By Jenée Tibshraeny
It was always going to happen - the closer we came to the election, the more strident NZ First and the Greens were going to be, differentiating themselves from the government they’ve had to make compromises for.
Political events of the week have fast-tracked this.
National’s decision to rule out forming a government with NZ First after the September 19 election makes it more imperative for NZ First to cling on to its mostly right-leaning support base.
According to an academic survey, the New Zealand Election Study, 44.5% of NZ First voters would’ve preferred a National-led government, compared to 34.1% who wanted a Labour-led one.
NZ First needs to convince these people that a Labour-led government with a strong NZ First voice is more desirable than what would be a more conservative National-led government than we saw in the Key/English era, without NZ First.
Conservative isn’t something that will perturb those right-leaning NZ First voters.
But a vote for National instead of NZ First could threaten the survival of NZ First. If National was elected, it’s questionable whether leader, Winston Peters, would want to stick around in opposition and whether MP, Shane Jones, would have the following to keep the party alive.
NZ First is now under even more pressure to prove its worth to those voters it risks losing.
NZ First MP, Mark Patterson, didn’t beat around the bush, tweeting this on Sunday:
NZ First was always going to campaign on being the “handbrake” on the supposedly loopy left, but it no longer has the luxury of doing so subtly.
Peters can let loose more than he already has, berating National leader, Simon Bridges. Yet he can also campaign on his success blocking a capital gains tax, and his commitment to preventing the Government from taking water and Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) reforms affecting farmers, too far.
As for the Green Party, the Government’s commitment to investing $5.3 billion of its $12 billion additional infrastructure spend on roads, is a colossal blow.
While co-leader, James Shaw, kept face admitting he would’ve done things differently at the package’s announcement in Auckland last week, the party’s transport spokesperson, who's also an Associate Transport Minister, Julie Anne Genter, was less cordial.
“They are absolutely right. It is nowhere near what we need,” Genter said.
Why the ‘New Zealand Upgrade’ falls short https://t.co/Te71ks0feE— Julie Anne Genter (@JulieAnneGenter) February 2, 2020
The Green Party can be pleased with the Government’s decision to ban new offshore oil and gas exploration, even though it wanted it to go further by not giving existing explorers extensions on their permits for example.
It can also celebrate the Zero Carbon Act, even though decisions the Climate Commission makes won’t be legally binding.
And changes to the ETS are quickly and quietly being pushed through - the short public submission period falling smack bang in the middle of the summer holiday period.
Green Party supporters will be looking for a bit more than a, “The changes we’re making are better than nothing,” argument from Shaw and co.
The party will need to reassure its supporters it’s staying true to its grassroots values.
The difference, however, between the Greens and NZ First, as they more definitively carve out spaces for themselves ahead of the election, is that disgruntled Greens supporters don’t have too many other places to go.
A vote for Labour is as good as a vote for the Greens - in the eyes of those who see the Greens as being push-overs in government.
The Opportunities Party and Sustainable NZ don’t have the profiles to pose any great competition to the Greens. If the Greens couldn’t secure enough wins for the environment while in government, goodness knows how the new kids on the block will.
So as dissatisfied as Green Party voters might be, the Green Party vote is relatively safe.
Disgruntled NZ First voters on the other hand, can find a new home in National.
The question then is, how far will NZ First go to assert itself ahead of the election, and what toll will this have on the Coalition Government’s ability to govern effectively for the next eight months?
Yes, it’s campaign time, but the legislative calendar is still full. Reforms around water, the ETS, and the powers to be entrusted to Kainga Ora to build more houses are just some of the important pieces of work to go thought Parliament.
It will be interesting to see how NZ First paints itself as a “handbrake” or “voice of reason”, while not going so far as to making the Coalition Government seem completely dysfunctional and ineffectual to the point it shouldn’t be re-elected.
Here's the National press release announcing its decision to rule out NZ First:
National Party Leader Simon Bridges has today ruled out working with NZ First to form a Government after the 2020 election.
“A vote for NZ First is a vote for Labour and the Greens,” Mr Bridges says.
“National wants New Zealanders to have a clear choice and certainty about what they’re getting when they go to the ballot box. A vote for National will mean more money in your pocket, more transport infrastructure and safety for your family. We will get things done. Our decisions will be about what’s best for New Zealanders, not what’s best for NZ First.
“This Labour/Green/NZ First Government has failed to deliver for New Zealanders. The cost of living has gone up, taxes have been piled on, there’s been no new infrastructure, and crime has risen making your family less safe. New Zealanders have been let down and we can’t afford another three years of this incompetence.
“I don’t believe we can work with NZ First and have a constructive trusting relationship. When National was negotiating in good faith with NZ First after the last election, its leader was suing key National MPs and staff. I don’t trust NZ First and I don’t believe New Zealanders can either.
“National had a constructive working relationship with ACT while in Government. We developed the partnership schools model and worked together to reduce red tape. We would again be open to working with ACT.
“New Zealanders have a clear choice heading into this year’s election. The Government I lead will result in families who are better off, can get to work and school on time and are safer in their communities.
“A Labour/Greens/NZ First Government will mean more incompetence and wasteful spending, and you’ll pay for it with more taxes, costs, and burdens on you and your family.”
Here's the press release NZ First issued in response:
New Zealand First leader Winston Peters is unfazed by today’s announcement by National Party leader Simon Bridges ruling the party our as a potential coalition partner after the 2020 General Election.
‘Let me say this – he’s got a lot to learn about politics. Narrowing your options can be the worst strategic move you will ever make, Mr Peters said.
‘Having been in politics a long time, and a member of the National Party for over 25 years, the one thing New Zealand First is confident about is that if voters deliver that possibility, and if Mr Bridges doesn’t pick up the phone, someone else within his caucus will do it for him. He has also demonstrated he has no insight into what a unified caucus looks like, stated Mr Peters.
‘As Douglas McArthur said, there’ll come a time soon when he’ll want to see me much more than I want to see him.’