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Peter Dunne wonders how much more humiliation the Greens’ rank and file membership will be prepared to accept before walking away altogether

Peter Dunne wonders how much more humiliation the Greens’ rank and file membership will be prepared to accept before walking away altogether
James Shaw, by Jacky Carpenter.

By Peter Dunne*

There used to be a school of thought on the centre right side of politics that the best way to neuter the Greens as a political force would be to let them have a spell in government. Then, according to the argument, they would show themselves to be so extreme and so wacky that they would never be elected again.

Well, the Greens are now part of the government, and things have not turned out quite the way those centre right speculators might have wished. Rather than being extreme and wacky, the Greens, on the whole, have been responsible and mainstream. In part, this is due to the Greens’ leadership – particularly James Shaw who is both personable and reasonable – and Ministers like Eugenie Sage and Julie-Anne Genter keeping pretty much to the middle of the government’s road, although co-leader Marama Davidson threatens to go off the tracks every now and then.

But, in reality, a bigger reason for the Green’s cautious approach so far, is the chain mail blanket of constraint called New Zealand First which smothers them within the coalition.

The Greens’ problem now is not being so radical as to scare the living daylights out of those nice people in the middle class who vote for and financially support the Greens because they want to keep their native bush outlook in the leafy suburbs and quite like the fact that tui, kereru, and even kaka are becoming much more visible in their neighbourhoods. Rather, their challenge is to appear radical enough to continue to attract the support and activism of the more hard-line environmental idealists on whom they have relied for so long.

The Greens’ responsibility in government will be sorely testing their patience. This, coupled with the now traditional loss of support all government support parties suffer, means the Greens can no longer take their presence in the next Parliament for granted, the way they were used to before 2017.

This week’s historic announcement regarding the transition of agriculture into the Emissions Trading Scheme is a good example. This is a significant announcement, given the long term intransigence of the agricultural sector to such a move.

The announcement is a small step, admittedly, but it is an important step in the right direction, and it, and the emerging consensus that led to it, are worthy of celebration. But, instead of plaudits for engineering a step forward, the Greens are being criticised by many normally regarded as in their core constituency, including a former co-leader, for not going far enough, being too timid, and still allowing agriculture generally a near free ride when it comes to taking responsibility for its emissions.

Compounding this frustration is the announcement that because of a provision in Labour’s coalition deal with New Zealand First, there will be a 95% discount rate meaning that by 2025 agriculture will be required to meet only 5% of the cost of their emissions. Whatever hope there may have been for more progress after the review group’s report has been dashed completely by Labour’s earlier agreement with New Zealand First to limit the cost to farmers to just 5%.

Once again, as has been the case so many times since 2017 on issues of importance to them, the Greens have been left looking a little silly and somewhat politically inept.

The question that now raises is how much more humiliation the Greens’ rank and file membership will be prepared to accept before walking away altogether, and simply transferring their support to Labour. Some will stay the course, appreciating that saving the Green brand ranks higher than temporary achievements in government, but others will become more disillusioned, and will start to question whether being part of government is actually worth it,  or whether it is doing more harm than good.

The problem is New Zealand First, not the Greens. But the Greens had the power within their own hands after the last election to have avoided this occurring. It would have been an enormous risk to do so, and would have been extremely difficult to sell to the membership base, or even promote to it, but the best thing the Greens could have done to preserve themselves long term would have been to have formed a coalition with National after the last election.

A National/Greens coalition would have had an outright majority in the House, so there would have no need to involve New Zealand First in any way.

They would have been left to moulder in irrelevance on the Opposition back bench, and left to disintegrate. That would have established a largely tripartite structure for the future – National and Labour, with  the Greens as the  permanent party of government, the swing party that could switch between the two over the years, but always ensuring that the Green agenda was part of the government agenda.

Had the Greens been prepared to consider such a scenario, National would surely have leapt at it, and would have been prepared to cede virtually the entire environmental agenda to the Greens, so desperate were they to remain in office.

James Shaw, not the present incumbent, would have been Deputy Prime Minister, calling the shots on regional development in a considered and environmentally sustainable way, not the crude, pork-barrel way it is happening right now. But, instead, we have ended up with a very inexperienced and not especially talented Labour-led government where the considerably less talented, serially erratic New Zealand First holds all the cards, leaving the rather more competent Greens to just chip in now and then from the sidelines. And National desperately trying to invent a new Blue-Green party to be its salvation in 2020.

