Greens getting a great deal in the sixth Labour government

James Shaw

Despite much conjecture that the Greens were going to get shafted by Labour and New Zealand First, the Greens are getting a great deal.

What we know so far is that the Greens are getting:

  • 3 ministers outside of cabinet
  • 1 parliamentary under-secretary
  • Zero Carbon Act, + independent climate commission
  • Overhaul of the welfare system
    • Ensuring access to entitlements
    • Removing excessive sanctions
    • A review of Working for Families so that everyone has a standard of living that allows them to live in dignity
  • Significant increases to the conservation budget
  • Better water quality standards
    • Greater water regulatory instruments
    • Funding for freshwater enhancement
    • Winding down of government funding for irrigation
  • Access to mental health services and support for everyone
    • Free counselling for anyone under 25 years old
  • Access to education for children with special needs and learning difficulties
  • Progress in eliminating the gender pay gap in the public service
  • Review, and properly fund & support the family re-unification scheme for refugees
  • Ensuring drug use is treated as a health issue

These are significant gains, and the Greens get to maintain their independence by staying outside of cabinet, which will be great for the party next election.

This is the first time ever that the Green Party gets to hold ministerial positions, and it means that the Greens will finally be unequivocally recognised as fit to govern, not a fringe hippy movement like they’ve been characterised.

I expect the ministerial positions will be:

  1. Environment
  2. Climate Change
  3. Transport

It seems unlikely the Greens will get Minister for Social Housing or Social Development, but it sounds like there’s already been large gains made in this area. Though, it would be nice for Marama Davidson to have a ministerial role, especially as she’s likely to become the next co-leader. Maybe that under-secretary role will go to her or Jan Logie (another potential co-leader) for Social Development.

It’s good that the Greens’ve secured a referendum on cannabis, allowing Julie Anne Genter to sacrifice her members bill and to become the Minister of Transport.

It’s not even been a day, but government representatives of Australia’s ruling Liberal Party are already taking potshots at our new Labour government and trying to sow doubts about Ardern’s potential success.

Newshub:

Then Employment Minister Michaelia Cash on Thursday night suggested the new NZ government may be destined to fail.

“History shows that unfortunately the last time the Labour, Greens and independents formed Government it didn’t end well,” Senator Cash told 2GB radio, before praising the previous government led by John Key and Bill English.

The Australian government criticised the Labour Party for meddling in Australian politics earlier this year, even though the Labour Party didn’t really. Yet now they’re happy to insinuate this government is destined to fail?

Then the Liberal Party Premier for NSW tweeted this:

New Zealanders don’t like being told to move to Australia because our new government apparently won’t have “great infrastructure, a growing economy and jobs”. This is another clear attack on Jacinda’s new government, and it’s disappointing to see such petty partisanship from the Premier of NSW.

That’s on top of their partisan newspapers trying to undermine the victory, failing to understand a single basic principle of MMP:

Turnbull should reign his senators and members in.

David Farrar, blogger and National Party pollster, tweeted a quick Twitter poll last night.

Of left voters, 53% want Winston to join Labour & the Greens, while 47% want NZ First to form government with National. This isn’t surprising. It does require NZ First in government, which could really hurt the left’s chances of a second term in government. Labour and the Greens are already in a weaker position, so the association with NZ First could really harm them. Letting National and NZ First end a fourth term government for good while Labour and the Greens strengthen their hand would have a much better chance of a multi term government. But, can change wait?

Of right voters, 69% want NZ First to choose National, while 31% want NZ First to choose Labour & the Greens. Obviously, the same arguments used before apply here, only for the inverse reasons. National would love a fourth term in government. However, there’s also an incentive to let NZ First wreck Labour’s government, allowing National to jump back in for another long run in 2020.

The left’s really split on what outcome they want. On the other hand, just over 2/3 right voters would prefer Winston to form a government with National. Either way, few will be really happy with the outcome.

