Into The Mainstream
The Green Party moves to the political centre… and vice versa
by Gordon Campbell
Interview photos by Rose O’Connor
The Green Party could be forgiven for feeling bipolar. When it looks in the mirror, it sees a radical party of innovation and change, and the steely foe of unsustainable growth. Simultaneously though, the Greens are consistently engaged in a process of public re-assurance that on the world stage – in Europe in the United Kingdom – its policy prescriptions are now solidly mainstream, such that would barely raise an eyebrow at Davos, or among the G-7. Why, even David Cameron has got behind the Green Investment Bank in Britain, to stimulate green innovation and investment in windfarm energy! In Germany, one of the world’s leading export economies, Angela Merkel has endorsed carbon pricing, put a price on waste and is moving firmly to renewable forms of energy!
The convergence of the Greens with mainstream politics – an evolution welcomed by the Greens – has not gone unnoticed in this election year. True, a few diehards on the centre-right – egged on by National spin merchants and by the likes of Business New Zealand – continue to treat the Greens as a bunch of socialist enviro-extremist boogey men, who pose a scary threat to market capitalism. Anyone who still thinks that way must be having kittens at the prospect of Prime Minister John Key joining forces in government with Colin Craig’s Conservative Party, the far more wobbly loose wheel on the centre-right’s own wagon.
Meanwhile, some of the old stereotypes about the Greens are quietly passing into history. One has to go all the way down to number 33 on this year’s Green Party list for instance, to find the first trace of facial hair. Unless there has been a secret fatwa against beards, this would seem to confirm that the Greens quit being the party of Morris dancing and Gaia worship quite some time ago. It is getting harder and harder to panic the populace when the supposed threat to civilisation is able to argue that the Tory government leader in Britain shares some political DNA with where he’s at, man. For an example of Greens co-leader Russel Norman invoking Cameron and Merkel, check out this excellent RNZ interview with Norman conducted by Brent Edwards a couple of months ago, from the Focus on Politics programme.
http://www.radionz.co.nz/auto stimukate green inniovation dio/player/2593057
In similar vein, the carbon tax unveiled at the Greens annual conference on Queens Birthday weekend has led a striking number of mainstream political commentators to shower the Greens with praise for their pragmatism, newly minted credibility and shrewdness at realpolitik. A move to the political centre has been welcomed by many. Not surprisingly therefore, a far more urgent threat to the Greens is coming from within the ranks of the centre-left, via the fledgling merger of the Mana and Internet parties. Especially so given that Laila Harre – a recent employee of the Greens parliamentary party – has been appointed the leader of the Internet Party.
At noon on Monday June 9th Werewolf editor Gordon Campbell used pre-digital technology to interview Greens Co-leader Russel Norman about the grounds for the Green Party’s current sense of wellbeing, and political identity.
Campbell : Have you seen any sign this year that the centre-left vote has expanded ?
Norman : I’d have to check the latest polling, but I think its been reasonably static. It feels like its been pretty much locked up for two and a half years.
Reason I ask is that there’s been a lot of talk this year about expanding the centre-left base by mobilising non-voters, especially among the young. In your view, is that a realistic path to a change of government ?
I think its part of the strategy.
Right. Yet from what has happened overseas, a lot of energy can be expended in chasing the youth vote for minimal outcomes on election day.
Well, I wouldn’t claim to be an expert, but with Obama’s campaign [in 2008] what they did was identify all their supporters and then focussed on getting them out to vote. And that gave them great confidence as to what the result would be, regardless of what the polls were saying. That seemed to work for Obama. It wasn’t exactly what you are describing, but its similar.
The Greens have had years of experience in mobilising the youth vote. Is there anything you’ve learned that you shouldn’t do?
What we’ve done has had mixed results. All I’d say is this : with the rise of social media we have greater opportunities for reaching people. That’s really one thing that’s running in our direction in terms of encouraging young people to vote. Second point : that fortnight of voting is, I think, significant. So we’ll certainly be promoting people to vote from day one to day fourteen. That gives us a lot of opportunities to reach people through social media and our data bases. The third significant thing is always having the reason to vote. Because mechanics by themselves are insufficient. People need a reason to vote. That’s why we’ve been putting out what I think are some pretty bold policies, which is what I’d describe the climate tax cut as being.
