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The Nation: Green Party co-leader Marama Davidson

On Newshub Nation: Lisa Owen interviews Green Party co-leader Marama Davidson

• Marama Davidson has renewed the Green Party call for a warrant of fitness on rental homes, saying if rental properties do not meet the standards outlined in the healthy homes legislation, they should not be rented. "We think that right at the get-go, people even looking for a home should be able to be assured in this country that your home to rent will be up to a certain standard."

• She says she does not know what it would cost for people to be involved in such a scheme but it "costs us to have unhealthy homes".

Lisa Owen: The Greens have had a seat at the table for almost a year. For the first time they are part of the government but that brings with it - the c-word, compromise. How many policy dead rats do they have to swallow to stay there - and is it worth it? Greens co-leader Marama Davidson joins me now. Morena.
Marama Davidson: Kia ora, Lisa.
So, you’re renewing calls today for a rental warrant of fitness for home. So that would mean independent inspectors go in there, and they enforce it. I’m wondering, how would this be different from the gains that we’re going to get from the Healthy Homes legislation?
We need to make sure that this is enforced, so it’s all good and well having minimum standards which we absolutely welcome and support. What we need for that to work is actually having put in place an enforcement regime to make sure that we’ve got people who can rent houses without having to have the burden of having to make complaints for damp, mouldy, cold homes or homes that are in disrepair, which is currently what happens at the moment. A lot of that burden is on tenants, and that’s a high threshold to be able to get some action on fixing up homes.
So to be clear, if you do not pass your warrant of fitness, you won’t be allowed to rent out your house?
Yes, absolutely. We think that right at the get-go, people even looking for a home should be able to be assured in this country that your home to rent will be up to a certain standard.
How much is that going to cost people to be involved in a scheme like that?
So, we don’t have the figures yet, but it costs us to have unhealthy homes. For example, over 40,000 admissions to children hospital during the winter just from homes that are in bad condition and are unsafe, unwarm, draughty and mouldy.
Winston Peters said this week that we’ve got 50,000 homeless people, so do you imagine that this, if it were to be adopted as policy, would rule out a chunk of rental properties, and you would end up with more people with nowhere to live?
So, there’s absolutely no excuse for this country to accept that we can rent out homes that are unfit for purpose. We need to change our culture and our understanding. Renting needs to be seen as a first-class option, not a second-class option in this country - more and more people are renting - at the same time as ensuring that we’ve got a strong state-housing building programme, emergency housing to deal and help deal with our homeless people, as well as the social services. All of those things need to be done, and we must no longer let people get away with renting properties that are unhealthy.
Okay. So this is a Green policy, yes?
It has been for a long time, warrant of fitness.
Yes. Absolutely. You floated it during the election campaign as well. So what support do you have from Labour and New Zealand First?
So, I think that Labour and New Zealand First have also been very mindful that things have to change when it comes to renting out homes that are just unfit. So Greens will continue to lead and champion on an enforcement regime for making sure that warrant of fitness is a strong consideration. Labour are aware of our policy, New Zealand First also. And we’ll make sure that we are at the front line of pushing this.
Yeah, but being aware doesn’t mean they’re going to be voting for it, and it’s just a pipe dream unless you can get them on board. So do you have the numbers or not?
So, this is us making an announcement that this is something we’ll call for. We’ve discussed with Labour that this is something that we’re going to be really strong on. MMP and the way that we work things out together [means we are] coming from sometimes different places across the three parties, and then we work things out, and the Greens are going to be a really strong voice for a warrant of fitness.
Okay. Well, I want to move on, but what you’re suggesting there is compromising and bargaining, basically, to get what you want. So let’s talk about some other areas where that might be happening. Earlier this week there seemed to be some confusion over the refugee quota. Did you think that this government was going to double the refugee quota to 1500? Was that your impression?
It’s not inside our confidence and supply Agreement, and I understand it’s not part of the Coalition Agreement, but it is something that we very much have an understanding that is something that we can do.
I understand that, but what I’m asking was, what was your impression? Were you under the impression that this would happen under this government, the doubling of the refugee quota?
Certainly, we’re aware that Labour are in support of doubling the quota. And also it’s not a surprise where New Zealand First have a slightly different approach. But we would like to see us do more for international obligations. We can take more people here. And what’s happening on Manus and Nauru is unacceptable, for children, for human beings. So I understand where, again, we’re three different parties, we’ll work through this issue. And again, the Greens will proudly keep championing increasing and doubling our refugee quota.