The problem isn’t just MMP, but how we use it.

Minor party leaders
Photo: RNZ - Screenshot/TVNZ

As Winston holds the ‘balance of power’, New Zealand’s mainstream opinion media is trying to blame this situation entirely on the MMP system we use to elect our parliament.

Every right-wing pundit seems to be claiming first-past-the-post was much easier, they say, and much more representative. They question how the system can allow one man to decide the government. Never were these concerns aired in any of the last handful of elections.

Any attempt to delegitimise a Labour-led government with Jacinda Ardern at the helm requires not just an attack on New Zealand First and the Greens for not choosing to work with National, the ‘biggest party’, but also an attack on the system that allowed voters to give us this position.

This is simply an attack on New Zealand democracy because the results were inconvenient.

We are privileged to have a democratic process that is actually near representative of the population. In the 2015 United Kingdom election, the Conservatives won 57% of the seats with only 36% of the vote, while the Liberal Democrats won just 10% when they got 23% of the vote. The UK Greens got just 0.2% of the seats when they received almost 5% of the total votes. We all watched in horror last year as Hillary Clinton won 2% points more than her orange opponent, but lost the presidency. This is the reality of the totally unrepresentative first-past-the-post system.

MMP is necessary to force the moderation of the government by requiring them to negotiate with other parties to get over the line. In the UK, the Conservative party can screw over two thirds of voters in favour of the other third and still be handed a majority.

I make no claim that MMP is perfect. It isn’t. The biggest problem is the ridiculous threshold. The threshold is an unfair bar that numerous political movements, with tens of thousands of voters backing them, have failed to meet, keeping them locked out of the debating chamber. Both TOP and the Māori Party lost out because of it in this election; the Conservatives, Internet Mana, and the ALCP all lost out last time. You can have 4.99% of the population behind you, but because you didn’t have just a handful more people ticking your box, you have no direct legislative influence.

Maybe if those commentators saw the benefit of having two to three more parties to work with, they’d change their tune. In 2014, without the 5% threshold, National would have needed 5 more seats to form a majority. Conveniently, the Conservative Party (who has much more in common with National than the Māori Party or United Future), would have exactly 5 seats to give them.

It is sad that the only way to form a new successful political party is to have someone throwing millions at it. Gareth Morgan donated $1.7M to his party this year, and Kim Dotcom threw $4.5M at Internet Mana in 2014.

The threshold is forever justified by claims that it ‘keeps radicals and extremists out’. We just need to look to Germany to see both that it doesn’t, and the rest of of the parties can react accordingly. In the 2017 German federal election, the ‘Alternative for Germany’  party (AfD), or the ‘not-quite-Nazi’ party, rocketed past the 5% threshold and became the third biggest party in the Bundestag. As a result, the Social Democratic Party has decided to leave the governing coalition and sit in opposition, partly so that the AfD does not become the leader of the opposition. Chancellor Angela Merkel now simply has to form a new coalition with the Free Democratic Party and the Greens. Their 5% threshold failed to keep Nazi-lites out, yet they are able to form a competent government without succumbing to any demands of the nationalists.

Part of Germany’s ability to jump around the undesirables is largely due to the proper embrace of MMP. The largest party is only 24% points more popular than the smallest party in the Bundestag. This embrace of MMP where the 6 parties in the Bundestag all have a moderate share of the votes is great for political representation, but also due to the maturity of the system in Germany. Germany has used MMP for 68 years, whereas New Zealand has only used MMP for 21 years since we adopted it in 1994.

While we grow up, the ancient mainstream media and the voting public still look at our electoral system through the lens of the first-past-the-post system we used for decades. It’s why before a major party ‘wins’ an election, they first consolidate the left or right vote. We saw it happen in 2005 when National squashed United Future,  New Zealand First, and ACT before they stormed to victory in 2008. We’re seeing the same thing happen this election, with Labour sucking up the Greens and New Zealand First.

