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The Nation: Lisa Owen interviews James Shaw

On The Nation: Lisa Owen interviews James Shaw


Greens leader James Shaw says his party’s ministers will be Eugenie Sage, Julie Anne Genter, Jan Logie, and himself. Gareth Hughes will be the chief musterer and Marama Davidson the deputy musterer. He says he can’t confirm yet who will have which portfolio.

Shaw says having the Climate Change Minister outside of cabinet does not devalue the role. “I don’t think that being located outside of cabinet actually makes that much material difference in practical terms.”

Shaw says the cannabis referendum promoted by the Green Party will not necessarily be binding, and in fact binding referenda go against the party’s policy. But he says he expects Parliament would take note of any result.

Lisa Owen: After 27 years in the wilderness, the Green Party have government ministers for the first time. So they’ve gained, but what have they given up? The Green Party leader, James Shaw, is with me in the studio now. What do you think of the deal you got?
James Shaw: I’m delighted with it. I mean, like you said, after 27 years in the wilderness, and the Greens have a great affinity for the wilderness, of course, we now have government ministers, and that is a huge gain for us.

So you’ve got three ministers outside of cabinet, one undersecretary. New Zealand First got four ministers inside cabinet and one undersecretary. How fair do you reckon the carve-up is?

Well, I don’t think of it as a carve-up. I think about what is the arrangement that we’ve got that enables us to work on the things that we campaigned on — everybody knows what we campaigned on — and that ensures that as a small party, we survive the experience of government. If you look at the history of MMP in New Zealand, it is littered with small parties that have gone into government but not quite made it out the others side. Because this is our first experience, I think the arrangement that we’ve got means that we can deliver on the promises that we made in the campaign and have a good first time in government.