So, Labour is the senior party in this government, and Winston Peters said, basically, not on his watch are you going to get a doubling of the quota. And later, the PM seemed to fall into line and say it’s not government policy. So is Mr Peters the person who’s driving the agenda for this government?
I don’t think Mr Peters campaigned on ending oil exploration, for example. That was a massive win for the Greens. We’ve campaigned on that forever. So, again, we’re three parties working through, which I understand that a lot of people understand. We bring different flavours and viewpoints to the government; we push that through. And Mr Peters is one perspective; we’re another. And I’m really proud of the things that we’ve been able to achieve as the Green Party.
Okay, I get that, but you still haven’t been particularly clear about whether you were under the impression this was actually going to happen, the 1500. Were you? Did you personally think that was going to be doubled to 1500?
I do think it’s something we should be doing, absolutely.
Again, not the question. It’s whether you were under the impression that that was going to happen.
I think that there’s an understanding that this should happen. But again, Lisa, I’m being very upfront when I say it’s not in our confidence-and-supply, and it’s not in the coalition. So there was always that understanding there.
As co-leader, you said that you would be building up communication with NZ First. So I’m wondering – did Winston Peters let you know ahead of time that he was going to be making the comments about refugee numbers?
No, but again, I’m not surprised that this is their position. That isn’t a massive secret. And Mr Peters can obviously say and do what they will do. The Greens, also, will continue to push for increasing and doubling our refugee quota, and we will work that through, and that’s what we continue to do in this government. And that’s why we’ve also been achieving incredible wins for the people, for our planet, for our rivers, and that’s part of just an ordinary day in business.
So it came as a total surprise to you that he was going to make those comments in the context that he made them? At a high-profile event, where, obviously, refugee quotas and the conditions of asylum seekers was front and foremost, he decided to drop those comments. You were oblivious to the fact that that was going to happen?
We weren’t aware of that, and he took an opportunity, and that’s his right. We all have the right to be able to do that as independent parties. And simply, the Greens will be strong in continuing to say, ‘Well, we want to push this through if we possibly can.’
So, in terms of building that relationship and communication that you said you were going to do when you got the co-leadership, when did you last catch up with Winston Peters?
Oh, we had fish and chips between the Greens and NZ First, I think, just in the last dinner sitting. So we do speak directly to each other and obviously are achieving things and wins that we agree on. This is one issue that there is a distinct difference. This is one issue, but alongside so many of the wins that the Greens have been able... Department of Conservation – a massive injection...
And I want to talk about some of that later. But you’ve described Labour and NZ First as your friends. Friends tell each other when they’re going to do stuff like this, don’t they?
Not sure if I’d describe us as friends. We are in a partnership.
Well, you did. You said, ‘We, the Greens, are so proud to stand with our friends in Labour and NZ First.’ Friends tell each other when they’re going to do things like this, don’t they?
Yes, and so, you know, we have our independent positions. We’ll keep working, and we do communicate on the things that we need to be making progress on.
So in terms of your independent positions, then, the Greens are committed to welfare reform. Dropping sanctions is part of your confidence agreement with Labour. After a year in office, still, there are 1700 kids who are missing out, because, in some cases, their mother’s – mainly their mother’s – benefit is being docked for not naming the father. So when are these so-called ‘excessive sanctions’ going to be dropped?
So, it’s incredible that we’ve got the expert advisory group. Again, that’s Green helping to push that through. And again, we’re going to stay very clear that we want to see an overhaul and make sure that Work and Income is a place that actually looks after people rather than punishes people. And so that’s work in progress. And I’m really proud of the work that Jan Logie is leading that through...
So you can’t put a date on when you’re going to achieve that?
So that’s work. So again, bringing three parties along and bringing people along with us is really important, massive undertaking, huge undertaking. And so some solid work is happening to push that through as well.
But Carmel Sepuloni, the minister for that particular area, social welfare, she said in a letter to a particular interest group that they would remove the sanctions as early as possible. She also reiterated that they would wipe debt from emergency accommodation benefits. But none of that has happened. So it’s in your confidence-and-supply agreement to deal with this. If you don’t get those sanctions dropped by next budget, will you have failed?
Not at all, because this is a whole-term project across all of the 20 priorities in our confidence-and-supply agreement. We’ve got to deliver that this term. And that’s our priority. We are committed to delivering on what we said we would do. The work is absolutely going ahead to push that through, and campaigning with communities, campaigning to be able to have a nationwide understanding that this needs to change, is also important.
I suppose the perception that some people may have is that you are waiting for your social welfare reform. You have had to swallow the dead rat of the waka-jumping legislation. You had to also suck up the fact that Eugenie Sage had to sign off on a deal for water-bottling that effectively is in direct contradiction of every principle that you have as Greens. How many of those dead rats do you have to eat before you get sick to your stomach?