Of course all this would have been far easier said than done, and the reluctance of the Greens’ leaders to even consider the proposition for a moment, let alone allow it to go anywhere near the party membership was absolutely understandable and unsurprising. It would have required a level of devious determination and imperviousness to criticism that would have been far too great for most people to even contemplate. And the Greens, as they were once prone to repeat with nauseating frequency, always have been a party of principle, which meant the idea was never a goer.

However, as things have turned out, the irony now is that the earlier wishes of the centre right speculators may yet come to pass, not because the way the Greens have behaved in government has scared the horses, but rather because their timidity and impotence has left their supporters to wonder what was the point of voting for them after all. 

Greens, seized of the urgency of the climate change debate, in particular, may well decide that cutting out the government middle person altogether, and  putting time and money instead into the likes of activist groups like Forest and Bird and Greenpeace (which they already control)  is a far better and more direct way to take action to save the planet, than relying on the politicians, even the Green ones.

*Peter Dunne is the former leader of UnitedFuture, an ex-Labour Party MP, and a former cabinet minister. This article first ran here and is used with permission.

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Marama Davidson is pretty loony. I feel sorry for James Shaw - a fairly reasonable person tethered to a feral cat. No doubt he gets anxious every time she opens her mouth in front of the press.

Marama is the face of what is probably best described as a very polarised party. While traditionally an environmental focussed party and something the conservative Forest and Bird constituency could identify with. There is however an very strong social justice element which can be considered as strong left wing which became very obvious at the last election with the Turia fiasco. That left the conservative voters puzzled and support suddenly dropped dramatically from a position of what was probably an assured Labour-Greens coalition.
The Green performance has been overshadowed by NZF, however their notable successes regarding oil exploration and plastic bag bans and Waihi Mining curtailment (how negative are all of these?) are going to be their legacy and will appeal to that conservative and comfortable Forest and Bird voter so there could still be life yet for a truely Green Party.

Yes, also in the Greens social justice faction (Woke Mafia) we have Golriz Ghahraman with some very draconian views. I’m sure Jacinda wishes they’d keep those views to themselves and stick to environmental issues.

Be very interested to see if GG maintains her list spot, she gets a lot of publicity, but most of it very negative and has very loose approach with truth and self promotion - comes across as strongly Narcissistic. Suspect she is not well liked by Green Caucus.

I fall pretty squarely in the Forest & Bird constituency, and I think you pretty much nailed it.


Problem with the Greens is their social policy stuff. They should have kept out of that, the only relevance for the green bit being population management - on which they are missing in action.
They need to be left/right neutral.

They used to have a policy of zero population growth.

Now they have a policy of something like "A suitable population level" which of course means whatever they want it to mean from time to time.

The zero percent population growth policy was actually that of the old Values party, that died off in the '80s was it? I know some members of that were involved in the early Green Party but I didn't think the Green Party ever championed that population policy - or am I mistaken?

They are the only party that will even dip their toes in that water.

Many of the Green's membership are less interested in concrete change and the steps required to achieve it.

For many, they're an anti-party, defined by opposition to other parties. Voting for them is a expression of identity, about sticking it to others whose values they despise. They won't work with people they don't like, even if means that the environment is materially damaged because of it.

What a low ball assessment, clearly not thought through. I dont know any greens that wd think that way. Have meet Eugenie Sage and was so impressed with her command of issues and her grounded practical problem solving approach.


Penalising NZ farmers that boast the lowest emissions high efficiency grass-fed dairy farming in the world will only lead to a shift in production in places with worse emissions. IE a policy designed to reduce emissions will inevitably increase them. Just as banning NZ oil and gas exploration only shifts production to dirtier places/practitioners.

So called 'Greens' need to look beyond bumper sticker sloganeering/virtue signalling policies and start actually looking at downstream frequently damaging consequences of their actions. As the superficiality of their positions actually produce worse environmental and social outcomes.


I was thinking too about the irony of banning oil and gas exploration. It's a lot of oil to get the oil here.

The irony of course is that nz oil is exported anyway. The oil we refine at Marsden is not our own but is imported stuff.

So if we stop producing there is no increase in oil used to bring oil here, rather we no longer use oil to send oil there.


Yes banning something and having NO plan to replace that essential item is abject failure.
Whats worse is still there is NO plan.

Politicians run low info feel good policies to appeal to the casual voter. The Greens environmental policies tend to have negative global impacts, because the policies are only ever designed to look good.

