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Green Governance - Coming Soon To A Town Near You!

30 November 2001

Green Governance - coming soon to a town near you!
Eco Politics Conference
University of Canterbury, Christchurch
Rod Donald MP Green Party Co-Leader

The theme of this conference 'Green Governance - from Periphery to Power' is still largely a goal rather than the reality. I'm afraid we are some way from achieving green governance at a national level in Aotearoa / New Zealand.

Governance, according to my Concise Oxford Dictionary, is the act of ruling or controlling with authority. That certainly doesn't describe the current position of the Green Party. The closest we get is a subsequent definition: sway i.e. have influence. That we do.

Balance of power

Our influence stems from our representation in parliament and in particular the fact that we hold A balance of power - A not THE. For those of you from overseas let me explain briefly. The New Zealand Parliament has 120 seats, elected on a proportional representation basis with 67 MPs elected by geographic constituencies and the balance elected by the nationwide party vote from party lists.

The Labour-led Government is a minority coalition comprising 49 Labour seats and 10 Alliance seats. The Opposition comprises 39 National seats, 10 ACT seats, five New Zealand First seats and one United seat. The Greens literally sit in the middle with seven seats.

At the start of this parliamentary term we gave the coalition our support on confidence and supply and in return expected to be consulted on legislation and to have input into the budget. While wishing to build up a good working relationship with the Government we consider each piece of legislation on its merits and vote against Bills, or clauses in Bills, if we don't support them.

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Green achievements

We have a string of achievements to our credit, including the passage of two bills initiated by the Greens, the adoption of two Green budget packages, a number of select committee inquiries and a range of amendments to legislation which improve or at least mitigate their effect.

Those achievements plus our refusal to engage in conventional denigrating politics and our freedom to stand for what we believe in means that we can claim to effectively represent a significant and, according to the public opinion polls, growing constituency. Sounds too good to be true? I'm afraid it is! Jeanette will outline the problems and pitfalls to achieving effective green governance when you are not actually part of the Government.

Of course, before you have governance you need representation. In turn, representation requires three essential ingredients - popular support, the will to be elected and an electoral system which converts the first into the second. So how did we get there? Slowly - it took 24 years!

In the beginning...

It all started in May 1972 with the formation of the Values Party - the first green party to contest a national election. Describing itself as a humanist party and a quality of life party concerned with the environment in its widest sense, Values captured 1.96 per cent of the vote in that year's election. Standing in 42 out of the 87 seats it won 27,467 votes or 3.95 per cent in those seats it contested. Recognising the inherent unfairness of first past the post, the '72 manifesto 'Blueprint for New Zealand' proposed that it be replaced by a two vote system of proportional representation comprising 120 MPs elected from constituencies and party lists. What extraordinary foresight!

In 1975 Values contest all 87 seats, winning 5.27 per cent of the vote. It was ironic that we topped 5 per cent, which would have entitled us to seats if New Zealand had had proportional representation, yet the 1975 manifesto 'Beyond Tomorrow', despite being twice as long as the '72 publication, made no mention of proportional representation.

That deficiency was rectified for the 1978 campaign. The manifesto highlighted the fact that 13 per cent voted for Values or Social Credit but neither party won a seat in parliament.

'Is it fair and democratic that more than 200,000 voters were denied representation,' the manifesto cried. The text concluded that if proportional representation had been operating in 1975, Values would have won four or five seats in parliament. Unfortunately the Values vote halved to 2.4 per cent in '78 and continued to decline in subsequent elections.

Proportional representation priority

I was one of the people who quit the party during that time, leaving it to a few dedicated souls who kept the flag flying until the emergence of the Green Party in 1989. During the intermission many of us adopted proportional representation as our primary cause, recognising that a fair electoral system was a pre-requisite to any third party getting a voice in parliament and a chance to govern.

The will to be elected had also taken hold. In the '70s and '80s there was a strong strand of thinking that it was good if Labour or National picked up our policies because it meant we could avoid getting our own hands dirty. We soon learnt that the old parties are quick to co-opt the rhetoric of our policies but not the substance. We have also come to learn that you can't expect conventional politicians to implement Green policies when they have no understanding of what we stand for let alone the passion to make it happen.

