Sustainable New Zealand, a political party established last year to challenge the blue-green vote, is in crisis. The green alternative to the Green Party was announced by former National candidate Vernon Tava in 2019. Mr Tava intended to establish the party as a sort of blue green alternative to the Green Party, whilst having an emphasis on economic development.
After much initial fan fare including a public launch with all of the major media outlets invited, the Sustainable New Zealand party appears to be in crisis. Officers of the party have left, citing problems with internal processes, fiscal transparency of the party’s finances among other issues. A quick review of the party’s policy platform shows nothing drastically distinct.
It is not the first party outside of Parliament to have run into newsworthy strife in recent years. Colin Craig established the Conservative Party of New Zealand and then went on to allegedly harass the Party Secretary, Rachel McGregor who took him to court, and who has been on the receiving end of sustained litigation by Mr Craig. The Conservative Party wound up expelling Mr Craig, whose political hopes must be all but dead by now.
Out of this has arisen the New Conservative Party, a socially conservative, Christian oriented party of small government, that is anti-abortion and anti-same sex marriage.
But if we go back to Sustainable New Zealand, the idea of a political party campaigning on sustainability is not at all a bad idea. Which is why I am slightly disappointed to hear that it has struck trouble. Whilst not being a member of the party, or even likely to vote for it, I have long believed that there needs to be a party that keeps the Greens honest about the need to balance environmental protection with making sure that there is a functional economy.
So what are the problems?
Any newly formed political party in New Zealand has some massive obstacles to mount, in order to get into Parliament and I think that most of the problems are basic ones that all new political parties have to tackle. But having a leader with a public profile that can be seen by everyone is perhaps the most important. With no profile, raising public awareness of ones existence is the biggest challenge by far.
Beyond that there are the issues of reaching the 500 member threshhold needed to call a party a party by Electoral Commission rules. Other parties have struggled with this as well in recent years, with United Future having the embarrassment of having not enough members to be a recognized party despite it being a supporting member of the National-led Government of Prime Minister John Key. That deprived it of critical Parliamentary Services support available to every party in Parliament until this could be rectified.
And what of a legitimate functional Board that governs the party internally? If you read the article it is said that Sustainable New Zealand’s board was not legitimate.
Then there is the 1-seat/5% party vote threshhold that any party must overcome to get into Parliament. The only time a party has been under 5% and made it into Parliament was New Zealand First in 2011, after being ejected from Parliament in 2008. For a new party this is an almost insurmountable barrier. One that I believe is too high, and should be lowered to 4%.
Finally there is policy. I noted during my quick examination of their policies, nothing about social welfare, health, education, justice, foreign policy and a slew of others. Most notably there was also nothing about Maori or Te Tiriti O Waitangi. For any party to be in Parliament, some idea of where it stands on all of these and other policy areas is essential.
Sustainable New Zealand might be a fledgling party struggling to get momentum, and the challenges facing it are definitely daunting. However two other political parties have started up in the last year or so – Prosperity, and Social Credit. They too have these challenges, but the last thing I heard from Prosperity was that they were having a steady influx of members.