The Nation: Owen interviews Green Party Co-leader contenders
On Newshub Nation: Lisa Owen interviews Green Party Co-leader contenders Marama Davidson and Julie Anne Genter
Lisa Owen: Next month, the Green
Party will choose a new co-leader to replace Metiria Turei.
There are two contenders for the role, Julie Anne Genter and
Marama Davidson, and they both join me now. Good
Julie Anne Genter: Ata marie.
Marama Davidson: Morena.
Julie Anne, can I start with you? 2017 election results were your worst in, what, a decade? More than a decade. So has the Green Party lost its way?
Genter: No, we had a really difficult election, and it ended up really well for us, because we’ve ended up as part of a government with Green Party ministers for the first time ever, but we had to pay a huge price in losing our co-leader, Metiria Turei, shortly before the election. There’s no question that we don’t want a repeat of that in the future. We need to regain the votes that we lost. We need to build from there.
Marama Davidson, six per cent. It ended well is what Ms Genter says. Did it?
Davidson: Yeah, if it wasn’t for the incredibly hard work of our Green Party volunteers all around the country, we wouldn’t have done as well as we did, and so we are in government in a confidence and supply agreement, with ministers ready to make good, green, progressive change.
Isn’t the sign of a good leader being able to recognise a weakness? And it sounds like you’re both in denial.
Davidson: No, what we do face is a political risk of losing the ordinary support that smaller parties lose in their first term in an MMP government of, on average, 28 per cent. That would see the Greens down at 4%. I’m very aware that we need to grow our Green movement, and that’s the only way that we are going to come back in 2020 with more MPs able to influence much stronger in the next government, absolutely.
Okay. So, Ms Genter, what’s your top priority, your number one priority, for a Green Party under your co-leadership?
Genter: The number one priority is growing the number of Green MPs and being a large part of the next government after 2020.
And your number one policy priority?
Genter: I think that, typically, we usually campaign on three.
No, I’m asking you for your number one.
Genter: Number one, I think it’s got to be the environment, but we can’t achieve environmental protection without changing the economic system that is exploiting people and the environment.
Marama Davidson, do you agree that the environment is the number one priority?
Davidson: Again, to address the environmental degradation, we have to transform the social and economic factors that absolutely led to that. But, actually, I’m also proud to lead my number one priority is also renter’s rights and rent controls.
You can’t have two number one priorities, so is it the environment, or is it social justice campaigning?
Davidson: The Green Party understands that we need to address our environmental, social, and economic systems for the outcomes that we want, that we need.
Okay. Well, I’ve been reading your charter, and it says ecological wisdom is the top priority – the environment. “Ecological sustainability is paramount.” Do you accept that the top priority of the Green Party—
Davidson: Lisa, those aren’t top priorities, and as co-leader, I will not weaken any of our Green Party charter.
No, but it says—
Davidson: It’s not number one, and, in fact, if you read through our charters, you will see that all of the principles depend and are inextricably linked to each other. And as co-leader, I will not weaken any of our principles.
Okay. I have read all of this, and there’s no mention of social justice, and it does say that ecological sustainability is paramount.
Davidson: Social responsibility and appropriate decision-making as well.
The definition of paramount is “more important than anything else; supreme”, so environment – the number one issue for the Green Party. Are you deviating from that?
Davidson: No, the Green Party itself and the members have been very clear that we need to uphold social responsibility, appropriate decision-making, and a commitment to peace and violence, alongside ecological wisdom and underneath the umbrella of a commitment to Te Tiriti as our founding document.
Genter: I guess what I would say, Lisa, is it’s obvious that if we don’t have a planet and we don’t have resources, we don’t have a society, and that’s why it’s in that logical order. But it’s also true that we can’t protect our planet and our natural ecosystems if we don’t have a fair society. We can’t have a fair society if we don’t have peaceful ways and appropriate decision-making, which is democracy. So that’s why the four things work together. But there’s no question that no planet; no people.
So it is number one. Okay, Simon Bridges is extending the olive branch to the Greens. I want to know, specifically, what would it take for you, as co-leader, to work with the National Party under Simon Bridges?