So, with the reality of eight MPs in this partnership with government, I’m incredibly proud, Lisa, and a little bit, maybe, bewildered by some of the narrative that we’re not achieving. Because people in communities, people out there know that the end to oil was fantastic; that a massive injection into Department of Conservation funding was huge; that phasing out plastic bags – my goodness, people wanted that; making sure that we’ve got public transport investment.
It is coming from inside your own party. We have spoken to people within your own party who are concerned about some of the gains that you are not getting.
Yeah, and of course, there are compromises. And that is a reality. And all three parties have had to make those. We come out with something that is quite representative in the end of where the three independent parties working together can come to for New Zealanders.
Because in recent times, there seems to be a number of announcements that reflect New Zealand First policy — a back down on the three strikes legislation — you know, they’ve got a harder line than you guys on justice reform; the Regional Development Fund — every week, there is money being handed out under that; Winston Peters’ $30 million for all-weather racing tracks. He seems to be getting his way. And New Zealand First seem to be getting their way all the time.
Yeah.
Are you comfortable with where you’re fitting in this relationship?
I’m really proud of— You can’t even fiscally quantify an end to offshore oil exploration and drilling. You can’t quantify the protection for domestic violence work in workplaces. Some of those things— So many of those things you cannot quantify — transport, $16.9 million massive injection into public transport—
Are you being treated as an equal partner in this relationship? Because some critics might look at it and say, ‘Well, actually, the tail is wagging the dog’.
And all I can continue to keep saying is the incredible wins that we’re really proud of. Yes, there are compromises for all three political parties, but the wins in insulation, housing, environmental, conservation, drilling, the workplace protections, plastic bags phasing out, just as a small example of what we’re really proud— and extending insulation of houses. These things make a difference for people every single day, and they’re only a small example of what we’ve done just in a year and what we’ve got more to do.
So there are other things in your confidence-and-supply agreement that are yet to be achieved — quite a few things. And as co-leader, you said without a ministerial portfolio, you were going to ensure delivery of that agreement. So you’re a third of the way through the term. How much of that agreement have you delivered?
Oh, so we’ve started—
As a percentage. Do you know?
No. So we’ve started on all of it. It’s ‘go’ on every single of those 20 priorities. Some we’ve already delivered — the ones that I’ve been outlining. And we’ve got work happening for the rest. And, you know, that’s quite ordinary and quite normal. And we’re making progress every single day. And we know that the Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern signed up to make transformational changes, because what is happening in New Zealand and the world is an outcome of the economic system which has trampled over people and our planet for far too long. And those are the changes that the Green Party will continue to make. Our role in this government is to ensure that we transform our economic system to uphold also the wellbeing of people, rivers, soil and our climate as part of what we need to do.
I understand that, but this is a conversation about how much— how big the gains you are getting and whether you’re being treated as an equal partner. In terms of the things that you’re concentrating on, how is the campaign going to reclaim the C word?
Is that cows or…? There was no campaign. What I am happy about and will keep standing by is rejecting the incredible hatred, death threats and rape threats that are aimed at women — particularly, brown women and women of colour, but women — in public. That is not acceptable that that word and many other words can be used at us in a way to try and silence us and to stop us from doing our job.
Was that a diversion? Should you be focusing more on core business of the Green Party?
So standing up against abuse towards women is, and always has been, a core business of the Green Party. We know that we are a strong feminist party. We always have been. And that will remain part of our important work.
Do you think that the ministerial workload that your co-leader is facing means that the Green Party is losing traction when it comes to your identity in this government and building on its base?
Our party, our members, voted for us to go into a confidence-and-supply agreement and voted for us to have these ministers. They are doing incredible work. The wellbeing indicators that Minister James Shaw is leading to change the way we measure the success, how we are doing as a country, is transformational, incredible work that I’m really proud of. He’s leading the carbon zero work, making sure that we’ve got a solid plan to address the very real issue of climate destruction in our country and in the world. I’m incredibly proud of the ministerial portfolios that all of our ministers are leading. And the membership gave me a mandate as a non-executive member to also keep our differentiation and claiming the wins that we are getting in government here on the table as well.
Okay, we need to leave it there. Thanks for joining me this morning. Marama Davidson, the co-leader of the Green Party.
Transcript provided by Able. www.able.co.nz

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