The Green Party recovery

This weekend the Green Party of Aotearoa New Zealand is holding its Annual Conference in Palmerston North. It is their first since Metiria Turei’s resignation in the wake of her admitting she had lied to Work and Income New Zealand about her time as a solo mother. It is also their first as a governing party in the Labour-led coalition. One year on, how are they getting on?

Perhaps it is best summed up by co-leader James Shaw, who in his opening address to the party faithful, reminded them that it was not just he who made the decision to enter the coalition. It was made by the party membership. Mr Shaw also reminded them that in coalition, compromises are necessary and that sometimes this involves swallowing a proverbial dead rat or two. In the case of the Green Party this includes the Waka Bill, that will make Members of Parliament expelled from their caucus quit Parliament as well.

This bill could be quite contentious. As a strong believer of democratic process myself, I am not that enthusiastic about it, and can see why the caucus was originally dead set against it. The key problem is that the Waka Bill denies the Member the right to go back to the electorate and find out whether they still want a particular party representing them.

But there have been wins and these have to be acknowledged. When one is in Government it is a case of making the most of the opportunities to effect credible change because one never knows how the next election will turn out, who will be in Government and whether key policies will have to be sacrificed or not. In the case of this Government, whilst the Greens have been made to sacrifice a couple of policies, they have also had some big policy wins – a phasing out of oil and gas; a nation wide phasing out of single use plastic bags.

It is also a rebuilding time. The Greens came dangerously close to electoral oblivion with Mrs Turei’s resignation in disgrace from Parliament last year. Her popularity in the Green Party until that fatal admission was considerable and had she not made it, I do not think anyone would have been any the wiser. It would have probably given them all back all of their 14 list seats, and ensured more portfolios around the Cabinet table are held by Green Party M.P.’s. But she did, and whilst her admission of guilt was commendable, she should have immediately followed it up with a statement saying that the monies owed had already been paid back. The public probably would have left it at that.

Thus far her successor Marama Davidson has not enjoyed the same high profile as Mrs Turei. Nor has she enjoyed the same popularity. As a supporter of the more social wing of the party, Mrs Davidson has not had the opportunities that Minister of Transport and fellow Green M.P. Julie Anne Genter has had. Ms Genter was lucky enough to be able to make a substantial transport policy announcement a few months after becoming Minister. And having a capable rival Ms Genter in the race for the Green Party leadership meant Mrs Davidson had to work for her right to be co-leader.

Ms Genter, who is just about to go on maternity leave for her first child has been a consistently heavy hitter when it comes to policy. Her ability to outflank National Ministers of Transport without them really realizing – much less admitting – that there is a Green Minister who can hold their ground, constantly led to testy exchanges in Parliament.

Mrs Davidson, whilst appealing to the social minded supporters of the Green Party, I have yet to see have such exchanges. It is not to say that such events should be a measure of how one performs, but it is in Parliament as well as in terms of policy and being active in public, that she will be judged. So far Mrs Davidson has been relatively invisible.

It will be interesting to see how the Green Conference goes, and how the rest of this term turns out for them. Can they overcome the hurdles inadvertently laid down by Mrs Turei’s departure and will the membership realize that coalitions are about compromise, however much it might stink some days? That remains to be seen.

Domestic Violence Bill passes; National misses point

Yesterday the support available for people suffering from domestic violence took a giant leap forward. Green Member of Parliament Jan Logie’s Bill of Parliament to allow people suffering domestic violence to take up to 10 days off work with pay, means that people in the throes of an abusive relationship are able to take time off work to get their lives back in order.

I congratulate Ms Logie on her Bill of Parliament, the Domestic Violence: Victims Protection Bill, which passed through on its third reading with a vote of 63 (Labour, New Zealand First and the Greens supported it ) – 57 (National and A.C.T. opposed it). It improves and/or introduces a number of protections for people suffering the effects of domestic violence. They include:

  • Making it illegal to discriminate against victims of domestic violence
  • Employers must allow up to 10 days of paid leave that is separate from annual leave or sick leave

National Member of Parliament Mark Mitchell said National had withdrawn its support for the Bill of Parliament. He cited the additional costs put on employers and said that it would do nothing to stop domestic violence. Whilst opposing the Bill National M.P.’s insisted that they agree with the spirit in which the Bill was written.