Yeah, because MMP is all about proportionality. Do you think those proportions are right, though?
Yes. I mean, if you look at New Zealand First, they were holding the balance between National on one side and Labour and us on the other—
Because they would go with either.
Yep, that’s right. And so I think that the arrangement that they’ve got with four ministers, us with three, them with one undersecretary, us also with one, I mean, that seems proportional to me.
Do you feel like equals in this relationship — that all three parties are equal?
Well, there’s a different status, obviously, between being in cabinet versus being outside cabinet, but in practical terms, it actually makes very little difference at all. I mean, our ministers will be in cabinet committees, which is where a lot of the detail gets thrashed out. Our ministers will have to go into the cabinet meetings to present their papers when it comes to that part of the arrangement. As Jacinda said in your interview with her, all three parties need to have a very, very high degree of consensus about anything because, actually, it requires all of our votes to pass anything. So this is going to be a government of consensus, which, of course, has been something that has been very important to the Greens for a very long time.
Well, that’s kind of interesting, because Winston got up and made his announcement. He said, ‘I’m going into government with Labour.’ Full stop. No mention of you guys at all. What did you make of that in the way he couched it?
Well, I mean, I have no particular opinion about it, to tell you the truth. He is going into government with Labour. It’s a true statement. We are in an arrangement to support—
But, hey, none of you can be in government without you. It takes three to make this government, yet you get no mention and there’s been no chit-chat with Winston Peters and you as the leader of the Green Party.
I have to say, it’s been a busy few days, and, in fact, I haven’t even got to respond to half the business that I’ve had to deal with in the last couple of days as well. I mean, obviously, we’ll be talking to each other over the course of the coming days and weeks. But, you know, my focus has been on trying to get set up to do the stuff that we need to do.
Okay, so whose call was it that you be outside of cabinet? Was that one of Winston Peters’ criteria for going into this arrangement?
Look, the negotiations between Labour and New Zealand First were confidential, so I don’t have any sight about those arrangements.
What did Jacinda Ardern tell you about that?
She’s bound by confidentiality, so she couldn’t actually tell us about the nature of what was going on between New Zealand First and Labour, and I completely respect that.
Did she make it clear whether it was her decision, though? She can talk to you about her decisions in relation to you. Did she make it clear it was her decision to place you outside of cabinet?
No. No, we had a number of discussions about what is the best arrangement for the Green Party and for Labour in this three-way arrangement, and I, actually, am really happy with the position that we’re in because—
I know you say that you’re really happy, but during the course of the campaign, you made it pretty clear that you wanted to be right in government. So this wasn’t your first choice of an arrangement, so what happened, what changed?
We got a lot of really good advice from a number of quarters about the kind of spectrum that you can sit on between being in full coalition versus the kind of sitting on the crossbenches option, and we’re sort of somewhere in the middle of that spectrum at the moment. And, again, as our first time in government, having a bit of independence in this confidence and supply arrangement, actually, is a really good position for us to be in. So I took that advice during the course of our negotiations, and when we made that recommendation to our party, they were actually really pleased to back that, because they felt that that was a more, I guess, robust position for us to hold.
Okay, so who are your ministers going to be?
Our ministers are going to be Julie Anne Genter, Eugenie Sage, Jan Logie and myself.
Okay. Who’s getting what?
Now, I have to leave that to the Prime Minister, because, you know, that is really her prerogative to announce who gets what.
Well, The Nation’s got their heads together, and we’re going to have a crack at this. So you’re going to be the Climate Change Minister and Associate Finance Minister; Eugenie Sage will have Conservation and Women’s Affairs; Julie Anne Genter — Associate Environment, Land Information, Associate Transport, Associate Health; Jan Logie — Undersecretary to the Minister of Justice with a special focus on sexual and domestic violence; and then Marama Davidson — chair of the Social Services Select Committee. Did we get 100% on that test?
Not 100%.
Okay, so how accurate’s that?
I’d say you’d have to wait until the Prime Minister’s announcement on Tuesday next week.
Which one have we got wrong?
I think you’ll have to wait until the Prime Minister makes her announcement next week.
All right. If climate change is a priority and this is supposedly the nuclear-free moment for the Prime Minister’s generation, why are you, as Climate Change Minister, outside of cabinet?
Well, we felt that being outside of cabinet—
If it’s a priority.
Well, look, Jacinda, in your interview with her yesterday, responded to this, I don’t think that being located outside of cabinet actually makes that much material difference in practical terms. It requires all three parties to have a high degree of consensus about our direction in order to be able to get these things done.
Okay, so you don’t think that portfolio’s being undervalued in the way it’s outside cabinet?
No, I do not. I do know that climate change and action on climate change will be at the heart of this government’s agenda. That was our whole point during the course of the campaign. It is also, I have to say, one of the areas of alignment with New Zealand First. If you read their climate change policy, it actually does state a commitment to the net-zero emissions economy by the year 2050 and also to end international trading of credits.
So you’re all committed to a climate change commission. Do you think the recommendations of that commission should be binding on the government that you’re part of?
Well, we have to work that through.
But what’s your personal feeling?
The model that we’re operating against is the one that’s been in place in the United Kingdom for most of the last 10 years. They make recommendations to Parliament about which direction it should go, and so far the UK Parliament has followed all of those, because it would take a brave parliament to turn down that commission.
Okay. So Associate Finance, what does that say about how the Green Party has changed and the perception of the Green Party has changed?
Well, obviously, I think it’s a really significant step for us to be able to have that relationship with Grant Robertson, presumably, in his role of Minister of Finance to have a hand, or at least oversight, of what’s going on in the budget process, and there are a few projects in mind that we’ve got that are that are relevant for that.
So you’re looking forward to that role?
I am looking forward to the Greens holding that role, certainly.
All right. So, you talked about the fact that the nature of the deal means that outside of your ministerial areas, you can basically say what you like. You’re not bound by collective cabinet responsibility; you can speak out about other issues. You think that’s significant, but that’s kind of exactly what the Maori Party had, and they suffered, arguably, greatly from being in this arrangement.
Yeah, I think to the public’s mind, we are the government. The distinction between being in a confidence and supply or a coalition is, to the vast majority of people, immaterial. But it does give us the leeway to have a more distinctive voice. We, of course, have more Members of Parliament than the Maori Party had and a greater ability, I guess, to communicate. It is something that we need to be very mindful of — is that we actually do need to make sure that we let people know where our wins have been and what our role has been in a government if we are to be able to come back again in 2020.
Well, let’s talk about some of those areas, and we are running out of time, so I just want to get through a few of them. The cannabis referendum on personal use — do you really want that to be one of your big wins?
Well, it’s a referendum, so we’re actually giving the public of New Zealand the choice about where they want to go with that.
Is it going to be binding?
We haven’t worked through that.
Do you want it to be?
We’ve actually never said that any referendum should be binding. It’s actually against Green Party policy.
You don’t want this one to be binding?
No, but I think if the public of New Zealand says that they want to either maintain the status quo or to change, then, you know, Parliament will be cognisant of that.
Okay. So, immigration — Labour and New Zealand First wanted to clamp down on immigration. Jacinda Ardern saying their policy hasn’t changed, which means they’d be a significant reduction, although not as low as what Winston Peters is saying. Your policy is evidence-based reviews of immigration levels. So how does that work? Because doesn’t all the evidence suggest that we need more people? We’ve got jobs — 220,000 short in the service industry, 56,000 in construction. Evidence suggests we need more.
Well, I agree with Jacinda Ardern on this point in that, actually, where you want to start is by examining each individual category there and to actually start with a humane view of it. If you take, for example, international students, now, many of those are coming over and getting a really high-quality New Zealand education at one of our universities or our polytechs. But there are actually thousands and thousands of students who are being exploited, essentially as cheap labour.
So you’re now saying quality over quantity, are you?
Certainly when it comes to the students category, and it is one of the things that Labour said we need to take a look at, not because we’re so concerned about the numbers but because we’re concerned that people are getting ripped off. And we’ve been here before. Back in the 1990s we had the English as a second language schools. There were a lot of dodgy operators in that market, and ultimately the market collapsed.
I want to talk about two other things before we have to go. So, Jacinda Ardern’s indicated it’s unlikely there’ll be any more government funding for irrigation schemes, but she can’t just can the existing one, she says. Does that go far enough?
I would suggest that I’ll follow her lead on that.
You’re not a cabinet minister yet. You can speak your mind. So do you think that goes far enough?
I think that when the full arrangements are released next week, that you’ll see some detail around that.
Okay, so we can expect something that will satisfy you around irrigation?
Yes, that’s right.
Okay, the bids for drilling rights, onshore and offshore — they come up over the next couple of months. Should this government go ahead with those?
Well, as we’ve said all along, the Green Party believes that we shouldn’t be engaging in any more fossil fuel exploration because 80%—
So you wish that Jacinda Ardern would can that round of bids?
Well, look, you know, as she said in her interview with you yesterday, the future for New Zealand is not in fossil fuels. Actually, we cannot burn 80% of the existing reserves globally because—
And we understand your position on that. So that’s why I’m asking you — would it be your preference that that round be canned? Yes or no?
I think you’ll have to speak to the new Minister for Energy and Resources about that one.
You’re not a minister yet. You can speak your mind on this issue.
I’m just saying. You’ll have to talk to the new Minister for Energy and Resources on that one.

All right. Thanks for joining me, James Shaw.

Transcript provided by Able. www.able.co.nz

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