Greens aim to boost Dunedin support

Green co-leaders James Shaw and Marama Davidson on Budget day this year. PHOTO: HAGEN HOPKINS/GETTY
Green co-leaders James Shaw and Marama Davidson on Budget day this year. PHOTO: HAGEN HOPKINS/GETTY
The Green Party holds its annual meeting in Dunedin next weekend, and the party will be focusing on both local and national issues, co-leaders James Shaw and Marama Davidson tell political reporter Mike Houlahan.
 

A classic Green phrase is to act locally and think globally, and that is one of the party's aims for its annual meeting in Dunedin next weekend.

Dunedin, and particularly the Dunedin North electorate, matter to the Greens, as they have traditionally given strong support to the party.

Much of that was due to the work of Dunedin-based former party co-leader Metiria Turei. Now, by bringing the conference to the city, the party hopes to maintain its strength here.

"We haven't been to Dunedin for a while. We do have a very strong and active presence in Otago, and this gives us an opportunity to reinforce that group," co-leader James Shaw said.

"The other thing is that it is a local body election year and we have Aaron Hawkins running for mayor and we think with a fairly decent chance of getting elected, so it gives us a chance to highlight his campaign as well."

Sheer chance has already done some of the party's work for it, as active campaigns against off-shore drilling and on-shore mining at Foulden Maar have stirred up grassroots Greens.

Harnessing those local ambitions and the party's activist traditions was easier when the Greens were in opposition, but now the party is 18 months into its first stint as an active party in Government, and Mr Shaw, Julie-Anne Genter and Eugenie Sage are support party ministers.

Mr Shaw's co-leader Marama Davidson has been left out of the executive and given the remit of keeping the caucus and wider party informed as to what the Green MPs and ministers are doing in Wellington, and why.

It is largely unseen work, but with the Greens reliant on passing the 5% MMP threshold to remain in Parliament and government support parties historically experiencing a drop in support the following election, keeping the party faithful happy is a critical task.

"Being given responsibility for wider party management has been handy in our first term in government," Ms Davidson said.

"We have had to learn what it is like to be in government, and having to work with three parties for every single sentence in every Cabinet paper ... but I never thought in a million years I would see the end of offshore oil and gas.

"I never thought I would see Jan Logie leading a whole-of-government approach to ending domestic violence and child abuse, the overhaul of public transport and the massive investment in the way we move people around, Eugenie's work and the huge increase in Doc funding.

"These are real levers to protect our people and our planet that we have been able to achieve in this Government."

There have, of course, been setbacks.

Both concede they would like to have to moved further and faster on initiatives to combat climate change than the three-party coalition has let them, and Mr Shaw remains frustrated that coalition politics scuppered a proposed capital gains tax the Greens have long called for.

"That is in the nature of MMP, and we fought pretty hard for MMP," Mr Shaw said.

"One of the reasons why was to create a more democratic system of government, where no one party could dominate and do as it liked ... that can be frustrating, but it is what it is.

"But every time Winston [Peters] or Shane [Jones] say `taihoa [wait], there is something you need to think about here', they are actually representing the interests of a group of New Zealanders whose voices need to be heard and listened to when we think about how we move on climate change or those sort of things.

"The nature of the Coalition Government means that you have to work out how you are going to take a majority of New Zealanders along with you ... and you have to value that, I think."

Mr Shaw disputed the perception that Green gains in Government were dwarfed by those of New Zealand First, saying that most of the party's large wins were not financial.

Having said that, he estimated there had been $6billion in funding in this year's Budget over the next four years for policies in the party's confidence and supply agreement: "I don't think anyone noticed, apart from us."

Which perhaps underlines the need to convey that message to the Green base, and also to capitalise on the recent wave of environmental enthusiasm evidenced by the declaration of climate emergencies and school student climate strikes.

Mr Shaw felt those movements had been sparked by frustration with the sluggishness of the political process.

"I can't disagree with them; I have been working on climate change for the better part of 20 years now, and I was almost late to the party.

"This has been around for 30 years and we just haven't taken the actions which needed to be taken in order for us to avert rising temperatures and the consequences which come with that."

For Ms Davidson, a party annual meeting in Dunedin represents a homecoming, having spent several years of her childhood in Dunedin.

"I have wonderful memories of school, of the Ravensbourne area, out around Port Chalmers," she said.

"That was where I got to see how committed my parents were to standing up and fighting against injustices, standing up for sovereignty for Maori, standing up for environmental and social issues.

"That is what Dunedin reminds me of, so it's a really warm feeling I get in returning to familiar territory."

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