The Values stalwarts and the new generation of green politicians who formed the Greens were right not to hold off until we had a fair electoral system. Indeed, by giving electoral reform a high priority in the 1990 campaign, and specifically supporting MMP - the mixed member proportional system of representation, the Greens added weight to the momentum for change. The Greens success at the election - 124,915 votes, 6.8 per cent overall, and nine per cent in the 71 seats where the party stood, coupled with a successful campaign to force both major parties to commit to a referendum on proportional representation, set the scene for the fundamental changes in parliamentary representation which followed.

In 1991 the Green Party joined with three other small parties - New Labour, The Democrats and Mana Motuhake - to form the Alliance. This rainbow coalition not only contested the 1993 election, winning 18.2 per cent of the vote and two seats under first past the post, but it also took a leading role in the successful campaign to win the referendum on MMP in 1993.

Greens in the house

The first MMP election in 1996 led to three Green MPs being elected on the Alliance ticket. Two of us, Jeanette and I, stayed with the Greens when we left the Alliance to stand in our own right at the 1999 election. This time two years ago we were sitting on 4.9 per cent of the party vote and Jeanette was 114 votes short of winning Coromandel.

While we waited for the election results to be finalised, Labour and the Alliance hastily put together their coalition Government. By the time our election was confirmed on December 7 the opportunity to join the coalition was virtually closed off with the Cabinet due to be sworn in the very next day. It is a moot point whether the party would have opted for a role in Government ahead of the place we have on the cross benches had the membership had the opportunity.

The debate over coalition versus supply and confidence continues today, fuelled by the internal tension in the junior coalition partner. I don't believe the options are simply representation without responsibility or gagged in Government. Jeanette will expand on this.

I maintain we have actually been extraordinarily responsible and have lent the Government considerable stability, to the extent that most of the country doesn't realise that it is a minority coalition. Equally, the Alliance could have been more outspoken on the issues it holds dear and certainly shouldn't be voting against it's own policies.

Power - executive or collective?

But being in Government isn't our only goal. Underlying our support for proportional representation is a commitment to representative democracy. Establishment parties have always tried to concentrate power or keep it concentrated in the executive so that when they are in Government they can rule absolutely. They prefer having no power in opposition to sharing power when they are the majority.

The Greens, not surprisingly, prefer a collective approach with all parties, whether in Government or not, having the opportunity to contribute to decision making. Not only do we want parties fairly represented in parliament, in proportion to their popular support but we also want parliamentary systems to reinforce that proportionality and parliament to increase its power in relation to the executive.

For example our submission to the Standing Orders Committee calls for the distribution of Select Committee Chairs to be, as far as reasonably practical, proportional to party membership in the house in order to lesson Government dominance of parliamentary committees.

Of the 13 select committees, Jeanette is the only non-Government chair, even though the overall membership of the committees is already required to be in proportion to the number of MPs in each party. We would simply like that principal extended to the office holding positions while maintaining the right of each committee to elect who they want.

This change isn't earth shattering, but it is important. Equally, we don't expect people to be dancing in the streets as a result of our efforts to make international treaties subject to Parliamentary approval. However our work in this area will probably do as much for enhancing green governance as anything else we do this term.

Time for a change on treaties

Keith Locke's International Treaties Bill has already caused major ripples in the establishment. The ratification of international treaties is currently the prerogative of the executive even though Standing Orders in recent years has provided for many treaties to be referred to Select Committees for examination.

Our Bill requires the Crown to refer all Treaties to parliament, and for parliament to approve those treaties. The latter provision is the most controversial aspect of the Bill. As the Foreign Affairs Defence & Trade Select Committee recently said in an interim report on the Bill 'this is seen as a radical departure from a long standing constitution convention on the roles of the executive and the legislative wings of Government'.

It goes on to say 'for the other side of the debate it is seen as the appropriate approach for the modern era in which international agreements pay an increasingly large role in national life'. I would add that it is also essential in an MMP environment where we no longer have single party governments.

