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Jacinda Ardern, Green Party pay tribute to 'environmental movement steward' Jeanette Fitzsimons

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has paid tribute to former Green Party co-leader Jeanette Fitzsimons after her death last night, calling her a "steward of the New Zealand environmental political movement". 

Source: Getty Images/1NEWS

Ms Fitzsimons died last night after a stroke in Thames Hospital. 

"New Zealand has lost someone completely and utterly driven by values, who embodied the notion of leaving this place better than they found it," Ms Ardern said. "Jeanette did that.

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'The tears are falling' - Former Green Party co-leader Jeanette Fitzsimons dies

"Starting out in the Values Party in the 1970s, through to entering Parliament as part of the Alliance [Party] in 1996 and becoming the only Green to ever win an electorate seat in 1999, Jeanette was a ground breaker in Green politics.

"During her 14 years in Parliament she was an early voice for action on issues now considered mainstream like climate change, the deteriorating state of our water and clean energy."

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She was co-leader of the party from 1995 to 2009. Source: Breakfast

Ms Ardern said Ms Fitzsimons' once polled as the most trustworthy party leader in New Zealand - "a fitting endorsement of her kind, caring and passionate brand of politics". 

The Green Party today released a statement saying "people across the country and the world will be feeling the loss as we all are". 

Co-leader Marama Davidson said she saw Ms Fitzsimons last month, "catching up on the politics of the world" on her farm. 

"That felt special then, but really special now," she said. 

From her home today, Ms Davidson said the party was "incredibly saddened and devastated". 

"I thought we had her for a couple more decades to guide us, " Ms Davidson said. 

On Ms Fitzsimon's view on climate change action and acceptance of the issue, Ms Davidson said she was "relieved, but disappointed it took this long". 

"Jeanette leaves behind a remarkable legacy. She brought the climate change conversation into Parliament, and had transformative ideas around greening our electricity sector.

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The environmentalist and former politician has died. Source: Breakfast

"She fought for what she believed in right until the end. Refusing to retire, she once said, 'Retirement is not really a concept I can imagine.’

"I will miss her dearly."

Green Party co-leader James Shaw said Ms Ftizsimons was "never about personality politics, she was driven by what was the right thing to do". 

"She treated everyone with respect no matter their politics, and she treated everybody with dignity."

"If you couldn’t find her at a Green Party conference she’d be out the back with her sleeves rolled up washing the dishes."

MPs from across the House have paid tribute to the former MP. 

Opposition leader Simon Bridges tweeted, "Very sad to hear about the passing of Jeanette Fitzsimons. A passionate advocate for the environment."

National MP Chris Bishop wrote, "Arohanui at this really difficult time to the Green Party who I know will be grieving.

"Had huge respect for Jeanette. She was a fierce yet humble fighter for improving our environment."

New Zealand First leader Winston Peters said Ms Fitzsimons was "a tireless advocate for the environment, and a leader who carried herself with great dignity and conviction".

“Helping to forge a new political party and going on to lead it for 14 years is a fulsome contribution that is respected by parties across the political spectrum," he said. "Jeanette was an authentic person and skilled politician."

Ms Fitzsimons left Parliament in 2010 - with her valedictory speech marking her greatest "concrete achievement" as "persuading two successive governments, Labour and National, that it is worthwhile investing in home insulation on a large scale, combining benefits to health, family wellbeing, employment, energy demand, and carbon emissions".

She said during her time in politics the "big picture has not changed much" on environmental issues. 

"What is stopping us, as a species and particularly as a Parliament, from seeing the truth that climate change, which has now entered the public consciousness, is only a symptom of a much greater issue?

"The planet is full – its capacity to absorb our wastes and generate our resources is already overstretched and even mining the last national park and Antarctica and damming or draining the last river will not allow us to continue using even more."

Ms Fitzsimons also said in the speech she was looking forward to working on the farm with her husband, Harry Parke, and to "more family time, more music, films and theatre, and to three months in Europe visiting my son and old friends". 

This morning, Mr Parke told RNZ of Ms Fitzsimons' focus shift to have become "entirely to stop climate change".