Genter: They’d have to change a lot of their fundamental policies. I mean, Simon Bridges was the biggest cheerleader for increasing oil and gas exploration last term although he tried to greenwash and say he was investing in public transport, walking, and cycling. The reality is that the National government with him as transport minister was spending tonnes of money on uneconomic motorways.
But you’re in government with someone who hasn’t ditched their mining policies either, hasn’t put a moratorium on mining, so why couldn’t you work with Simon Bridges?
Genter: No, there actually have been quite significant changes between the National Party’s policy on this and the new government’s policy, but obviously the best way for people to ensure that we’re ending fossil fuel exploration in New Zealand is to vote for the Green Party.
Marama Davidson, could you be pragmatic and work with Simon Bridges as National Party, and what would it take?
Davidson: He would have to move a lot. He did open up Maui dolphin sanctuary, for example, to seismic explosion and mining, so he would have to move.
We know what he’s done; I’m wondering what he needs to do – what he needs to do to work with you.
Davidson: He would have to understand that you cannot pretend to be a champion for the environment while also letting social and economic systems further degrade the environment. So Simon’s got a lot of work to do if he thinks he could work with the Green Party and be a truly progressive and transformational government.
Okay. In your pitch to the Green membership, you said you would be a brave leader. Wouldn’t it be brave to say that you could work across with any party, not to just commit to one party, to be available to all sorts of coalition configurations?
Genter: Ultimately, it’s up to the party to determine our political positioning, and really, if you look at our political positioning in the previous elections, it always has said that we will work with constructively and challenge any government, and we prioritise that based on their policies and their track record. So it’s not that we’re biased against the National Party; we just have nine years of a degraded environment, increasing inequality, reduction in local democracy from the National Party. So if there is a complete change in policy and direction, of course we’d be open to working with them.
Marama Davidson, the current confidence and supply deal – a scale of 1 to 10, 1 being a dog, 10 being amazing, how well do you think that deal is?
Davidson: Oh, no, I think it’s an 8.
Davidson: But I think the Greens have a role to push beyond the current Government’s agenda and be the real—We are the most progressive political party in government, and as an MP outside of the executive, my particular role would be to push and show the constituents that we are the most progressive party who will push beyond the government’s agenda.
Well, you’re pushing that the role is best suited to someone who is not a current minister – that you’ll have more time to deal with the flock. So are you committing here on this show not to take up a ministerial portfolio if you become the co-leader ever?
Davidson: In this first term, while we are settling in to this arrangement of being in an MMP coalition agreement, I think it’s important that, to grow our movement by 2020, we need a co-leader who has the independence and the freedom to maintain our unique Green voice, our independent voice; that’s going to be how we can be of relevance and to grow our movement and support.
Isn’t that a cop-out, though? Because the portfolios have already been handed out, and if you’re saying that it’s better to be outside, not have a ministerial portfolio, surely you’re going to stand by that for the foreseeable future?
Davidson: For the first term, I think it’s important, and for the second term, the membership will decide on whether we think we’re ready to have two co-leaders as a minister. For the first term, as an MP outside of the executive, I’m really clear that I will have the freedom, the independence, to be able to stay strong in those core Green issues that push beyond this current government’s, like deep-sea oil drilling. We will stay there, and we will stand there, and we will show the voters if you truly want to address climate change, it is the Green Party you need to vote for.
Okay. Julie Anne Genter, you would have heard Winston Peters talking about the waka-jumping legislation.
Genter: I wasn’t sure what he was saying. We need to ask him for clarification.
He thinks he’s got the numbers. He needs you guys for the numbers. So do you support the waka-jumping bill? Would you, if you had free choice, vote for that bill?
Genter: Look, in the Green Party, we listen to the members; they make the policy, and we represent that policy in parliament.
Well, as someone who said you’re going to be a brave leader, you’re not being particularly brave answering this question. The question is if you had free will, would you vote for it? Do you think it’s good legislation? Would you give it your vote if you had a choice?
Genter: No, I don’t think it’s great legislation. I understand we want to preserve the proportionality. I understand that impulse. But I don’t know that this legislation is the right way to do that. And our party has serious problems with the legislation, so we need to sit down and have a very frank conversation with our partners in Government and say we have a problem. We have to listen to our members, we have to respect our constitution and our policy, and we need to find a way forward with this, and we can’t guarantee a vote for it at second rating.