But if the centre-left vote is not expanding, its voters will simply be shuffling between Labour, the Greens and now possibly, Internet Mana. Is that your sense of what they’re doing – that the allies on the centre-left are in fact, largely just cannibalising each other ?
From a Green Party perspective – which is where I think I have the most insight – we very significantly increased our vote at the last election. So for us, it’s a process of embedding, of making that vote solid. So two and a half years in [to this parliamentary term] we have two and half years of very solid support – at over 10 per cent. So for us, that’s a very significant gain. Our polling shows that the churn of those voters is quite low. So the people who voted with us last time have stayed with us. Really high retention rates.
So are you treating that last Morgan poll [which saw the Greens falling below 10%] as a rogue poll ?
Ahh.. I don’t really say any poll is rogue. What I’m saying is that you’ve got to look at the whole. One swallow does not a summer make.
Some people are putting it down to an after-Budget poll bounce for the government, and claiming this lead will recede as we get further into the election campaign.
Again, I don’t pick any one poll and say it proves anything…
So you’re agnostic on that point?
I’m saying you’ve got to look at trends. Anyway, from our point of view that’s been the progress and we’re in a strong position. Secondly, what I’d say is that we grew our vote very significantly in the run-up to the last election – and we’re assuming we can do that again.
All year, the messaging by the centre-right has been pretty clear. Vote for a change of government and you hand power to the Greens – who are misguided at best, dangerous radicals at worst. Does the carbon tax policy make that line of attack less credible?
I don’t think it was ever very credible. But the climate tax cut does create problems for National – because it does involve income tax cuts and company tax cuts. And it puts a price on carbon – which pretty much every economist says is a necessary part of dealing with climate change. So I think it has wrong-footed the National Party.
In doing so, presumably you’d argue to makes it more possible for the Greens to poach votes among the so called ‘blue-green” voters in National’s ranks.
I think it’ll do that. But I think the understanding around the need for action on climate change is quite broad, and so it does go across quite a number of parties…and the Green Party has put up a very clear flag that if you want action on climate change, there’s really only one party to vote for.
But if anyone on the ‘blue-green’ side of the ledger were to be attracted by the carbon tax policy, won’t that impulse be cancelled out by the NZ Power proposal – which raises the spectre of state intervention on electricity pricing?
Certainly, National has been effective in mis-framing the NZ Power proposal. I agree, that’s a challenge. So we need to communicate the essence of that proposal which is to have competition in electricity. We don’t have a competitive market in the electricity sector now. NZ Power is all about introducing competition and innovation into the electricity market. So yeah, I think there’s a challenge about communicating it.
OK, and if we talking about getting a political message across : arguably. the Key government has steered New Zealand through the aftermath of the GFC, kept inflation at levels where it has put minimal pressure on interest rates, and handed in a Budget headed for surplus. Doesn’t it deserve any brownie points for that effort?
Any mug can borrow 50 million dollars. They opposed all the attempts to reduce government debt during the term of the previous Labour-led government. They consistently said the surplus should be given away in tax cuts instead of paying down debt. A significant asset they inherited from the last government was very low government debt – and they’ve used that to borrow very extensively. So, its really hard to give them any credit, given that they opposed the reduction in debt.
In that respect, is the surplus a desirable end in itself – or is it merely a tool to do other things ?
Any Keynesian approach to economics – which has obviously had a bit of a revival since the GFC – would say that governments operate surpluses and deficits depending on what’s going on in the broader economy.
So deficit spending can be a virtue?
Of course. That’s why the Greens voted for Budgets to pay down debt, which the National Party opposed, and wanted to keep debt high….
The carbon tax policy does signal a pretty interesting shift in political motivation though, doesn’t it? Formerly it was all about Al Gore and saving the planet – yet now the policy is being framed equally in terms of self -interest. Is that a sign of the Greens becoming more politically pragmatic?
It was pretty much our policy all the way through to use pollution charges to introduce a tax-free band into the income tax system. The frame for the green tax shift has always said : put taxes on pollution and take taxes off income, and off business as well.
