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The Nation: Marama Davidson and James Shaw

On Newshub Nation: Simon Shepherd interviews Marama Davidson and James Shaw

Simon Shepherd: The Green Party is holding its annual conference this weekend, and both co-leaders, Marama Davidson and James Shaw, join me now from Dunedin. Welcome to you both this morning. James, could I ask you first – what’s the core thing that you actually bring to this leadership?

James Shaw: Well, I think that often gets talked about as if it’s some kind of lolly scramble, but what we’ve got is a programme for the whole government, and if you look at our confidence and supply agreement, it stretches across every part of the government. The things that I’m most proud of, of course, are things like the $1.9 billion that’s gone into mental health; the hugest increase in Department of Conservation funding since the agency was founded; the Zero Carbon Bill; reforms to the Emissions Trading Scheme. I mean, we’ve got influence right across the board.

The question is more of a personal one, and the personal one is the core thing. Your political style is very different to Marama Davidson, I would say, so what is the core thing that you bring to that political style?

Shaw: Well, it’s the great thing about the co-leadership model is that we can have different leadership styles, and what that allows us to do is to reach a wider array of audiences, and it also mitigates against the kind of swings that you get when other parties change their leadership. So, I guess, my job as a member of the executive is to make sure that we’re delivering on the confidence and supply agreement and that we’re bringing people along with us.

So, let’s try the personal question to you, Marama. What is yours? Because you have a different political style. How would you characterise your leadership?

Davidson: And again, it was important the co-leadership model upholds the diversity, the different insights, constituencies and communities we come from. It was important in our first term to have a non-executive co-leader who can make sure that we are bringing our members with us – this is our first time being in this confidence and supply agreement in government – making sure that our members feel that we are staying grounded and connected with them. Being that communication focus without having a ministerial portfolio has been really important.

All right. So, Marama, you’re willing to be on the front line. You’re saying you want to be outside the executives, willing to be on the front line, and sometimes that is at odds with the coalition government. How does that actually play out, James, in cabinet when you’re making these decisions? They say, ‘What has Marama done now?’

Shaw: Look, I mean, this is actually not news to anyone. We actually formed the government on the basis of a confidence and supply agreement, and what that allows us to do is to be both a part of the government but also to maintain an independent voice on issues where we don’t have cabinet responsibility. That’s actually pretty well understood around the cabinet table, and as long as we’re in good communication with each other, it’s actually fine.

And Marama, do you think that this is a deliberate policy or tactic on your behalf when it comes to election year to actually show some difference for the Greens, as opposed to, say, Labour, which is starting to gobble up all the Green policies?

Davidson: It’s going to be crucial for us to be able to have our independent political positions alongside getting stuff done in government. James talked about some of those things. I want to add on Jan Logie’s incredible work about whole-of-government approach to ending domestic violence; phasing out single plastic bags; and public transport – revolutionising how we move around. It is also going to be incredibly important that we can be clear and say, ‘We are the party that will push to go faster and stronger, the most progressive changes; we are the caretakers of truly responding to inequality and climate change.’

Oh, okay. All right, well, let’s just go to that in a moment. I want to ask you about reports out today that this particular conference doesn’t look that transparent and that the media are only getting access to a couple of speeches. There’s a bit of hypersensitivity. Do you lack confidence when it comes to seeing how the Green Party actually works from the outside?

Shaw: Simon, actually, there’s been no change in the way that we manage our annual general meetings. This has been the case for a number of years now, and we’ve had these kinds of stories before, but there does seem to be, I guess, a renewal of those kinds of stories at this AGM.

So you do have your big-party pants on, and you are willing just to be open and transparent?

Shaw: Yeah, of course. Like I said, we’ve been running our AGMs this way for many years now, and there’s been no change.

Davidson: Simon, our conferences are really important for us to engage with our members. It’s a priority for us, and also, the majority of the media agencies happen to be here.

Okay. You mentioned, Marama, how you’re willing to stand on certain issues which are not a part of your cabinet responsibility. One of those where you’ve been on the front line is Ihumatao, okay? So, King Tuheitia’s going out there today. What have you heard about how that’s going to play out, seeing as he’s really taking the side of the existing iwi that have the deal with Fletcher’s?

Davidson: Firstly, I don’t think that’s absolutely clear that he’s taking sides. They’ve been, up to this point, saying that they are there to support all the mana whenua. They are going to listen; they are going to engage. This is an incredibly positive step, and it’s on the back of a nationwide conversation that we are having for the first time in a long time about New Zealanders understanding and facing our colonial history, and this is a positive thing for a peaceful and harmonious future. I’m really pleased about the engagement and the conversation that is being had.

And yet, Winston Peters this week was saying that he’s coming down on the side of the local iwi and that there was probably not much chance of the government actually buying the land. So how does that play out with you guys?

Davidson: So, governments forever have chosen who they want to do deals with and speak to. The Greens have always been very clear; the large natural groupings part of Treaty settlements is one that is flawed and has continued to cause conflict and set iwi against iwi and hapu against hapu. I’m really pleased— and I’ve been on Ihumatao, seeing the amazing care and peaceful resistance and protection that they are leading, and I urge more New Zealanders to go along and have a look.

Well, one person that hasn’t gone along and had a look is you, James. Why didn’t you go to Ihumatao?

Shaw: On the day that our MPs were up there, I was basically— you know, had a series of ministerial appointments, and, in fact, none of our other ministers were there either.

I didn’t see anything in the ministerial media diary; that’s why I’m asking why you weren’t there.

