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.