Petition to put Helen Kelly back on the shortlist for New Zealander of the Year

Helen Kelly (Briar Marbeck/Newshub.)
Helen Kelly (Briar Marbeck/Newshub.)

A petition has been launched to get Helen Kelly's name back on the shortlist for the New Zealander of the Year award.

Organisers struck the union chief off the list of nominees, saying her death makes her ineligible, despite being the most popular choice when nominations closed in September.

"She cannot win the overall [New Zealander of the Year category] because unfortunately she's passed away," awards manager Glyn Taylor told Newshub on Friday.

Ms Kelly died from lung cancer on October 14, two weeks after nominations closed on September 30.

"Helen accomplished an enormous amount in her 52 years of life, before her time with us all was cut short by an aggressive lung cancer," petition organiser Alistair Thompson wrote on website ActionStation, calling the former Council of Trade Unions president a "hero and inspirational role model".

"We agree with the chorus of eulogies following death which have said that she would have doubtless accomplished a great deal more if she had survived. But for us she was a hero for what she had already done, for her trade union work and support of workers' rights - whether unionised or not, New Zealander or not - for her integrity and for her kindness."

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Ms Kelly was hardly silenced by her illness, using her last few months of life to campaign for the legalisation of medicinal cannabis, which she used to ease the pain.

"Her death itself, up to her last breath, was the most dignified you could possibly imagine," says Mr Thompson.

"A week before her death she was still tweeting in defence of the rights of others. As she approached death she gave up precious time to media interviews to highlight the suffering of her fellow Kiwis, mounting the final campaign of her life in support of making access to medicinal cannabis for terminally ill New Zealanders easier."

Mr Taylor says it's too late to change the rules, but Ms Kelly's achievements will be noted at the prizegiving.

"Rules cannot be bent otherwise you have anarchy, so the rules are what the rules are."

As of 1pm Saturday, the petition had 725 signatures. Supporters of Ms Kelly can sign it here.