Mr Mitchell misses the point and his claims are probably not quite true. There will be people – maybe not a huge number – who will be able to use it as a circuit breaker. For them those 10 days might critical time in which they can end a relationship, get into a safe house and make contact with the Police.

But it will go one step further. Employees coming from a stable domestic life are more likely to be effective and productive workers. So while employers will pay up to 10 days leave for someone suffering domestic violence, if it leads to them having more secure and stable domestic circumstances then in the longer term it will hopefully lead to improved workplace performance.

So, let us welcome what will now become an Act of Parliament that makes the tortuous path that victims of domestic violence must follow hopefully a bit less treacherous.

Greens need to learn the art of compromise to survive

The time has come for the Green Party have a reality check on reconciling the expectations of its grass roots with the cold hard reality of holding ministerial power. This will anger many in the Green Party. And has.

However knowledge of the art of compromise is necessary in politics for a party to be seen as one that can work with other parties. All parties in an M.M.P. environment know that the days of having an absolute majority even if it has come very close to happening, on a couple of occasions – and might yet do so – appear to be gone. With the departure of that absolute majority, goes the ability to make policy as one sees fit without having to find allies who will assist in policies in which they share common ground becoming real.

Golriz Ghahraman, Green spokesperson for Foreign Affairs is one such case. Perhaps, having been a refugee fleeing a country that was tipped on its head by the fall of the Shah, she wants nothing to do with American foreign policy or the United States at large. However she must understand two things:

  1. New Zealand, like every other self respecting country will have a defence force
  2. For practical reasons among others, the vast majority of our Defence Force equipment will come from Europe or the United States – the LAVIII’s armoured vehicles being a notable exception (coming from Canada)

The Poseidon aircraft – whilst we should have probably replaced the P-3K Orion’s plane for plane – were an informed choice. The decision was also an acknowledgement that the planes need to be replaced as soon as possible, and certainly before one crashes. They are too old for further upgrades and are based on an original air frame designed in the 1950’s.

Ms Ghahraman also needs to understand as do a lot of others on the left that when the Government announced plans for $15-20 billion of expenditure, this was not a lump sum expense, but actually presenting expenditure plans for the next 15-20 years, noting New Zealand typically spends about N.Z.$1 billion on defence per annum. The Orion replacements were the first of a series of major expenditure announcements that will be coming out over the next several years.

Eugenie Sage, Associate Minister for the Environment is another. Ms Sage found out first hand recently that even core ideals sometimes have to be compromised on for the greater good of the country. Whilst the Nongfu water bottling decision was one that might seem like a betrayal of the party principles, and certainly stoked anger, the reality is that Ms Sage and her fellow Ministers were constrained by the Overseas Investment Act which forbade any environmental consideration in granting permission.

However Ms Sage still has a great chance to to make a distinctly Green mark on the environmental policy of this Government. New Zealand has a burgeoning e-waste problem demanding a solution. No national policy specific to e-waste reduction exists and 72,000 tons of it is generated each year, including 600 kilogrammes of waste gold and 600 tons of copper with a valuable on the market of millions of dollars. If the grant given to a company to develop a recycling scheme for said waste minerals – among others – if fruitful the means to doing so may be closer to reality than people think.

Mining, as Regional Development Minister Shane Jones acknowledges, has been a significant part of the back bone of the West Coast economy. Whether it was gold mining or more recently coal mining, since European settlement there has long been a mining presence on the West Coast. The potential for small scale locally owned and operated alluvial gold mining operations does exist. It had been shot down by the Labour led Government of Prime Minister Helen Clark, under whose watch resource consent was shot down for several applications to set up small dredging operations taking gold from rivers.

Green “teething” issues in transition to Government

Yesterday the Green Party left its allocated oral question in Parliament blank. The oral question is one of the few opportunities that the Green Party has to put questions to the Government. It was immediately noticeable in Parliament when their allocated question slot came up and no one rose to take the opportunity.

Green co-leader Marama Davidson acknowledged the error, but said that it was just a bit of disorganization.

A bit of disorganization? Just wondering how the party has come to have five vacancies in its Parliamentary office. Given the potential research and policy development work that could have been going on, whilst appointing new staff cannot be done over night, one should ask how long have those positions been vacant?