We believe the passage of this Bill is vital for good governance. It is totally inappropriate for a minority coalition Government to commit New Zealand to such things as the already signed Singapore Free Trade Agreement and the proposed Hong Kong and United States free trade agreements without an open and transparent negotiating process, public participation, including a full public submission process, during the phase when positions can be modified, and a proper parliamentary debate prior to ratification.

Many weighty submissions were made in support of the Bill including one from Sir Kenneth Keith former law commissioner and now a Court of Appeal Judge. As the interim report says 'even those that opposed (the bill) recommended a range of options for enhancing the existing treat approval process'.

These include: extending the scope of treaties that are captured under the present system; widening the scope of the national interest analysis to include the impact of an international treaty on Treaty of Waitangi obligations, human rights, local government and existing international obligations; the establishment of a specific select committee of parliament dedicated to examining treaties (Australia has a joint standing committee on treaties); treaty examinations occurring during the negotiation phase; on going monitoring of compliance with treaties; regular briefings from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to the committee; making treaty information more accessible to the public; and, last but not least, extending the time allowed for the committee to examine a treaty.

On this last point we currently have the farcical situation where the executive i.e. cabinet has determined that the select committee is only allowed 15 sitting days to examine a treaty. While that equates to about six calendar weeks, this period of time is still insufficient to advertise for submissions and allow members of the public adequate opportunity to prepare their submissions.

It should be noted that this gives the public less opportunity for participation than is the case with legislation although treaties may be more complex and, certainly in the case of free trade agreements for example, have significantly more implications than run of the mill legislation. The interim report notes that 'this limited opportunity has affected the credibility of the treaty examination process in the eyes of the public, particularly those who are prevented from making a submission because of time pressure'. We agree.

Global Greens

Our progress on the international treaties bill highlights the benefits of being part of the global greens network. The interim report acknowledges that 'it was significant to observe that European countries with proportional representation systems all had some measure of parliamentary involvement in treaty approval'. Being able to draw on the experience and advice of our colleagues in other parliaments has been very helpful in this and a number of other issues of international importance such as climate change, corporate globalisation and genetic engineering.

The international connection is also beneficial when we consider governance options. Jeanette will traverse these in some detail but I would simply comment that knowing that Green coalitions are relatively successful in Finland and Belgium helps to counter the difficulties Greens are having in coalition in Germany and France. We are keen to learn from all their experiences, especially their mistakes.

Exporting MMP

As one would expect in a collective, we are also willing to offer advice and share our experiences with other countries. I have had the opportunity to visit and meet with Green Party members in the United States and England to give advice on strategies to replace first past the post with proportional representation and we are currently assisting the Canadian Greens in their campaign for proportional representation.

Local proportional representation

At the local level Greens have been denied fair representation for as long as we were shut out of parliament. That is about to change following the passage of the Local Electoral Act earlier this year. The Act includes my member's bill which provides for STV (single transferable vote) to replace first past the post for council and community board elections.

I am confident STV will do for local government what MMP has done for central government. While we relish the prospect, many in the establishment are horrified by it!

We have made STV optional because, in the interests of local democracy, we felt it best not to impose it from the top. The change can be initiated by either a council or the local community so we have quite a lot of work ahead of us to get rid of first past the post and improve local Green representation. However the Government has chosen STV for the next round of the District Health Board elections in 2004 so there will be STV elections nationwide at the same time as the next local body elections which should encourage many councils to make the switch.

Don't mention the republic!

No speech on green governance is complete without a reference to whether or not New Zealand should become a republic. The party is still grappling with this issue. While most believe their should be a debate and a referendum I can only speak for myself when I say that it is time for New Zealand to unshackle ourselves from the British monarchy. Having a head of state living half a world away certainly doesn't sit well with our party's principal of appropriate decision making!

Democracy needs participants

Having created the right foundations for green governance the ultimate challenge is to find more green governors. Despite our membership more than doubling since the last election not enough Greens are stepping forward to take the plunge into the candidate pool. The same was true of the recent local body elections. Without participants you don't have representative let alone participatory democracy!


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