27 Jul 2022

A firm maybe: Greens' Teanau Tuiono reflects on leadership

6:09 pm on 27 July 2022

Four days after James Shaw was ejected from the role, Green MP Teanau Tuiono has spoken: He has not decided whether to put his name forward for the party co-leadership.

Green MP Teanau Tuiono on the Justice Committee

Green MP Teanau Tuiono Photo: VNP / Daniela Maoate-Cox

Shaw was removed as co-leader by party membership on Saturday, with 25 percent preferring to put the role to a fresh vote than have him remain.

A statement from health spokesperson Elizabeth Kerekere yesterday said the entire caucus was surprised at Shaw's removal. So far, most MPs have ruled themselves out of contention, the only exceptions being Tuiono and Julie Anne Genter.

Having faced heavy media attention and speculation about a potential leadership bid, Tuiono called reporters to a briefing at Parliament this morning with little notice.

As a list MP of a minor party that aligned itself with a majority-winning Labour government, Tuiono may have been caught off guard by the level of interest in what he had to say.

"Kia ora e te whānau, thank you - first of all, thank you for blowing up my cellphone. I've never had so many media people hit me up before, and so I guess my first appeal is the next time I put out a press release on deep sea mining, or supporting pay parity in ECE, or supporting Pasifika overstayers please hold onto that energy and get in contact with me."

The question was whether he would stand - but his statements exuded uncertainty.

"I guess I've been reflecting over the last few days about what happened on the weekend," he began.

"I guess where I've landed at the moment is 'What would my participation mean in this process, in terms of leading the party forward?'.

"I guess where I've landed right now, in terms of my reflections, is I think I'm going to continue to communicate with our members."

It seemed he was considering a bid for the co-leadership but, as he told the journalists now questioning why they had been called together, it was not something he had considered until Shaw's removal, and the pressure on him began.

"I'm not ruling anything in, not ruling anything out, I'm just kind of giving it a think - and maybe you guys will just stop chasing me round the hallways," he said.

A firm maybe.

What he was sure of was Green MPs needed to listen to the membership, which had made its disapproval so clear.

"It's important that the role of a co-leader's to actually stay connected to the grassroots communities and stay connected to our branches as well. That's the message I'm getting very clearly ... that's what our young people are asking for.

"There is a level of frustration, I think we saw that with what happened on Saturday, and I think it's important to acknowledge that. Yep."

Shaw himself acknowledged uncertainty in a social media post addressing members early this afternoon, saying he had "found it hard to get the mix right between being a minister and a co-leader and, quite clearly given the vote last weekend, I haven't quite nailed it".

The ousted co-leader said he needed to listen; he needed to use social media more often as the most direct means of reaching members; he needed to rebuild trust, learn from this event and do better next time.

"I guess I've thought that the best work I could do for the Greens was my work as climate minister. I can see that I need to spend more time working on my role as Co-leader. If members do choose to have me back, I will do that," he said.

Tuiono, however, was not critical of Shaw's level of engagement with the members - more reflective, and concerned with his own.

"I'm in the bubble now within Parliament so, like, my thing is that we've been trying to do the best that we can - go hard on agriculture, go hard on all the things - but if that's not resonating outside well then we should have a rethink."

Indeed he liked Shaw, and they got on well, but it was about the party.

"For me the consideration is, will this be best for the party, will this be best for party unity? And that unity must be in the Greens, a unity and a diversity because we have such a diverse range of views. That's what's really important for me.

"It's not about me as the individual, it's about what the members want and being able to have that good Green discussion and good Green conversation will actually moves us forward. So for me it's not about me as an individual participating in the process - it's will this process move us forward."

Unity, then, to be achieved through a protracted leadership contest and an extended uncertainty over who the main contenders would be, and Tuiono uncertain too about when he would make up his mind.

"Probably over the next couple of days, I guess."

In the meantime, Marama Davidson is flying solo as the co-leader without a co-leader, taking no sides "because I'm the co-leader and have obvious influence I'm not going to comment on his or any potential candidates' campaigning because again that is up to the members to decide on".

She also expressed a need for party unity, hoping for Green steel tempered in the fires of factionism.

"We are being called to account. It's a really healthy party process to be able to do that and I take that seriously."

The question remains whether anyone will challenge Shaw, who is busy shoring up his support.

"I also know I need to show that commitment and passion for urgent radical change more clearly to fellow Green members," he wrote in his social media post.

"So today I'll be writing to all branch and province co-convenors to ask them each for a chance over the next few weeks to both listen to members around the country and to lay out my vision."

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