20 Mar 2023

Frustrated Greens take aim at 'visionless government' and possible National-ACT coalition

9:49 am on 20 March 2023
Green Party co-leaders Marama Davidson and James Shaw at the party's State of the Planet speech in Auckland on 19 March 2023.

Green Party co-leaders Marama Davidson and James Shaw at the party's State of the Planet speech in Auckland on Sunday. Photo: RNZ / Giles Dexter

The Greens have laid down a challenge to potential coalition partners: come to the table with faster and stronger climate action if you want our support.

Co-leaders James Shaw and Marama Davidson said it was time to "finally shake off the shackles of visionless government".

"It will not be acceptable to the millions of people who are demanding bolder action, nor to the Green Party, nor to me, if the next government fails to muster the courage and moral clarity to confront the climate crisis with the urgency it demands," Shaw said.

At the party's State of the Planet speech in Auckland on Sunday, Shaw wanted the party faithful to know he was as frustrated as they were.

He said so eight times in the space of two minutes.

Last week, a swathe of Green-championed policies were dumped or deferred by the prime minister, without consultation - breaching their co-operation agreement.

Shaw's response to the reprioritisation was, at first, surprisingly muted, but now he is fired up.

He admitted to supporters he had not got everything right, to which one audience member responded "that's true," prompting laughter from the crowd and Shaw himself.

But he said he was not willing to compromise any more.

"I will not walk away and give up now. I will keep fighting for the government we need to make it happen."

Green Party co-leader James Shaw at the party's State of the Planet speech in Auckland on 19 March 2023.

James Shaw said the solution was to get more Green ministers in the next government, as well as for the first time at the cabinet table. Photo: RNZ / Giles Dexter

Walking away was what Shaw was told to do by Te Pāti Māori, which said on Tuesday he should resign as climate change minister.

But Shaw was adamant the solution was not to resign, but to get more Green ministers in the next government - and this time, for the first time, at the Cabinet table.

He reiterated his comments the following morning on Morning Report, saying that relying on other parties' ministers to enact their policies was not cutting it anymore.

"The whole point of the speech was to say in order to ensure that we actually have some influence over the direction of the next government, to ensure that it is strong on climate change, which is something the majority of New Zealanders do want, then we need more MPs and more Green ministers and we need to be sitting around the Cabinet table, that is how you get leverage."

Speaking after Shaw's speech on Sunday, party co-leader Marama Davidson took a dig at the government's reprioritisation, and the prime minister's now signature quote.

"We can't think of anything more bread and butter than people who are struggling with the impacts of climate change right now. Our strong message is that we must take care of both climate issues, and social justice issues. We know people want to see more of that. That is why we need more Green MPs in Parliament."

Asked later on Morning Report what would have been different if the party had more power, Shaw said recent changes to the proposal to price agricultural carbon emissions would not have been allowed.

"When it comes to the Emissions Trading Scheme, Cabinet did make a decision not to follow the advice of the Climate Commission and you can track the price of pollution, which was sitting at about roughly $80-$85 a tonne, it's now about $65 a tonne, so it's lost $20 since that decision was made."

While he acknowledged the ongoing pressures and costs for farmers, he also believed the proposal the sector put forward was not effective.

"The pricing scheme that we're introducing doesn't even kick off until 2025, 2026, by which time the current inflationary environment will have calmed down some more.

"I don't think the design they came up with was a particularly good design. I mean the key thing to me is why did they develop a proposal in which rather than dealing with say the 20 percent most intensive dairy farms, they ended up kind of dealing with the 20 percent most marginal sheep and beef farms. That sort of seems like the intention is in the wrong place."

Current Green MPs who attended the speech shared their co-leaders' frustrations.

"Unless the Greens have a strong mandate next term, we're going to continue having a government that delays the necessary action to tackle climate and inequality. The past week has been one of us reigniting that commitment to fight tooth and nail so Labour is forced to deliver the changes that are necessary for people and the climate," Ricardo Menéndez March said.

Teanau Tuiono said it was frustrating to see the policies ditched, but had encouraged the Greens to put the pressure on.

"The fire is stoking, if I can put it that way."

Golriz Ghahraman said the crises and the solutions to solve them had always been there.

"It's been the inaction of successive governments that's been frustrating for us."

The Greens have challenged political parties to come to the table on bolder climate action if they want their support come October.

But when they say "political parties," they mean Labour.

The chances of them working with National are practically zero.

Shaw has grave concerns for what a National-ACT coalition would mean.

Shaw said it would be "the most reactionary race-baiting right-wing government we have seen in decades".

"A government for the wealthy few, at the expense of many, not just in this generation but also those to come. A government of climate inaction and delay."

Should the numbers be there, doing a deal with National just to keep ACT out of government is an option, and the co-leaders would not 100 percent rule it out.

But Davidson said any deal would be up to the party membership, who would be unlikely to sign it off.

"It's clear where their values are, and they are completely opposite from ours," she said.

National's campaign chair Chris Bishop said he would make the decision for the Greens: it's not happening.

"James Shaw can turn up and give a speech mainly about National Party, it seems, all he likes. We're not going to be lectured to by the Green Party, we're going to lay out our policies and lay out our agenda for government if we're in a fortunate enough position to form one after the election."

ACT's deputy leader Brooke van Velden laughed off the Greens' disdain. She said it was distraction from the fact the Greens had not been able to achieve what they set out to do.

"The only thing they've been able to succeed at over the past five years is proving how ineffective they can be. They're good at posturing, but bad on policy."

And policy was pretty light yesterday, but a capital gains tax is very much on the table.

Shaw said former prime minister Jacinda Ardern's decision not to pursue one was his biggest regret, and he wants it back.

"That to me I think was probably the best moment and opportunity that we had to finally introduce some fairness into the tax system, and to start taxing wealth not just work."

Whether the new prime minister agrees could define coalition negotiations come October.

  • Rainbow Greens ask government to ban anti-transgender activist from New Zealand
  • Greens lay down climate change election challenge to other parties
  • Climate policy purge leads to clashes between Greens, Te Pāti Māori
  • New poll shows Labour could form government with Greens, Te Pāti Māori