymouth electorate. He stepped aside for Geoff Steadman because his grandmother was dying of cancer.

Earlier this year Wood, 26, represented New Zealand at the 2012 Global Young Greens conference in Senegal. Recently he gave a speech at the 40th anniversary celebrations of the Values party (held during the Green Party's annual meeting) and he's helping formulate an e-democracy initiative for the party.


Politics and making the odd headline featured early on in his career. As a 16-year-old he made the news when accepted for a two- week space school in Houston, United States.

After school he studied political science at Victoria University and at the end of his bachelor's degree was a fired-up young student.

"I'd sort of been thinking this world is going to hell in a hand basket - what can I do?" Enrolment in an honours course saw him matched - along with other students - to an MP. His professor headed the initiative.

"He interviews you and gauges your personality and goes away and thinks about it and does an introduction to an MP."

Wood was placed with former Green MP Sue Kedgley, not immune to headline-grabbing politics on issues such as food labelling.

"As soon as I walked into her office I felt I had met someone who knew what she was doing, was intelligently honest and wanted to change the world. Those were three things that I wanted to be."

Through the internship he was immersed in green politics and jobs like research, sitting in on caucus meetings and helping the media team. With the one-year posting at an end, he looked around for work and became editor of Salient, the Victoria University student magazine. There, attempts to change the world morphed into offending the world - well, at least parts of New Zealand.

The magazine organised a student race from Petone to Palmerston North - modelled on the Undie 500, the annual student car rally between Christchurch and Dunedin. Salient dubbed its race the Lundy 500. Outrage followed. Students were having a laugh at the expense of convicted killer Mark Lundy, jailed for the murder of his wife and daughter in Palmerston North. A key piece of disputed evidence was that he sped from Petone to Palmerston to carry out the killing.

Four years later Wood is contrite and seemingly embarrassed, calling it "not the brightest idea".

"In my naive youth I have learnt a lot from this. I would never do something so stupid again."

It was a joke "to bounce around some ideas about inconsistencies in the New Zealand justice system but now when I look back it was in very bad taste." The event was cancelled; Wood met with members of the family to apologise.

"Would I change what I did? Probably not, because I learnt a lot of valuable lessons about myself and the media and dealing with difficult situations."

There was more coverage when he stood as a joke candidate in the Mt Albert 2009 by-election, earning a whooping nine votes.

Then came a two-year stint working with the Greens in Parliament as part of the media and research team. This year he took up a post as senior communications adviser for the NZ Drug Foundation.

Wood is the son of Rick, a high school science teacher, and Jo, a special needs teacher aid. His father sparked an interest in botany.

"He taught me healthy respect for nature and the scientific method." His mother looks after children in society who most need help, he says.

"That to me is the perfect microcosm of what Green politics is about. It's about knowing about the environment, respecting it and respecting people. The values I grew up with are the reason I'm involved in politics now."

Currently Wood is co-convener of the Young Greens along with Izzy Lomax, as well as being active in the Wellington branch of the party. It's an exciting time to be a Green, even if two weeks ago at the Forest and Bird conference economist Gareth Morgan labelled a "green extreme" as anti- economic development and resistant to the mainstreaming of conservation.

Wood was at the same conference and says Morgan fails to understand what Green politics is about. It's not centred on the environment in isolation, he says.

"So sure, he's come out and said you need to stop being extreme but without the environment you can't have an economy and what Morgan fails to recognise is that our politics aren't just about the environment. He's taken an extreme view by pigeonholing us.

"At the last election the party issued a comprehensive economic policy based on very sound thinking," says Wood.

"I don't know if he's read that document but it's pretty mainstream economic thinking and it's just about using the market in ways to promote green growth." Stereotyping the Greens as economically illiterate was wrong and unhelpful.

The "sandal-wearing, dreadlock, beard-smoking hippy" is just not true, nor is the "Greens hate farmers" myth, he insists.

"Farmers are the lifeblood of New Zealand's economy. However, we'd like to be able to support them to make dairying in New Zealand a lot greener - riparian planting, not using so much fertiliser, reducing reliance of fossil fuels." Wood says he's very keen to work with farmers, and is willing to visit farms and be schooled up if invited.

Right now, a focus for the young Greens is e-democracy, where members gather feedback via an online forum in order for a consensus to be established. An example would be the alcohol purchasing age.

"Currently we have to send an email out and people trickle through the emails and we search them and try and figure out consensus from that."

The software they will trial is called Loomio, a free open web- source app developed by Kiwis. Engaging more young people is important, he says. "I think the Greens' ideals are very much akin to people under 35 and there needs to be a stronger link of communication and communicating with those people means using social media, Facebook, Twitter - it means online communication."

Here's one way of doing it, he says. If the trial works, the Young Greens would like to take it to the party as a whole. This week and next Wood is in the US at the Johnson Space Centre. Ten years after he attended as a teen he's returning to mentor some of the 30 students who will attend.

However, he's not looking to the stars but to the more grounded business of politics for his future, saying he'd like to stand again one day as a Green Party candidate.

"I think we need young voices in our Parliament and we need green voices in our Parliament and I'm young and green, so I think my voice would be great."

Taranaki Daily News