Everyday Vegan: Michael Morris
Research scientist and animal advocate Dr Michael Morris is ready to fight at the national level as he rallies support for a new animal-focused political party to contest the 2023 general election.
Is Aotearoa ready for a political party founded on vegan principles? Michael Morris plans to find out.
The Animal Justice Party Aotearoa NZ is a newly formed political party looking to represent the interests of the animals in the 2023 election. Founded by Michael and a team of passionate animal advocates, the party is in the process of recruiting the necessary members in order to register with the Electoral Commission.
Under the banner of “love and compassion towards all creatures”, the party seeks to put meaningful representation for the rights and welfare of animals on the government agenda.
In order to contest the party vote at this year’s general election, the Animal Justice Party Aotearoa NZ needs 500 paid members — at the time of printing the organisation was nearing the halfway mark. Membership costs a nominal $5 and, if the group can muster the needed numbers, it will be eligible for an allocation of Parliament’s broadcasting fund for campaigning purposes.
Getting a new political party off the ground is a significant challenge, but Michael himself isn’t new to the political circus. He’s hit the campaign trail on numerous occasions, the most recent being a shot at Auckland’s mayoralty.
The Mayoral Race
With a turnout of about 35%, few would consider the 2022 Auckland local election a roaring success, and Michael’s campaign for mayor ended up pulling in less than 1% of the vote. But with a strategy that goes beyond the numbers, he happily puts the experience in the win column.
“The way I saw it, even if I did nothing else, I’ve got my profile out there in every house in Auckland and it only cost me $200. There’s nowhere else you can get that kind of advertising for $200.”
As the only candidate openly talking about animal issues, Michael’s profile within the voting material certainly made him stand out. His platform included a ban on rodeo and similar abusive entertainments, a humane approach to unwanted wild animals, and an end to purchasing captive animals for zoos, among other animal, environmental, and social standpoints.
In short, Michael was running on an unashamedly vegan ticket. With the primary goal of getting his message out, actually being elected was a distant concern.
“I openly campaigned as a vegan — I probably would have got more votes if I’d toned it down a bit, but I decided that wouldn’t be honest.”
And people responded to that honesty. Over the course of the election Michael came into contact with many members of the public who, if not prepared to vote for him, were at least receptive to the conversation around how we treat animals and the need to make changes.
In a particularly acrimonious election, he even found the other candidates to be surprisingly convivial.
“I didn’t feel that anyone was putting me down, at least not in public. They were actually nicer to me than they were to each other. Maybe they didn’t see me as a threat,” he says, with a good natured chuckle.
So while he might not have landed Auckland’s top job, Michael doesn’t hesitate to say he’d do it all again.
“When you’re going for mayor you get attention, people actually listen. That’s important when you’ve got this kind of message.”
The National Stage
Another year, another election. Michael is now looking to leverage his local experience to help grow a party that can advocate for the animals in the 2023 general election.
The idea for the Animal Justice Party Aotearoa NZ has been gestating for about 10 years, according to Michael. There was often talk about creating a party to represent the animals, but the prevailing sentiment has been to back the Green Party as the most pragmatic strategy for the environmentally-focused.
Michael himself has some experience with the Greens; he stood for the party in 2005 and attempted to again in the 2020 election. But this time his vegan principles were not well received.
“They turned me down because they didn’t like my animal rights policies, especially over control of possums,” he recalls. “They were quite hostile about it.”
So, with the 2022 mayoral race serving as something of a test run, Michael is this year preparing to introduce the public to the Animal Justice Party Aotearoa NZ.
Michael’s professional life has also conferred useful expertise to bring into the general election. As a research scientist, he is very capable of backing his political stances with science, and his job as a policy advisor for a research company looking into smoking cessation amongst marginalised groups has also provided useful ammunition.
“That’s given me some insight into the sort of tricks tobacco companies play, and it’s not that different from the way big meat and big dairy manipulate public opinion.”
Asked how he feels about the party’s chances, the political hopeful looks across the ditch with optimism. The Animal Justice Party Australia was founded in 2009 and currently boasts three state MPs as well as a number of municipal representatives, and Michael is already forging bonds between his nascent party and its more established Australian cousin.
The Animal Justice Party Aotearoa NZ is currently seeking members to join its political movement to create meaningful legislative change for animals in New Zealand — visit www.animaljusticeparty.org.nz for more info.
Animal Justice Party Aotearoa NZ
The Animal Justice Party Aotearoa NZ seeks to provide a voice for animals within Parliament. Looking to the Animal Welfare Act (2000) in recognising the sentience of animals in New Zealand law, the party wants to address laws, regulations, and customs that continue systematic, ritualised, and accepted cruelty towards animals.
In pursuing a better world for animals, the organisation is founded on four pillars: Compassion, Equality, Non-Violence, and Just Transition. To learn more about these pillars and the party’s specific policies, visit www.animaljusticeparty.org.nz.
The articles we present in our magazine and blog have been written by many authors and are are not necessarily the views and policies of the Vegan Society.