Greens reflect on year of climate change action

The Green Party has emerged relatively unscathed from 2019, unlike their partners in Government – Labour was rocked by a sexual assault scandal only somewhat tidied up by Christmas, and allegations of electoral fraud will hang over NZ First into the New Year. It’s polling is stable and it retains its clear brand.

Co-leaders James Shaw and Marama Davidson are able to count big wins and few failures, confident they know their voters and know what they’ve delivered – even if the Government hasn’t, as they’re happy to concede.

Despite a promise to focus relentlessly on economic inequality, the Greens’ wins mostly sit on the greener end of the spectrum – specifically climate change.

The Zero Carbon Act is high on the list of wins. The bill sets up a framework for climate action for the next decade at least, with an independent Climate Change Commission recommending “emissions budgets” for Governments to follow. Crucially, it has the support of National – a task that took Shaw months and led to some scaling back of ambition.

Shaw is clear that without that bipartisan support his choices over the first two years of government would have looked ridiculous.

“If I’d failed to do that, most of the choices that I had made for the preceding two years, would have looked a bit suspect,” he says.

“But it’s so worth it, that bi-partisanship has sent a huge signal.”

And Shaw hasn’t stuck to future frameworks. Very quietly on Thursday he announced plans to rapidly decarbonise the economy, with emissions peaking at 2020 levels and falling soon afterwards, thanks to an Emissions Trading Scheme with a lot more teeth.

But this is not to say there hasn’t been losses. Veteran MP Gareth Hughes announced his retirement from politics in November, and with it criticised the Government from failing to be “transformational”.

Both Shaw and Davidson say they share that critique, and have said it themselves in as many words.

“It’s been transformative in pockets,” Shaw says.

He set a firm line in the sand earlier this year saying that if the Government failed to enact a capital gains tax it wouldn’t deserve to be re-elected. Yet the Government failed to enact a capital gains tax, and Shaw still wants it to be re-elected.

Shaw recounted the moment he got the call from Ardern saying she was canning the tax for this term and any other where she is Labour leader.

“Look, this has happened,” Shaw remembered Ardern saying over the phone.

His response: “I actually have quite a bit of empathy for her because she had through four election campaigns on that. And, as she has said, she still believes it was the right thing to do.”

The lack of wins in other areas like poverty might have something to do with the people who actually vote for the Greens – urban elites, not working class people, who generally vote for Labour or National.

“If you are a 25- to 35-year-old female who is tertiary educated, lives in a downtown urban area, works in the public service, you have a 73 per cent chance of voting for us,” Shaw says.

“We know that we’ve got much, much broader appeal … We’re pretty confident in our core vote, but we know that somewhere between – and this has gone now through three election cycles – anywhere between 25 and 30 per cent of the population rate us.”

Other wins are probably less obvious, they say. Both leaders tout the strength of their eight-strong MP cohort, and say many are doing good work that goes unseen.

“Every single one of them are blood, sweat, and tears for their portfolios,” Davidson says.

Davidson cites Jan Logie’s work on domestic and sexual violence law for victims. Chlōe Swarbrick, who has pushed the Government further with drug reform, could also be on the list.

Shaw says Golriz Ghahraman’s policy work and deal with Justice Minister Andrew Little to get the Green’s sought amendment to the terror suppression control order was a strong win. Little needed the votes to get the bill through.

National MPs, already trying to cut a tougher deal with Little, were extremely mad. They credited Ghahraman for their outrage, Davidson says.

Are they enjoying the wins, when they come? With that comes a sly grin and nod of the head from Shaw.

“It would be very impolitic to say yes … The game stuff drives me nuts, so I guess that detracts from the enjoyment,” Shaw says.

Davidson flips it around and says the satisfaction she finds in is essentially keeping the tories out of power.

“The satisfaction is when we’re able to protect and ward off from their oppressive approach. That’s, like, absolutely important to us.”

CO-LEADERS’ HOLIDAY PICKS

Favourite Christmas song: Fairytale of New York by the Pogues (Shaw); Jingle Bell Rock (Davidson).

Favourite Christmas dish: Barbeque-grilled Crayfish (Shaw); Potato Salad (Davidson).

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