The outdated idea that being the biggest party is necessary to form a government certainly isn’t helped by politicians like Winston Peters or Bill English claiming there’s a ‘constitutional convention’, or the National Party lackies claiming they have a ‘moral majority‘. The reality is the only requirement is that you have the numbers to form a government. Heck, ACT could form a government with confidence and supply from National and Labour. It’s extremely impossible, but a real option.

Nor is the FPP mentality helped by a media that treats elections like a drag race. I cannot blame Winston for refusing to turn up to the multi-party leaders debates when Jacinda and Bill also don’t turn up. I also can’t blame Winston for criticising TVNZ and Three for having ‘Leaders Debates‘ with only two leaders. Again, the media perpetuates the idea that elections are a two horse race.

Of course, as long as voters treat elections that way, so too will the media, and vice versa. Until one of these partners breaks the cycle, I certainly doubt we will fully embrace the potential of MMP. Maybe New Zealand needs to be forced into the situation of a National-Labour coalition to usher in an era of stronger ‘minor’ parties. Maybe the media networks need to reform the way they structure their debates. Maybe there’s some other solution.

But don’t blame MMP, blame the voters.

More ridiculous coalition arrangements weighed up

Earlier I wrote about the coalition options for the Greens, which was well received.

Now I want to have a bit of a laugh, and weigh up the more peculiar coalition arrangements.

National/Labour ‘Grand Coalition’

  • Germany’s run with this arrangement from 2005-2009 and 2013-2017
  • Pleasing to centrists
  • Labour/National have more in common than National/Greens do
  • Would probably last a decently long time, as they would command 103 seats (85%) and thus could still form government if they lost a third of their seats

However,

  • Opposition made up of minor parties (not in the interests of the major parties)
  • Winston Peters becomes leader of the opposition
  • Labour/National would lose a lot of support to the minor parties, as has happened in Germany
    • (Though this would introduce a new era of MMP without the FPP sentiments)

Green-led/National Coalition

With some of the theories coming out of certain people, a Greens-led National government isn’t much of a stretch.

For instance, National Party pollster and blogger David Farrar thinks it would be fine to give James Shaw the Deputy PM role and Minister of Finance, to give Julie Anne Genter Minister of Public Transport, to give Gareth Hughes Minister of Communications, to give Marama Davidson Minister of Māori Development, and to give Golriz Ghahraman the role of Chairperson for the Select Committee on Human Rights.

It’s a bit ridiculous, but no reason to stop there. Why not go the full way and make it a Greens led government, with National as the junior coalition partner.

They can have a few of the roles the Greens don’t care much for, like racing, customs, or stats.

  • Would benefit the Greens. Get shown as a strong leader, and major policy gains.
  • Would usher in a new era of MMP

However

  • National would be made to look like a weak puppy, secondary to the fourth largest party.
  • May piss of some Green supporters, for National would earn some policy concessions

National/Labour/Greens/ACT

Throw all the toys out of the cot and rise up against Winston Peters! Even David Seymour gets a seat at the table, just to rub salt in Winnie’s wounds.

  • Everyone would get policy concessions!
  • Peter Dunne will finally get his cross-party committee

However

  • It would please absolutely nobody (except maybe Dunne)
  • NZ First would become the entire opposition, and would probably become at least the second biggest party at the following election as they attract disaffected voters.

Hope for the Māori Party: Tertiary students in Waiariki voted Flavell over Coffey

Nathan Williams has spent the last week looking into how different polling stations voted, and how polling stations at tertiary institutes voted.

Today he’s looked into the tertiary institutes in the Waiariki electorate, checking out how students there voted for the Waiariki local MP.

In all but one of the four tertiary education institutes, Te Ururoa Flavell of the Māori Party had a significant majority over Labour’s Tamati Coffey.

If Te Ururoa Flavell can keep and expand that student support till the 2020 election, the Māori Party has a chance of return.