So the carbon tax shouldn’t be seen as a groundbreaking shift in positioning?
No. Its only surprising to people who have never bothered to read our incomes policy.
In your view, have the Greens ever been a left wing party?
Yeah. I see politics as having two fundamental axies, as it were. So there is a left/right axis and a sustainability axis. I’ve always seen it like that. And the Greens are on the left hand end of the left/right axis, but we’re also on the sustainability end of the sustainability axis.
Was British Columbia one other place where the carbon tax proposal seemed to work – politically and economically ?
It has been our policy for a long time. As we rolled it out, we looked for international examples to prove, to show, that it could work. BC is one example that demonstrates how it can work.
One reason I ask is that BC chose to phase in their carbon tax starting at a low $10 a tonne price, raised to $30 a tonne over the course of four years. You’re starting at $25 a tonne with exemptions for agriculture and forestry. Isn’t your initial price too high – and I’m not talking about the modelling. I’m talking about whether it would be better to phase in a major change like this more gradually.
So, in terms of the more export focused industry – dairy – facing the carbon price it actually is phased in at about ten Canadian dollars a tonne.
I’m talking about ordinary punters. They will face quite a high price, from day one.
But the ordinary punter will also get tax cuts – or rather, they will tax cuts that are significantly higher than the cost of the charge.
Will they really ? That’s an interesting point. Because you went into the 2011 election offering those on low incomes an initial $10,000 of their income being tax free. This time around, that zone has shrunk to $2,000 and part of that is earmarked as compensation to offset the higher power bills and petrol costs created by your carbon tax. Comparatively – and on social justice terms – isn’t the carbon tax a regressive step ?
Two questions there. To do them one at a time : in terms of the $10,000 tax free threshold since the last election – that was part of our policy but as we made clear, what we’ve done is divide our policy if you like, into priorities, and then into policies. So [among] the priorities that we went with into the last election, the $10,000 tax free wasn’t at the top of the list of priorities. It was our policy, but we said here are the priorities that we take into the post-election negotiations. We’re an MMP party. We’re not going to get to implement all our policies at once. Each election, we tell people what our priorities are. That’s been our approach to the last election, and to this one. This time we’re taking it in as one of our priorities.
The second issue is about progressivity or regressivity of tax reform. So if you’re going to change the tax system, this is the most progressive way to do it. In terms of introducing a new band, at the bottom, at zero per cent. And the reason is that the nominal amount that everyone gets is the same. So if you’re on a low income that means more than if you’re on a high income. Compare this with – let me finish – the National Party’s tax cuts which were introduced in 2010, and where by far the biggest amounts were delivered to the wealthiest.
Yet compared to 2011, its still a smaller zone. Lets approach this social justice element of the carbon tax policy in a different way. What percentage of the tax cut to those on low incomes will be swallowed up by the higher costs the carbon tax will create?
The modelling that BERl did for us was static modeling – so you could argue that its not comprehensive, but I think its basically right. It says the average family gets a $420 a year tax cut ; of which about $100 is consumed by increases in prices. In petrol, mostly.
About a quarter, so the net return….
Its about a quarter roughly speaking. So the average household is about $320 a year better off.
OK. So $320 on average, will be the total annual net return to households on average, this time. In addition, some have claimed that the carbon tax would actually further increase income inequality and boost inner city house prices – given that those on higher incomes will have the bonus of being able to walk to work and avoid the tax, while those in poorer homes on the city margins will be penalised by the higher cost of transport, public and otherwise. Is that fair criticism?
Ahhh, its hard to say whether that’s really true. But that’s why I’d say the complementary measures are so important. Even the OECD, which argues that a carbon charge should be the cornerstone of your policy – because its the cheapest and most efficient way to reduce emissions – says that we will still need complementary measures around it. Some of those are around access to affordable public transport. So yeah, you do need to have the other bits.
So if households are going to get on average, a $300 net annual tax cut from the carbon tax do you think that helps – much – to resolve the problems of income inequality and wealth concentration identified by our economist friend Thomas Piketty?