Interesting. A slithery politician advising on the application of slitheriness. Perhaps the Greens need to ditch the loonies if they are to be taken seriously. I thought the 5% thing was masterly. The art of cunning politics is first to open the door and insert yourself into the mainstream. Then slowly expand your position as opportunity allows, always being careful not to advance your position too far or too fast, thus avoiding a backlash and moving the goal posts by stealth.

But Greens could not even get 5% of enrolled voters to vote for them at last election. They are fringe by any measure, and put off almost everyone with their hard left nuttiness.

But they still got there, which given their sincere effort at self destruction, a la the inexplicable performance of the co -leader, surprised me too. There is a segment of voters who will never vote for anything other than Green, virtually a compulsion. Whether that adds up to enough is the salient question of course. No wonder they want the threshold lowered. Will be interesting. If the Greens & NZF are not returned NZ will have managed to achieve a FPP result in a MMP electorate. That being the case you would have to think NZ has neither the size or maturity in the electorate to make MMP workable.

I suspect they want the threshold lowered so they can split. There are clearly multiple factions in the Greens and not all of them are the SJW/Left of Labour contingent.

Their two more rational environmentalist MP's (David Klendon, Kennedy Graham) resigned in wake of Me-Tu fraud admissions. Shifted the Greens further towards full watermelon SJW left.

Yep that is an important point which seems to be mostly forgotten. Perhaps this was going to be the embryo of a fundamental Green Party concentrating on environmental thingys without the baggage of the extreme left. Personally that would sound quite attractive. But even if it is of potential too late to be of any presence next election one would think.

MMP is in fact a failure, its not about maturity.
How can we have a PM that has never won an electorate, didn't win the election as a party running the country.
Having MP on a list that are not elected by the people is not democratic and only supports the MP's.

In the UK right now about 100,000 people (0.1% of the population) is currently decided who will lead the country through one of the most significant events in its recent history. FPTP has its problems too.

But at least the people voted for them. We have MP's that have never been voted into electorates and dictate what our country does.
Thats not democracy, those MP's vote almost ALL of the time along party lines and not what the voters they represent.
You CAN'T EVER vote them OUT!

FPP gave us plenty of governments representing a minority of the population. It wasn't all sunshine.

The problem with MMP is apparently that it requires maturity and cooperation, both in short supply among a lot of the population of politicians.

Yes, they won elections in safe Tory seats. Not difficult to do. Boris Johnson's ward has been Tory since 1970, Jeremy Hunt's has never been anything other than Tory (created in 1983). Meanwhile, I lived in a safe Labour seat which means my vote was constantly wasted and had no contribution to the final result - fantastic for democracy.

One of my themes is the breakdown of representative democracy in the West. The trend has become that a small cliche in Party Central choose the candidates, whereas historically the local party members chose a local candidate to represent them. This is a massive cultural shift. I think it explains why the silly Brit pollies didn't realise a lot of Brits really dislike the EU, and why the US politics became so corrupt and polarised that an outsider, a non-politician, was elected as President to "Drain the Swamp".

The old system of choosing a known, competent, decent and reasonable local has been replaced by choosing someone who can be relied upon to follow orders from Party Central.

I partially agree - I voted Green for the environmental policies which in theory could be enacted under a National Government, and I would have been happy for the party to at least entertain this to strengthen the negotiating position.

However, I have been somewhat scarred by voting for the Liberal Democrats in the UK in 2010 when they ended up going into coalition with the Conservatives and being devoured (7 million votes in 2010 down to 2.5 million votes in 2015).

I'm not convinced that the Greens would have ended up as a natural swing party or that they would even have survived a coalition with National. The Green party has a large social justice component (unfortunately) who speak about the previous government as the Great Satan who ruined the country. I fear that losing this group would have left us environmentalists below the 5% threshold, with the rest fleeing to the opposition Labour party.

The Lib Dems were destroyed primarily because they failed to keep one of their election pledges (to reduce University tuition fees), with no regard for their position as a minor coalition member or any other impacts they had on government. The Greens would have needed titanic achievements to point to, and no similar concessions, in order to avoid a similar fate.

This Government is without much doubt the most important, and constructive example of MMP working to its potential as a form of government.

Zero sum thinking still influences our thinking sadly.

The Greens influence on politics is much deeper than "being in government", ie All parties HAVE to have positions of "their" policy areas. That's a fundamental shift.


