27 July 2018
What price a principle? Coalition politics is about prizes and prices. One of Winston Peters’ prizes for making Jacinda Ardern Prime Minister is support for the Waka Jumping Bill but without Green Party votes the numbers are not there for the bill to pass. This week, despite warnings by Green Party royalty, the party has decided to support Winston Peters undemocratic measure to control a party’s MPs.
The thing I admired about the Green party, despite frequently disagreeing on particular issues, is that they have always stood by their principles – until this week. There is no way Jeanette Fitzsimmons, Rod Donald, Sue Bradford, Keith Locke, Russel Norman, Kennedy Graham or Sue Kedgley would ever have supported the Waka Jumping Bill.
The Bill is a coalition deal between NZ First and Labour. It was a bottom line for Winston Peters who has been burnt in the past when some of his NZ First MPs defected. This isn’t the only example of party hopping under MMP – the history is important to the current debate. The Green party, in the past, has been most vocal in opposing any bill that would result in the expulsion of democratically elected MPs. The current bill will allow party leaders to expel MPs who have serious and public disagreements with their wider party. Two thirds of a party caucus must agree to expel the MP, a measure which some believe acts as a safeguard of sorts. A list MP would be replaced by the next member of the party list but expulsion of an electorate MP would trigger a by-election.
This week, the Green Party caucus announced it would be supporting the Waka Jumping bill, despite MPs saying they didn’t want to. Forget the talk of ‘dead rats’ and “the price of coalition” – the Green party has compromised on a democratic principle. This is more than a coalition compromise, it is a trade-off, but for what? What deals have been done within the current Green caucus in return for resuscitating this dead rat in the bottom of the waka? What deals have been done with Labour to sway them to vote for something their more principled predecessors never would have. Has Jan Logie been bought off with her 10 days leave for domestic violence sufferers? Or Julie-Anne Genter with light rail to Auckland airport or equal male/female representation on boards , James Shaw with zero-carbon by 2050? Surely there is a prize for abandoning a previously important principle. Come on “most transparent government ever” – it’s show and tell time.
The price for the Greens will be high. The membership is unhappy with this decision. It may be a short-time price, but it could turn into a long-term price that challenges the loyalty of members who never anticipated the Greens supporting a Peters’ initiative that is anathema to their beliefs. The question now becomes, is the prize of that support sufficient to overcome the price that will be paid?