The Green Party has not been the same since Metiria Turei resigned in disgrace from the co-leadership and ultimately Parliament in 2017, following the announcement that she had lied to Work and Income New Zealand about her being on a benefit when she was a single mother. Whilst this is not the first problem, it is potentially one of the more embarrassing as it is happening to a party of a Government struggling in the polls, but also struggling with the transparency expected by New Zealanders that goes with holding high office.

Mrs Davidson has kept a rather low profile for a Member of Parliament who is co-leading a party in Government. This makes me wonder if she is shy of the attention, something that Mrs Turei was not. Whereas Mrs Turei was widely popular across the party, suggestions during the nomination campaign to replace her that Mrs Davidson might cause a split in the party may have some credibility.

Recently Green Party M.P. and Minister for the Environment, Eugenie Sage made a potentially damaging mistake in her handling of an application to Nongfu Spring to purchase land so that they could expand their Bay of Plenty processing site. The decision caused much angst in the Green Party who have staunchly opposed land sales to foreign entities and was claimed to have undermined their stance on fresh water. Ms Sage made the decision along with two other Ministers acting on advice from the Overseas Investment Office.

Whilst no Minister is perfect and plenty of other Ministers perceived to be a safe pair of hands have made significant mistakes, in most cases these did not contravene the policy platform of the party they represent. That makes Ms Sage’s decision all the more damaging.

It is not that the Green Party does not have other pairs of safe hands. Julie Anne Genter, Minister of Transport is well liked for her solid work in Opposition on dealing with transport. Since she came to office Ms Genter has not made any mistakes and has actually picked up extra work after Labour M.P. and Minister Phil Twyford was stripped of the responsibility for the Civil Aviation Authority following the use of his cellphone whilst an aircraft he was on, was airborne.

Another safe pair of hands, though not a Minister, is Gareth Hughes. Mr Hughes made a significant contribution as Green spokesman for the Energy portfolio whilst in Opposition.

National changes tune on climate change

National leader Simon Bridges has pledged to work with Labour and the Greens on establishing common ground on climate change. The announcement comes as part of a u-turn by National on an issue that until recently it had been quite cool on.

I find this quite interesting given that when Mr Bridges was a Minister of the Crown one of his portfolios was Minister of Energy and Resources. Mr Bridges in that role undertook to pass under urgency legislation that effectively criminalized the right to peaceful assembly on the high seas. Mr Bridges also met with executives from several oil companies, such as Anadarko who lobbied heavily for the Crown Minerals (Crown land and protection)Act 2013.

How will National work constructively with Labour and the Greens? To do that, they would need to get their M.P.’s on board – many, such as Judith Collins do not care much for environmental issues, and some have gone so far as to say so in public. National would then need to get its grass roots members on board, remembering this is a conservative party with a strong rural base and supported by businesses, farmers, industrialists and wealthy donors.

Getting all of them on board would be a challenge. Many would see it as undermining the economy. Industry would be reluctant to support changes to resource management law for example that tighten emissions controls and force them to spend money on installing scrubbers, despite the existing argument that the scrubbers would pay for themselves by enabling more efficient burning.

Part of this is no doubt intended to appeal to National’s Blue Greens, who are the segment of the party with concerns about environmental sustainability. The Blue Greens were delighted in April 2007 when the then Leader of the Opposition John Key said the key areas for the National Party would be economy, education and the environment. But during the 8 years Mr Key was in office the party largely paid lip service to the Blue Greens and I cannot help but wonder if it will wind up doing the same again this time.

It is not that there are no opportunities for innovation and job growth. On the contrary, one of the great opportunities afforded by the need to tackle climate change is unlocking green research, science and technology. This could be boosted by raising the percentage of the G.D.P. that New Zealand spends on research, science and technology which has been hovering around a mediocre 0.9% in contrast with other O.E.C.D. countries.

Will partisan politics wind up getting in the way of a multi-lateral approach involving cross party support from both Opposition and Government parties? One would hope not. New Zealand needs to tackle this issue, because the damage to our environmental reputation if we do not would be simply too much for a country of our size to handle.

So, I welcome National’s commitment to doing something about climate change. There is a lot of water to go under this bridge, but it is a start.