This 'Greens could work with National' nonsense only comes from people who don't understand where Green votes actually come from. Going with National would be truly suicidal for the Greens. They're not just an environmental party, they're the party you vote for if you're to the left of Labour. The middle-class 'Forest & Bird' constituency is smaller than the leftist constituency within the party. There is no way the Greens would survive such a move. Even a serious possibility of the Greens working with National would drive away the leftist voters, and we'd see an alternative Left party spring up in its place. The party leadership know that. The Greens left to work with National would drift into irrelevance, given the absolute hold of the dairy industry over and general anti-environmentalist bent of National.

Their lurch left pre 2017 election as they chose to stand behind Me-Tu after her admission of fraud saw their support halve - all gone to labour. They had been a broad church during Labour's 2008-2017 wilderness years with up to 13-14% support. They nobbled themselves twice over as they not only scared off half their voters, but by shifting so far left made themselves unable to negotiate effectively with National, turning themselves into a sideshow. Ideologues do not make good politicians.

Those voters who swing between Labour and Greens are hardly likely to want a Greens-National coalition, are they? If they felt that were likely, they'd vote Labour instead. If they're environmentalist conservatives, they'll be tossing up between Greens and National; but that is a very small demographic. I know there have been attempts (eg Vernon Tava) to form a party along those lines. I personally don't think the demand is there; it's as marginal as dedicated Christian or hard social conservative parties.

I think the country and National have changed enough that it recognised the greens have a valid environmental argument over intensive farming... its over, those still feeding palm kernels will drop away. National doesn't need the hard left, if the right of the greens moved towards National, it would appeal to the undecided in the centre, who want to see more infrastructure built, more business friendly but have an environmental check.... ie the greens, hell they could even get Epsom in the next election.

Dunne's comments come from experience, regardless of deeds done (or not) & I like the insider thinking he brings to the table. He, after all, was a pragmatic politician so good job I always thought good politics was the art saying one thing to the populace & then working through it within the constraints of parliaments ideological & inter-relational zoo-like parameters. I also have to say that the media's role in the successful functioning of central governance is as unhelpful as it is necessary. I know we need to know what's going on, but sometimes the delivery of the message is so poor in its presentation that it can convey views rather than the news. Politicians need the media & the media need politicians, however, be aware that sometimes the media's own personal agendas can overwhelm the facts.

I tend to agree with that. Most times Mr Dunne has evidenced a fair degree of commonsense, found lacking in many parliamentary and government quarters. That was evidenced by the turning of the worm in Bolger’s time. It is interesting though that at one time he went all the way back to Lincoln’s Gideon Welles, Father Neptune to some, for his hairstyle inspiration.

... great article Peter : but if the Gnats had simply offered assistance to TOP or to the Conservatives , helping either get a seat or two in parliament , then Wild Bill would still be PM ....and all three parties in the current coalition government would still be warming the opposition benches ...

Message to the Gnats : a quarter century has gone by since we transitioned from FPP to MMP ... play the game , team : it's called MMP !

Yes, and then they could have been had over a barrel by even bigger idiots than the Greens. What an outstanding proposition.

You're calling Dr Gareth Morgan an " idiot " ?

... if you can ignore his prickly personality , his policies were deeply thought out and merited discussion....

his policies made absolutely no sense and were completely unworkable and no stage considered the concept of unintended consequences. His idiocy was only outdone by those who chose to listen to him

I don't think you (and most of NZ) properly understands GM's policies, his policies on tax especially are by far the fairest on all New Zealanders of any party and they were very well thought out. He is not personable but he's certainly not an idiot at all, very far from it

Ah yes, it's everyone else's fault. It certainly couldn't be the policies himself, or a total failure to articulate them to voters during an election campaign. Even then, that would only be...what did he call it... "putting lipstick on a pig".

MMP should only allow the biggest party to try and form a government.
If that fails we should go back to the POLL's

That is not how it works, all you will end with there is fpp yet again, which constantly gave us governments who did not receive the most popular votes, won the seats but not the people. That was not ok.

Conservatives? No thanks, they think their views belong in other people's bedrooms

I predict a surprise pick up for Green party vote at next election. The seriousness and difficulties of climate change are sinking in.

The month of June was the hottest averaged across the planet , since records began...

And January - February 2019 coldest in north america in 20 years !
Look out for possible Solar grand minima that might start to hit next year....

