It’s now 20 years since the first Green MPs – Jeannette Fitzsimons and Rod Donald – entered Parliament.

It sometimes seems looking at the party over that 20 years as though nothing has changed.

They are still a political party that marches to a different political drum to everybody else in Parliament.

That they do often frustrates Labour whilst it gets right up the nose of New Zealand First and is largely dismissed by National as at best peripheral; at worst irrelevant.

You can almost hear the sighing round the Chamber.

There they go again off on about rail rather than roads; organic farming, polluted waterways and climate change.

And then of course there has been the fun factor.

The Morris Dancing with knotted handkerchiefs at their conferences; MP Sue Kedgley locking herself in a sow crate or dreadlocked MP Nador Tancos on his skateboard.

There has also been a darker side to the view that other parties have of the Greens most commonly reflected in the visceral dislike some senior National Ministers have to the party’s co-leader Metiria Turei and her campaigns on poverty.

All of this smacks of a party which began life as a protest movement.

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But just as the Maori Party has had to transition itself from grievance mode to Government so the Greens are realising they have to do the same if they want to have any real influence on this country’s future.

And if anybody symbolises that move it is co-leader James Shaw who won his post less than 12 months ago.

Since then the party has appointed the outgoing and highly competent Andrew Campbell as Chief of Staff and made a subtle reshaping of the party’s spokesmanships.

Now the Greens are beginning to look much more like a party that could fit comfortably into Crown limousine seats.

Shaw’s background in business with PWC and the HSBC Bank, means that he can rephrase the Green message to fit a private enterprise economy which he argues the post baby boomer generation business executives are themselves changing to embrace more of the kind of ideas the Greens talk about.

He says he doesn’t think you could ever say the Greens were “anti-business”.

“It’s more nuanced than that,” he says.

“There are businesses or sectors with whom we have been in real conflict; mining, oil and gas and so on and with whom we still have a fundamental disagreement.”

But on the other hand he cites Air New Zealand as the kind of business the Greens like.

CEO Christopher Luxon has said he wants the airline to grow more than 30 per cent in the next five years but for C02 emissions to increase by only 19 per cent. 

Shaw says Luxon is typical of a new generation of business executives for whom the environment is an issue.

“There is a new generation of CEOs coming up through the ranks who have grown up in the postmodern world.

“They understand that there are environmental limits to the way that we do business and conduct our lives

“It’s interesting talking to Christopher Luxon about his time at UniLever in Canada.

“Unlilever are probably one of the world’s most progressive global corporates when it comes to comprehension of the social environmental and economic sustainability construct.

“It’s totally second nature to how they do business.

“He’s been brought up in that world.

“As have I.”

Translate this into day to day politics and the conclusion that emerges is complex.

The Greens are potential future coalition partners with Labour.

And they share many fundamental concerns with Labour.

Fox example Metiria Turei was quick to highlight what she argues is growing social inequality in New Zealand in her speeches during the replies to the Government Statement in the House this week.

As co-Leader Shaw endorses this argument.

But ask him what the Greens would do about Government spending and you get a surprising reply.

“Fundamental to our philosophy is the notion that we live within our means.

“My experience of the Greens is that in almost a cultural sense we are quite frugal.

“Frugality is a value.

“But having said that I think we would have some arguments with the Government about the choices that they are making about where to constrain and where to spend.”

As an example he points to the “billions” being spent on roads which, he says, have an incredibly low or negative costs benefit and he asks why we don’t look at spending some of that money on things like a high speed train between Auckland and Hamilton.

It is statements like this that prompt some in National to wonder whether the Greens might actually be a possibly future partner.

The answer to that is maybe one day, but not now.

He acknowledges that the Government has made some pro-environment moves and believes Nick Smith is an environmentalist but he says the question is how believable is the party when it pulls on its environmentalist cloak.

“They are still desperately trying to get companies to drill for oil under the seabed and they’ve got an $11 billion motorway building programme.”

But he can see signs of a change coming.

“I detect a shift but I think it will take a spell in opposition for this to come to fruition in the sense that the old stick in the mud types will leave when they go into opposition and the younger more maybe green empathetic MPs — the Blue Greens if you like — will have their day.”

It’s a constant theme; that generational change will be more sympathetic to the ideas that the Greens are trying to promote.

He believes generational change will also impact into Parliament and that we will get a more flexible approach to party alignments as politicians behave less like first past the post MPs and more like European-style proportional representation MPs.

But for the immediate future there is the prospect of Government with Labour and very probably New Zealand First.

He says the Greens are getting on better with New Zealand First but then things could hardly get any worse on where they were last year.

He won’t be drawn into any critique of New Zealand First beyond saying they are more conservative than the Greens though privately many Greens loathe Winston Peters and much of what his party stands for.

But the big issue will be Labour.

Again, things have improved since the last election when Labour’s then Leader David Cunliffe more or less shut the Greens out.

He says that the two party’s policies on investment for social outcomes overlap.

“And my sense is that they are moving on a lot of the environmental stuff as well.

“And that’s going to make it easier ion the future for us to work together.”

Last election the Greens had a very precise policy platform addressing jobs, cleaner waterways and child poverty.

So when it comes down to the hard negotiations that would be required to form a Government, what would the Greens actually want?

Whilst he won’t say that the party is redrafting tis priorities he does say they would change the focus.

“Our focus will be what are the levers that you have to pull to generate particular environmental and social outcomes so that the economic lens will continue to increase the way it has over the last few years.”

During the leadership road show and elections last year it was clear there was a frustration among many Greens that after 20 years they had really had little impact on Government.

Shaw acknowledges this which is why the party is busy preparing itself for Government now.

“We’re positioning ourselves to be successful in Government.

“Part of that is demonstrating that we are capable; that we have got what it takes to be in Government and part of it is the internal work that we need to do to actually ready ourselves for that.”

After 20 years being out of Government, the party really has no choice.

The question will be just as being in Parliament has seen the end of the Morris dancers, whether in Government the Greens could change New Zealand more than hey were changed by being there.

 

 

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