I think it will have a marginal effect. In the sense that it is a progressive tax cut.
And a drop in the ocean?
If you want a progressive tax cut then this is what a progressive tax cut looks like. But obviously by itself it is not going to alleviate poverty and inequality. It never pretended that it would. It is a climate policy. It was just delivered in a socially just manner.
And is it likely to be a non-negotiable item in any coalition negotiations with Labour?
Like I said before, each election we go in and say these are our priorities in post-election negotiations and during the campaign we outline what those are. We’ve started to do that, and this is one of them.
Last time around, Labour borrowed the Greens policy that beneficiaries shoould be able to access the Working For Families programme. Will that also be a high priority item for the Greens this time?
Over the course of the next [few] weeks we’ll be announcing our priorities as we go through them – but we’re not going to announce them all now.
High ? Low ?
All I can say is what I’ve just said. We will be releasing them [the Greens priorities.] We just announced 3-D manufacturing today for example, as part of our smart green innovation.
Much of Europe is now enacting a financial transaction tax. Has that tax got a place within the Greens economic policy mix?
Its not part of our policy mix at the moment. We have thought about it, and looked at it.
Arguably, the FTT is more feasible now that Europe is moving in that direction.
Bill English used to argue that the FTT had to be a global solution or its not a solution at all. Yet if a large chunk of the first world economy is moving in that direction, surely this would suggest it has become more feasible.
I think that’s true. Still…the issues around financial transaction tax are that its progressive, there are a lot of upsides to it. The downsides are to do with avoidance. Those who are wealthy can avoid an FTT by moving their financial resources outside the country.
And all I’m suggesting is that as that zone shrinks, that becomes less of an option.
Exactly. At the moment it hasn’t shrunk very much. I’m very heartened by what the Europeans are doing. I think at this stage though, there are still big avoidance problems.
Is there any evidence that the Resource Management Act, as currently written and interpreted by the courts, is placing a serious constraint on business?
Its pretty limited, when you look at – what is it – 94 percent of consents are approved straight away without public notification. Just off the top of my head, about 300 cases a year wind up in the Environment Court and most of those don’t go to trial.
That sounds like a “ No.”
It affects some big projects, but that effect is pretty marginal…Their [the government’s] view is that any constraint is a problem, and so they want to remove all constraints on the ability to exploit the environment.. If anything, I’d say the RMA isn’t protecting the environment enough. I’d say that is a serious problem.
Working With Labour
When David Cunliffe was elected as Labour leader there was some hard left talk and symbolism to do with socialism – the red roses, the Internationale etc For a brief period, Labour seemed about to compete strongly the Greens on its social justice flank. Why do you think that hasn’t eventuated?
That’s their business.
No, surely it’s a Greens business, too. Suddenly, you’ve got more tactical room to move on the social justice front, and which seemed under threat before. You’d have to wonder why this is so.
I’ve been co-leader of the Greens since 2006, that’s eight years. Pretty much every fortnight someone says there’s a big threat to the Greens from something – whether its Mana or Labour or Internet Mana. I kind of don’t get too worried about it.
Sorry. This is your prospective partner in government. Are you telling me you haven’t considered where they’re positioning themselves along one of the axies you were telling me before was so important to you – and that you’re really indifferent as to whether Labour is more centrist or more left wing ?
Ahh…No, you’re right. I’m not indifferent to it. But nor do I follow it intensely closely, either. Maybe its somewhere in the middle. Where Labour goes ? They’ll figure that out, I guess.
So are you saying that the reasons why David Cunliffe appears to have been shifting his position along the left/right spectrum is as much a mystery to you, as it is to the rest of us ?
I’ve got no particular insights into what Labour is planning to do. Without being blasé about it, my primary driver is what the Greens are doing.
To some commentators – and some voters – it would be curtains for this country if you had any role in the Finance portfolio. Yet if you had been Finance Minister since 2008, could you give me, say…two or three changes you’d have made to the economic fundamentals as they were practiced by the Clark government?
By the Clark government, as opposed to what the Key/English government has done since 2008 ?
Yeah. As a fellow centre-left administration, its the most recent one we’ve had. Thus, the question.