Solar grand maxima and minima disguise the size of the CO2 problem. So enjoy little change in average temp for a couple of years but when the next maxima adds to the human induced global warming we will be in trouble.
BTW I've not had to scape ice off a windscreen so far this winter - a decade ago it was a common way of starting the day.

So with Green house gases 95% is water vapour, 3.7% is CO2 of that 3.7% mans estimate is 2%.
So 0.074% of Green house C02 is going to affect the climate.......yeah...nah.

NZ is lucky to have Shaw and Genter having some say in Government policy. They're the ones who have the expertise in adaption to climate change. They're investigated the kinds of best policies for us.

They're save NZ taxpayers in the long run by being proactive now.

Climate Change Emergency ! ... second only to our Change the name of the Basin Reserve Emergency .

... thankfully we got through our Change the Flag Energency unscathed ..

It's no fun going through life being " scathed " ...

Earth continues to warm at about 1.2°C/century, same as last 40 years in satellite data. Sea level continues to rise at about 1-2mm/year same as it has for last 100+ years. (though was faster in mid 20th C). Evidence for acceleration is equivocal. Meanwhile we are quite obviously at start of huge shift (based on pure economic merit) to PV/battery as primary energy source, that will lead in a couple of decades to falling fuel use. For NZ climate change is the equivalent of moving 1-200km north. A move most would actually prefer from a comfort and economics (farm productivity) point of view. The apocalypse, isn't.

I agree with you but only if we there were no other countries. A rapid change of sea level is still a possibility and that would leave millions of climate refugees from Bangladesh, parts of China, etc. I'm still worried.

That sudden SLR could easily come from the sudden awakening of the 138+ volcanoes under Antarctica, but I'm not so convinced that driving EV's and exhaling minimally is gonna change a thing there.....

It won't but that is not the scenario we are dealing and not a scenario we can have any influence on

The demise of the Green party started with how they played the Meteira Turia debacle. They chose to be a radical left socialist party that will forever reside to the left of Labour... the inference being a vote for the greens is effectively a vote for Labour.
The sad thing is had they any inkling of how to play their hand, they could have positioned themselves back to their roots of an environmentally focussed party that was able to work with National and Labour. Greens leadership stupidly made it clear prior to the election that they couldn't work with National.... and gave them absolutely no bargaining power in terms of negotiating a coalition agreement or supply and confidence agreement.

We should remember, NZ First have 9 seats and the Greens have 8... so why does NZ First get so much out of the current arrangement... because they inferred they could work with National and it strengthened their bargaining stance... even though it has become apparent that Winston never had any intention of siding with National. Why didn't the Greens infer the same?

The Greens have become politically irrelevant and they only have themselves to blame.

For the National Party/supportors to continue to dream about the Greens "working" with National to form a government only plays into Labour Green court.

Its National that needs to reinvent itself sufficiently to attract more votes!

New Zealand is moving to the Greens

I think National does need to do more to appeal to those who are concerned about the environment and what is left to the next generations (in the tradition of surely this is a concern for them?). The problem I think they'll have is people not believing they're genuine in this area. It'll take some time.

You are dead right about their environmental cred, see my comment below

If NZ is moving to the Greens then we should demand Greens command themselves better. Why are they getting such a raw deal in this coalition?.. cos Jacinda knows their support is a given. During the negotiations she had to offer plenty to Winston, but the Greens were an afterthought.

They need to infer they could work with National to get a better deal out of Labour... like NZ First did.

Its not about National needing to work with the Greens... its about the Greens needing to sell to Jacinda they could theoretically work with National.

No mention of TOP here. Fertile ground for TOP to pick up some disaffected Green voters on the right of the Green spectrum.

They might need to rework some of their economic ideas, or at least put out a plain English version

Because of course Dunne and Peters were absolute bosom buddies in parliament.
Because of course the best fit for the Greens is with a party whose leader once said "The environment's reign of terror is over" and another senior member, when asked about Oravida's swamp Kauri activities and the draining of wetlands, replied "I don't care, they are swamps, I don't like swamps". Yup, perfectest fit imaginable.

This says more about Peter Dunne , than The Green Party.
Sell your soul to survive , rather than stick to your policies, albeit in a form that will be acceptable to coalition partners , and future governments. Only difference, I'm having a hard time remembering what United Future's policies were.

He had one banger of a policy, but never stuck with it, and that was income splitting for taxation purposes. Should have.