Shaw: Well, I had work on, as did our other ministers.

Davidson: Simon, this is a Green Party political position that all of our MPs and party uphold to, regardless of the fact that— and 50 per cent of our caucus were able to get along to Ihumatao.

Shaw: Yeah, which is more than any other caucus.

Okay. All right. Let’s talk about what you haven’t done. You were talking about what you have done earlier, James; let’s talk about what you haven’t done. What’s your biggest regret so far, having been part of this coalition government?

Shaw: Yeah, look, I was thinking about this recently. The only thing that we’ve kind of absolutely lost on was the capital gains tax. You know, there are a number of areas where we’d like to be going further and faster, but we’re actually making progress right across the board. But we were disappointed that the capital gains tax was just a non-starter.

So, you want to go further and faster on what? What’s the number one thing you want to go further and faster on?

Shaw: Well, for me, obviously, that’s climate change. I mean, we’re making really good progress there. But we are— you know, the window of opportunity for us to fix climate change is narrowing rapidly, and there’s a lot of work to be done.

All right, Marama, you’ve been hot on housing, but I don’t think you’ve actually got any wins on that so far. What about this rent-to-own or shared equity policy that is in your supply and confidence agreement?

Davidson: Actually, it was core Green policy to remove tenancy fees, for example. It was core Green policy to be able to have better standards for testing meth in houses contamination. There are a list of things that, because of the strong Green heart and influence, we have been able to achieve with Labour. Of course, we cannot address climate change without addressing inequality, and housing is a massive lever in that space. I’ll be talking this weekend about some of the work that we will continue to prioritise and work on.

Well, let’s go back to the question I asked you, and that is – what happened to the rent-to-own agreement that you have with Labour in your confidence and supply? What’s happened to that?

Davidson: Simon, we’ve continued to work from the start of this term working with ministers, looking at plans and different options. That’s a priority for us. It will be delivered, and I’ll be picking up on that work and on that conversation for New Zealanders in the very near future.

So in the very near future. Tomorrow, will you be announcing a housing policy on this?

Davidson: You’ll have to wait and see. I can’t wait till you tune in and have a look.

Well, you can tell us now, Marama.

Davidson: You’re honoured to know that, and to be the first outlet to know that we will be focusing on housing as part of this weekend.

What about the other issues? Like, you wanted a rental warrant of fitness and also more laws for renters guaranteeing them a longer tenancy. What’s happened to those kinds of things, Marama?

Davidson: And again, we have been consistently at the table making sure that— because we understand the issues of how difficult it is for people to just find a place to live that they can afford and doesn’t make them sick. So those are key issues for the Greens, and we are continuing to do the work on those areas.

All right, let’s turn on to another key issue for the country – as well as the Green Party – and that’s clean rivers. It seems to have fallen off the radar a bit. I mean, the Green Party have campaigned on this for several elections. So has your voice, James, been muted while you’ve been in government, on this?

Shaw: No, absolutely not. And I wouldn’t say that actually it’s fallen off the radar. It’s obviously a really complex issue, and it is taking time for us to get it out to the public. But there is a huge amount of work going on, on how to clean up our rivers and our urban water as well, which is at least as polluted as our rural rivers and streams. And you’ll be seeing stuff coming out from the government in the not-too-distant future.

All right. What about the perception of the Green Party while you have been at the government table? The perception in the first, sort of, year and a half has been that New Zealand First has got more gains out of this government than you have. How are you going to turn that around?

Shaw: I think it’s— You know, part of this, like I said, is this kind of perception that there’s some sort of lolly scramble. What you’ve actually got here is an MMP government with three partners, and we all bring something different and unique to the table. And actually, I think it’s functioning really well. That may be a surprise to some people, but it’s actually really working. So the idea that we’re in it to get something out of it for ourselves is— You know, people haven’t understood what this is about. We’re actually here as a government for New Zealand. So, you know the kinds of things that I started the show on – talking about the huge shift in public transport funding, the work that we’re doing on housing, cleaning up our rivers, the end of plastic bags and the start of the whole, kind of, getting our waste streams down, climate change and so on – I mean, frankly, the idea that we’re not getting anything out of this government is a complete misnomer.

All right. Going into the next election, how are you going to position yourselves, and how are you going to behave? Because you had the attack ad on National just recently, which got pulled. And that was signed off by James, so Marama, are you happy with that kind of more aggressive leadership leading up to the election?

Davidson: It was an attempt at humour. We were wanting to highlight the dangerous inaction of Simon Bridges on climate change. It was not at all supposed to be an aggressive attack. It didn’t fly; it didn’t land, and we took it down.

So, Marama, how would you say that the relationship’s working with James? You’re about a year into being a co-leader now. How would you describe it?

Davidson: Oh, we’ve had a long, good working relationship since before I became co-leader, and obviously it’s become a closer, more regular friendship alongside a co-leadership. I really like that we can pick up different, complimentary roles, that we can take turns on the various responsibilities of a leadership of a party, and that will continue and that will carry on.

All right. So I’m looking forward to your housing announcement tomorrow, but I’ve got one quick question, and that is to both of you – James, I guess. Working with National after the election – is that completely off the table? Can you say that now?

Shaw: Yes, absolutely. Look, I would never empower someone with as little personal integrity as Simon Bridges to become prime minister. And we’re making huge progress as part of this government, and we want this government to be returned.

Okay. James Shaw and Marama Davidson, thank you very much for your time from Dunedin this morning.

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

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