OK. I guess to go back to a proper price on carbon. I think that would have made a huge difference to the New Zealand economy. And I think the way we’ve put it up to recycle cuts in the company tax rate and income tax rates would have, over time, produced a very significant shift.
Can you point to anything that’s strictly in the finance area, as practised by the Clark government ?
How are tax rates not in the finance area ?
Fair point. But I’m trying to find out if you pose any greater threat to the economic orthodoxy than Michael Cullen. Do you?
Umm, I think the world has turned since Michael Cullen. Think about capital gains tax, right ? That was our policy for a long time and since the GFC, Labour have adopted it, in some form. So Cullen, whatever he might have thought privately about it, always said that politically it was impossible.
OK, that’s two : the carbon tax and a more significant capital gains tax. Anything else you’d have wanted to do?
The point I’m making is that the orthodoxy has moved. Since the GFC, the very idea of what is orthodox economics has gone a very, very long way. It has created a lot of space for Labour in particular. We were less influenced by it, but the things that we were promoting – whether it be carbon pricing, capital gains or the reform of monetary policy…on all of those things there is a lot more policy space than there was a few years ago. The third one would be monetary policy. Obviously, we’ve had a very different position for a long time. The fourth one would be around housing…
On monetary policy, did you feel you were fairly dealt with over your suggestions on quantitative easing?
No, I didn’t think there was a rational conversation about it.
Quantitative easing seemed to be OK for Europe and OK for the Obama administration. Was the form of QE you were suggesting here significantly different from what seemed to be, elsewhere in the world, a pretty standard response to the GFC ?
No. We were proposing it really as a way of re-stocking the national natural disaster fund. As the NZ-specific way to do it because – obviously – we were very exposed because the natural disaster fund is empty. Yeah, I thought the response to it was kind of hysterical, and irrational.
National’s Track Record
Around the world, centre-right parties are perceived to be better stewards of the economy. Do you think that faith has been justified by the track record of the Key government since 2008?
I think they’ve made some pretty poor economic decisions. The tax cut decisions were very poor. Exactly the wrong thing to do, at the wrong time : and threw the books into a big hole. Didn’t provide stimulus – if you want stimulus you provide tax cuts to the poor, not to the rich.
Did the asset sales programme make sense, in terms of good stewardship of the economy?
Obviously not. Treasury themselves said the asset sales would leave the government’s fiscal position worse off by a $100 million. Its actually probably worse than that, looking at the updated figures.
So does this mean you think the voters are just too dumb to realize that the government can’t run the economy as well as they think it can?
Well, people aren’t necessarily focused on macro-economic indicators, balance of trade and all that stuff. When you think about the export profile of New Zealand, its totally simplified. Under this government, the economy is simplifying. It is moving into commodities again. Simple commodities : raw logs and milk powder. I think it’s a completely mad economic strategy.
What’s your gut instinct telling you – is Winston Peters likely to align himself with a National-led or a Labour-led bloc?
That’s for Winston…If people want to vote for Winston, you’ll never know what you’re going to get.
But when you’re lying in bed late at night and mulling over the numbers needed to form a government, does it seem to you that you will need New Zealand First to form a centre- left government?
All I can do, as co-leader of the Greens, is focus on getting a strong Green vote. I can’t affect what Winston does.
Internet Mana, and Significant Others
The Greens vote tends to go up when the Labour vote goes down and vice versa. The 2011 election may have been an example of this seesaw effect. Has the advent of Internet Mana altered that dynamic, by adding a third dimension?
I don’t see it really, quite as you see it. I see it as the Green Party.. we’re a movement, right ? And we’re slowly building a political organization to represent that movement, and growing it over time. We’ve been pretty effective in that. I don’t see our fate as being linked to Labour’s fate in a win/lose kind of game.
It wasn’t an interpretation. I thought I was describing a factual election result/polling situation.
Yeah. And I don’t really see it like that. I have a different frame.
You’re saying that seesaw effect hasn’t occurred?