Marama Davidson, some people are saying because you didn’t raise this at the discussions and you didn’t have an out clause in your confidence and supply…
Davidson: Oh, at the negotiations.
...that you’re stuck with it. So did James Shaw make a giant mistake here?
Davidson: Nothing comes back on one person with the decisions that the Green Party make. I did raise my concerns from the start about the waka-jumping legislation.
Are you going to be a fence-sitter in the leadership role? So whose mistake is that? Someone’s got to own it.
Davidson: It comes back to the caucus, absolutely, across all of us, with all of our party decisions. And what we have to do now, Lisa, and what I’ve been working with the members on is making sure that we have regular, transparent, honest conversations with the membership so they’re aware of the sticky issues that are going to come down the line and we have a consensus and appropriate decision-making processes to work out where we go next.
Julie Anne Genter, how would you describe your party’s current relationship with New Zealand First?
Genter: I think it’s going really well. We have a positive working relationship. There are a lot of areas where we have agreement, like in transport policy, for example, and then there’s areas where clearly we disagree and we’re able to have respectful conversations about that. And I think we just need to be open, honest, and very strong in the Green Party’s positions on these things.
Well, you’ve positioned yourself in the pitch to your membership is that you will voice your dissention; you will work out how to say what you don’t believe in in a coalition situation. Is your current leadership not speaking up enough?
Genter: Look, our current leadership, I think, is doing a great job, but also James and I have very different styles, you know. He’s very collaborative; he’s very much seeking agreement, and that’s great—
Too much so?
Genter: I just think that stylistically, I would be a bit clearer and a bit stronger.
So he’s being too agreeable?
Genter: No, I don’t think you need to say he’s being too agreeable to say that we have a different approach to style, but I have very positive, respectful relationships with parties across parliament, with the leadership, particularly in the government, and I think that I have enough…
But you’re pitching a firmer hand, aren’t you?
Genter: …respect in the house to be able to stand up for the Green Party.
Okay. Marama Davidson, James Shaw – you’re 100% happy with his leadership style and how he’s leading the Greens at the moment?
Davidson: Lisa, our ministers, our first-time ministers – we need to have compassion for them being able to settle into their role. Lisa, everyone understands that ministers have a whole different level of accountability; that’s understandable.
So what, he’s still finding his way? Is that what you’re saying?
Davidson: Across parliament, we’ve got new ministers settling in and finding their way and working out and negotiating where their places are in terms of what they can speak up on, what work they’re doing. And obviously our ministers need to prioritise their portfolio areas, and so again—
So you’re not 100% happy with how he’s doing at the moment – room for improvement?
Davidson: No, again, what I’m bringing to the co-leadership as a non-executive member is the ability to be able to focus on maintaining our independent voice, working with our membership in particular, and supporting the portfolio priorities of our ministers, of our Green ministers.
Genter: But that said, I have to say that being a minister outside cabinet, my colleagues know that I will express a different point of view. I’ve even done it in the areas where I’m an associate minister – in transport and health – and I have very positive working relationships with those ministers. One thing that ministers have, which is a bit of an advantage, is you have a lot of resource and support and you have a huge platform to demonstrate how you’re making a difference, and I do think people want to vote.
So that’s why you’d be better as a co-leader than Marama?
Genter: Well, I think that the position should not be considered on the basis of whether someone is a minister or not, but I don’t think it’s fair to say that ministers have a disadvantage. In fact, I think that this role is giving me a huge advantage that will enable me to be an effective co-leader for the Green Party.
Davidson: So, Lisa—
No, I just want to—Can we move on? Because we’re running out of time. Marama, you have said it would be the greatest honour of your life to follow in the footsteps of Metiria Turei.
Davidson: And Jeanette Fitzsimons.
Yeah, and Jeanette Fitzsimons, but I want to concentrate on Metiria Turei because this is where the contention is within your party. Would you have her back as an MP under your leadership?
Davidson: She did incredible work throughout her whole, entire parliamentary career.
Would you have her back as an MP under your leadership? Do you want her back?
