Heather Roy

22 October 2017

The second interview on The Nation this weekend was with James Shaw, leader of the Green Party and Minister in waiting. The Green Party has waited 27 years for this level of influence in government and unsurprisingly are very pleased with the position they are in. Philosophically there is much I don’t agree with them about, but in my view they have done an excellent job in two areas:

  1. Civil Liberties – I could easily have delivered a number of Kennedy Graham’s speeches in Parliament
  2. Water. Water is a precious commodity that we take for granted and the Green’s have been the first and best party at highlighting many of the issues we need to address.

The cartoon above tells the story many believe to be true about the post-election negotiations outcome for the Greens. However I don’t buy into the widespread commentary that the Greens are in a poor position or have missed out significantly. A formal coalition with Labour might well have been their favoured option, but they are part of Government and nothing can happen without their votes. It is important not to lose sight of the majority factor. No legislation can pass without Green Party support.

The Greens have got three Ministers outside Cabinet (Shaw, Sage and Genter) and an under secretary role (Logie). So, their three Ministers are part of the Executive Council (technically the advisors to the Governor General), but not in Cabinet and therefore not bound by the collective responsibility of Cabinet decisions outside their portfolio responsibilities.  I believe this arrangement gives them the best chance of surviving the Labour – NZ First juggernaut. We’ve seen time and again how the smaller parties in government are consumed by the larger ones, your wins hard to hold and own and public support even harder to maintain.

The Greens are celebrating their success and when I had a chance to talk to James Shaw at The Nation filming yesterday he was a man looking pleased with his policy wins. We’ll find out the details of these on Tuesday. The Nation panel discussion canvassed a number of areas including the importance – or not – of being in Cabinet.

Perhaps lost in the mists of MMP history is the fact that the concept of Ministers sitting outside Cabinet in New Zealand was originally introduced by Winston Peters in 2005 when he went in to Government with Labour. He maintained the Foreign Affairs Ministerial role from outside Cabinet. Subsequently other small parties have chosen to do the same, so as to have the freedom to criticize the government when they chose. ACT, the Maori Party and United Future have all had Ministers outside Cabinet so the arrangement the Greens have with this Labour Government is nothing new. NZ First has chosen to forego this freedom and sit within Cabinet – presumably to give an illusion of being more important to Labour than the Green Party. It also reinforces that Peters has decided to accept the Deputy Prime Minister role.

A Minister is a Minister, all accountable to the Prime Minister. The make-up of the 52nd Parliament is more complex than other MMP Parliaments but like all those before, it operates on majority vote – no matter where Ministers sit,  Labour, NZ First and Green votes are all needed to pass anything.