By Cat MacLennan *
Opinion - It is time for Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern to rule out working with New Zealand First after the 2020 election.
If New Zealand First leader Winston Peters decides to collapse the government in retaliation for Ardern's announcement, that will be his decision.
New Zealand First has traded on racism and the demonising of immigrants since it was first set up in 1993. Each election cycle, anti-immigrant rhetoric is ramped up with the goal of appealing to voters.
New Zealand is only days away from remembering the 15 March 2019 Christchurch mosque attacks. There could be no more horrifying lesson about the dangers of racism. Public vilification of specific ethnic groups not only entrenches prejudice, it gives comfort and support to those with extreme, anti-immigrant views.
When this rhetoric comes from politicians - and, even worse, from Cabinet ministers - the impact is magnified because of their powerful positions and the media coverage they draw.
Despite this, New Zealand First MP and Minister Shane Jones on Saturday stated that Indian students were ruining New Zealand's education system. When challenged about his remarks, he doubled down and his leader, Peters, rejected the (correct) claim that the remarks were racist.
This is not what the country needs from our politicians. New Zealand should be working to make immigrants safer, not condoning them being abused by those at the highest level of our society.
The second key reason that Ardern needs to rule out New Zealand First as a post-election coalition partner is that the party is stymieing almost every attempt by Labour and the Greens to address climate change.
Despite Ardern stating during the 2017 election campaign that climate change was her generation's nuclear-free moment, the current Government in fact has done virtually nothing to deal with the rapidly-advancing climate emergency.
The Zero Carbon Bill was finally passed late last year but farmers have a special exemption as the Labour-New Zealand First Coalition Agreement provides that, upon agriculture's entry to the Emissions Trading Scheme, its free allocation is to be 95 per cent.
Jones and fellow New Zealand First MP Mark Patterson slated a school climate change resource advising that students could help reduce emissions by eating less meat and dairy. Peters supported his MPs, stating that New Zealanders eating less meat could damage the country's agriculture industry and lead to job losses.
And, within the last two weeks, the Government's feebate plan to cut the price of electric vehicles has been axed, with New Zealand First and National fighting to claim "credit" for blocking the initiative.
New Zealand and the rest of the world are spiralling rapidly towards disaster as the window for effective action against climate change comes ever-closer to closing completely.
We need politicians with bold policies and blueprints for immediate action, not parties which try to win electoral support by falsely reassuring voters that their lives can stay the same and no change is required.
* Cat MacLennan is a barrister and former political reporter.