I’m saying what Labour does is Labour’s business and -
Agreed. And I’m suggesting that whether you plan for it, or think about it, or worry about it or not, the reality is that the Greens vote tends to grow when Labour is in a trough. And when Labour is on a high, those voters who formerly gravitated to the Greens go back to Labour. I’m asking you whether you think Internet Mana now offers an added option for centre-left voters.
Like I say, I don’t agree : sorry. Its a double-barreled question. One step at a time. You made certain assumptions about the relationship between the Greens and Labour vote. If you look at where Green voters come from – in the NZES longitudinal study, they come from all over the place. They don’t just come from Labour. Yes, a big chunk of them do come from Labour. But they come from a lot of other places, and if you look at Labour’s vote its a similar story. It’s a more complex picture than that. The second question about Internet Mana – I just don’t see them as a significant kind of challenge. We’ll see what comes of them, I guess.
Indeed. Yet one of the Green-specific ways of considering this situation is by looking at numbers 12 and 13 on the Greens list : Holly Walker and James Shaw, two highly talented candidates. Are they now at any greater risk of not making it to Parliament, than they were before Mana and the Internet Party merged, or before Laila Harre was appointed as [Internet Party] leader?
I don’t think so. But we’ll see I guess, if their polling comes up. Then the proof of the pudding will be in the eating.
So if Internet Mana does gain a few percentage points in the next round of polls, you’re not currently expecting it to be at the expense of the Greens?
So far as I can tell. I guess we’re all just going to have to see. My view on this thing is that Green voters know why they vote Green. They’ve been voting Green a long time, they support the Greens, we’re a coherent party with a coherent ideology. We’ve been around, we’ve got a lot of experience with MPP. They know what we’re about. I just don’t see them rushing off to this other thing. I guess we’ll see whether I’m right.
Last year as I understand it, Laila Harre was instrumental in setting up the Greens Auckland office and was heavily involved in the Greens anti-SkyCity convention centre deal. What happened since ?
Well, she was an employee of the parliamentary Green Party. She worked in that office for maybe two years – maybe not quite two years -After the initial set-up and getting it up and running, she decided she wanted to go and do something else.
But it was a friendly parting of the ways?
Yeah. We liked having her work for us, we’d have preferred for her to stay. But that happens.
These are pie in the sky speculations – given that we don’t know how Internet Mana will perform. Yet if Internet Mana does get traction nationwide and Labour wins Te Tai Tokerau, all those votes nationwide would end up lost in the dustbin, as wasted votes. The entire centre-left has an interest in ensuring that doesn’t happen. Therefore, what form do you think the MMP tactics should be in Te Tai Tokerau ?
Well. we run candidates where we have good candidates and they campaign for the party vote. That’s our approach to it.
It also sounds a bit like an FPP-type approach. MMP realities can require tactical voting. Isn’t it incumbent on the centre-left to respond to a situation like this ?
All I can do is repeat what we’re doing. We’re focused on the party vote. We run good candidates where we have them. Which is in most seats. So we’ll be running in most seats across the country…
And if 3-4 % of the centre left should goes down the drain as the result of events in Te Tai Tokerau then that’s just c’ est la vie ?
I can’t control the events within Internet Mana…
No one’s suggesting that. But you can advocate what you see to be in the best interests of the centre-left, can’t you ?
So – Internet Mana have decided to do this thing. I’m on the public record as saying to Kim Dotcom that I didn’t think it was a wise idea. I maintain that position. But I don’t control them.
And to repeat : I’m not talking about control. It is about the potential for a Pyrrhic victory for Labour in Te Tai Tokerau and the repercussions that may have for the entire centre-left.
In the end, that’s an issue for Labour.
I’ m suggesting its one for the centre-left.
Well, there’s no such thing. There are independent parties that you group together as centre-left. But in terms of how it works, we’re independent parties. I think that what you’re talking about is a challenge for Labour.
Income Inequality etc
Earlier this year, there were suggestions that income inequality would be a high profile election issue. Right across the board, there doesn’t seem to be much sign of urgency, or of policies that would change the economic fundamentals that are generating income inequality. Is that how you see it?
I think that’s partly true. Obviously, we haven’t seen parties roll out all their policies yet. For what its worth, what is happening is that we have put income inequality on the political agenda in a way it wasn’t three years ago. Greens have been banging away about this for a long time – and we’ve been pretty pleased to see it become a political issue.