Davidson: I’m happy to step up into this leadership role that is empty. I think she’s done incredible service for our country and has done for a heck of a long time.
So you don’t want her back as an MP.
Davidson: And we’ve moved on, our party has moved on, and I’m my own woman and going to bring my own leadership style to this role to complement James.
I’m not asking if you would have her back as a co-leader. Do you want her back? Do you stand by her to bring her back as an MP in the Greens?
Davidson: No, I think she wants to rest. I think she’s done her service. And I think the Green Party has gone through a lot now and are ready for new leadership.
Okay. Do you stand by, Julie Anne Genter, the way your party handled that situation, and would you have done anything differently?
Genter: I think we all would agree that we could have done things differently. I think that Metiria shared a very brave story, and it was trying to communicate something that’s very important, which is how difficult things are for people who are reliant on a benefit and that our social safety net is broken and it causes people to make bad decisions and to have to be dishonest and that, therefore, it’s the law and the policy that is unjust. But nobody – nobody in the party – would say that we couldn’t have done things better to plan for the fallout, plan for the rest—
So you’re okay with her defrauding the system?
Genter: Her point was not that it’s okay to commit fraud, Lisa. Her point was that the law and the policy is unjust and it needs to change.
I’m asking you what your line in the sand is.
Genter: And she should have been clear about the fact that it’s not okay to commit fraud, but it’s also not okay to have a system that forces people to lie to survive.
Hey, so is this still causing ructions in your party about how this was handled?
Davidson: We are very clear, and the members understand that we’ve got some things to learn—
That’s not what I’m asking you. Is there still dissention? Because we’re being told that there is; this is a cause of some tension still for the Green Party, how this was handled.
Davidson: And that’s why I want to bring the party together and heal the party…
So you concede there is this tension?
Davidson: …and make it clear that we’ve got things to learn from what was handled. But the point absolutely was – and I know this personally – that you should not have to lie or face the choice of getting your power cut off because you have got not enough to survive.
So you accept there is still tension in your party that needs to be dealt with over this issue?
Davidson: We’ve got several sticky issues that I will bring the party together on to work through on several issues.
Just very quickly before we move on, is there anything in either of your backgrounds that could place you in a Metiria Turei-type situation? Yes or no?
Okay. All right, let’s move on to some quick-fire questions, starting with you, Marama Davidson. OCR – what is the rate, currently?
Davidson: Is it about 1.75?
Yes, it is. Inflation is at…?
Okay. Median wage?
Davidson: Oh, goodness. 18? No.
Genter: Median household income is just over 80,000.
Genter: Median wage is…
49,000 average wage. Closer to 60,000.
Davidson: Oh, annual. Sorry. Hourly.
Unemployment rate is currently what, Julie Anne Genter?
Genter: 4.4, but it’s higher for women, and it’s much higher for Maori and Pasifika.
Correct. GDP – what is it, per year, for New Zealand?
Davidson: Can I just say that the unemployment rate is also not the whole labour market rate. This is what we need to be looking at.
Yes. Understood. So GDP – what is it?
Genter: What, the growth rate, or the total number?
I’ll take it. 270. Did you know that?
Okay. So what percentage of senior roles are held by women in New Zealand currently, according to a survey that was out this week?
Davidson: Not enough.
Genter: Well under 20%.
Yes, down from about 30 at its peak. You’ve raised housing as a major issue that you’re interested in, so the national median house price is what, according to the Real Estate Association of New Zealand?
Davidson: Is it about 700?
Genter: No, it’s 400 and something thousand – about 440, 460?
550 grand. In Auckland, it is what?
Genter: Oh, that’s excluding Auckland. Sorry.
Davidson: Yeah, sorry.
Genter: In Auckland, it’s 800.
Davidson: It is about 800 for Auckland.
Genter: Yeah, if you take the national median, it’s about 820.
No, the 550 is including Auckland. It’s the national median house price.
Genter: Excluding Auckland is about 450.
Davidson: Auckland itself is about 800.
Okay. Last question – how much is 2 litres of milk, non-organic, from somewhere like Countdown?
Genter: It’s, like, $4?
4 bucks 50. Thank you both for joining us this morning.
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