18 Dec 2021

An end-of-year chat with the minor party leaders

From Focus on Politics, 10:00 am on 18 December 2021

RNZ's political team catch up with the minor party leaders to discuss 2021, potential allies, and Covid-19.

With much of the political year focused on the Covid-19 response, Labour and National have soaked up much of the attention, but the minor parties have still played a role.

ACT has been soaking up some of National's lost support, the Greens have had to forge their own path despite having two ministers in government, and Te Pāti Māori has been rebuilding its identity in its first year back in Parliament after a term out in the cold. 

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Photo: RNZ / Vinay Ranchhod

This week, ACT's David Seymour, the Green Party's Marama Davidson and James Shaw, and the Māori Party's Debbie Ngarewa-Packer and Rawiri Waititi spoke to RNZ, reflecting on 2021.  

Read more: 

"We live to ensure New Zealand has the best policy" - David Seymour

Seymour came under fire this year for sharing a priority vaccine code, which allowed Māori and Pacific people to get vaccinated at Whānau Ora locations without booking ahead.

It was a move widely criticised by medical professionals and politicians but Seymour says his position has been "completely vindicated" and he still stands by sharing the priority code.

"We shouldn't be racially profiling people. Most people want a more inclusive New Zealand and if we're going to do intervention on social services - and we do need to give people more equal opportunity - then we're going to have to target a lot better, using better data rather than somewhat lazily targeting people based on ethnic groupings."

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David Seymour  Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

ACT has been on a steady rise in political polls this year, the latest Newshub Reid-Research result giving them 16 percent, which Seymour attributes to his party listening to people and coming up with solutions. 

"We don't just sort of sit there and throw rocks. We say 'well, actually, if you want a better tomorrow and you vote for ACT here are the kinds of things that we would bring to the table'. I think based on the feedback I get, people appreciate listening, and solutions."

"We wanted to make sure we had an equity lens" - Marama Davidson and James Shaw

While ACT has capitalised on the National Party's soul-searching, the Green Party has struggled to cut through under the shadow of Labour. 

Co-leaders Marama Davidson and James Shaw say the party has had its wins this year, particularly around sexual violence, climate change, Afghan repatriation and social development. 

The party has failed to make any significant gains in the polls, but Shaw says it is "marginally up" since election night. 

"Obviously we would like to be even higher in the polls than we are, but we're actually doing really well, I think people are recognising the work that we are doing, between our ministerial contributions to the government and our non-ministerial contributions in Parliament," he says.

Green Party co-leaders James Shaw and Marama Davidson (end of year interview)

Green Party co-leaders James Shaw and Marama Davidson Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

On Covid-19, Davidson says they have been supportive of the government's elimination strategy, but are more vocal in now that has been abandoned. 

"We've said that lifting the borders arbitrarily before getting vaccination rates up, before improving public health systems in the regions, we spoke out very strongly about that." 

She says the party will continue next year to have an independent position on the virus, based on equity. 

"There's been too many tradeoffs in the past, and people now know what authentically is needed to actually bring balance back into this country," - Debbie Ngarewa-Packer and Rawiri Waititi

Much of Te Pāti Māori's first year back at Parliament was spent away from Parliament, working in the regions to lift low Māori vaccination rates. 

Co-leaders Debbie Ngarewa-Packer and Rawiri Waititi met to discuss joining the vaccine drive on the ground when it became clear the elimination strategy had been abandoned. 

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 Debbie Ngarewa-Packer Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

Ngarewa-Packer says it became a question of how you use your leadership. 

"It was easy. It was about deciding 'at this point in time and looking back in history, where does Te Pāti Māori want to be seen?' Sitting there trying to...push through bureaucrats who just couldn't see what we could see? The fact that we [Māori] would be ... with the virus, the most hospitalized, and, sadly, the most at risk of dying at home, which is what we've been seen."

By mid-December, 86 percent of Māori had received their first dose, while 76 percent were fully immunised. 

Ngarewa-Packer says 2021 was a year of firsts - and tough - for the party but it is still as authentic and grass-roots as it possibly can be. 

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 Rawiri Waititi Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

In today's Focus on Politics podcast, Political Reporters Anneke Smith, Charlie Dreaver and Katie Scotcher interview David Seymour, Marama Davidson, James Shaw, Debbie Ngarewa-Packer and Rawiri Waititi. 

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