On security and intelligence is the Prime Minister a captive of our Five Eyes obligations – or has he got latitude to be more transparent on these issues, yet chosen not to be ?
I think it’s the latter. New Zealand can choose an independent foreign policy if we want.
With regard to the Five Eyes arrangement, in what particular ways could he be more transparent ?
Well, he could be more transparent about exactly what New Zealand is contributing to the Five Eyes network ; about exactly how we’re co-operating with the partners. I think that would be pretty helpful.
Reason I ask is that you’re a member of the parliamentary oversight committee on security matters. You respect the secrecy that comes with that role. But you seem willing to criticize the PM for doing likewise.
So I’m a member of the security and intelligence committee – which is a statutory committee. Its not a select committee. As I’ve said on the public record a number of times, the oversight of that committee is pretty limited. We don’t really have much knowledge about what is going on. That’s the truth of it.
And I’m trying to see whether you think there are any principles in common here. And whether – or not – there are matters about which the PM cannot be more transparent.
I probably don’t agree with you. The reason is that as Prime Minister, he can change the policy and has a majority in Parliament –
And he could change the policy with respect to ?
The relationship with the Five Eyes, his relationship with the United States, all the rest of it. He’s chosen not to. As a member of the security and intelligence committee – and as part of a party that doesn’t have a majority in Parliament that can change the legislation under which it operates – my sole choice is whether to be in, or out [of the committee] I don’t get to decide to change the rules. For example, I would love to change the rules so that we can enquire into operational matters of the intelligence services, which we’re not [able to do.] I would love to change the rules to require members of the intelligence services to actually appear, and give evidence under oath in front of us. So that we could find out what on earth is going on.
And what you’re asking for is no more than the normal powers of a select committee?
Exactly. And we don’t have any of those powers. The thing I really struggle with is whether I should be on the committee at all, given the constraints around it. The danger is that someone could say – oh look, there is an oversight functionality. And after this election, we’ll have to look at this again.
The Greens have been in Parliament for nearly 15 years. Climate change is now far more widely accepted than it was back then. Yet – among the general public – has there been a corresponding rise in the political credibility of the Greens, and especially in relation to the economy – and if not, why not ?
Yeah I reckon….We‘ve done some polling on it and so forth, but I think its broader than that.
But I guess you’ll always have a certain group who will hold onto the position that the Greens have no place in economic policy.
Sure. But I mean, you’d have to be pretty marginal to think that now. I went and spent some time at the OECD last year, and green economics is central to what is going on in the world right now. Any respectable international organisation is talking about green growth and green economics and all the rest of it.
Maybe. But don’t some senior members of the Labour caucus still seem gunshy about being seen to be working collaboratively with the Greens ?
I thought they’d joined the government now. (laughs.)
So on the campaign trail this year – are you saying the perception of the Greens being anti-growth and anti-business isn’t going to be a significant problem?
No, I do think it is a significant challenge. Because the National Party obviously have enormous discursive powers. And this is one of their constant themes. So yeah, it will be an ongoing problem, for that simple reason. You take an organization like Business New Zealand – which can’t even endorse a carbon charge that is recycled into company tax cuts. That tells you there is a challenge. Yet in my view – and obviously I’m pretty biased – green economics is pretty straightforward and pretty well established.
Finally… supposedly, oppositions don’t win elections, governments lose them. What evidence do you see that National is at any risk of losing this election?
Well, I would argue that household budgets are under a lot of pressure. I would argue that house prices are insane. And people are feeling a lot of those real, everyday pressures. And that makes them question whether they are going to keep on voting for this government, which really hasn’t done anything about it. That’s where I think the National Party is particularly vulnerable, on the bread and butter issues.
In terms of the broader issue – which is part of how oppositions can win elections – I think the government lacks vision. It lacks a clear vision to communicate to people where the country is going. And it is the Green Party’s role to paint that vision. Which is why we’re focused on a smarter, greener economy, looking after our environment and dealing with inequality and poverty – as part of a broader vision for New Zealand.