Wednesday 15 March 2023

It is becoming increasingly difficult to see how the Greens can support another Labour-led government if they are able to do so after this year’s election. Already, co-leader James Shaw has warned Labour not to take it for granted that the Greens will automatically support Labour again (even though by ruling out ever working with National the Greens have left themselves nowhere else to go if they want to remain a party of government.)

The problem for the Greens is that in his drive to make Labour electable again new Prime Minister Chris Hipkins has ditched many items from the government’s agenda that the Greens were champions for.

Co-governance of water resources which the Greens wanted to entrench last year was an early casualty. Last week it was joined by climate change emissions targets in the roading sector which were dropped in favour of repairing highways after the cyclones. This week, the clean car rebate; reductions in road speeds as the part of the Greens-sponsored “Road to Zero” programme; reform of alcohol laws which the Greens have been pushing hard on, and legislation to lower the voting age to 16, another Greens’ favourite, have all been dropped.

Other Greens priorities at present like a wealth tax, and a tax on windfall profits in the banking sector, are also finding little favour with Hipkins’ Labour. All of which leaves the Greens in quite a predicament about what to do post-election if Labour needs their support to form a new government.

But it is also a problem for Labour. Having so emphatically abandoned so many of the policies dearest to the Greens’ hearts as distractions and too expensive, Hipkins will have no credibility if he seeks to re-introduce some or all of them after the election as the price of a coalition or new confidence and supply agreement with the Greens. To do so, would be the ultimate act of duplicity, which voters would take a long time to forgive.

Yet, if Shaw’s comments are to be taken seriously, and not just treated as pre-election shadowboxing, Hipkins will have to offer some significant concessions to the Greens if he wishes to remain Prime Minister after the election. Voters can therefore be rightfully suspicious that policies abandoned now as unaffordable, or undesirable, and a few more besides, will re-emerge after the election as the price of a deal with the Greens.

In a telling remark last week justifying why the RNZ/TVNZ Merger Board was still meeting weeks after the project had been dropped by the Prime Minister, Broadcasting Minister Willie Jackson suggested the move was only temporary and that plan could well emerge at some future point. That candid admission inevitably raises the question of what other pet projects that have been jettisoned so quickly now in the quest for electoral popularity will resurface just as quickly if Labour remains in office.

Labour needs to spell out before the election which of the policies the media love to say Hipkins has put on the bonfire, are gone forever, and which ones will be revived if it gets the chance to do so. And the Greens need to make clear what their expectations are in this regard. That way, voters will know whether Labour really has become more pragmatic and responsive under Hipkins, or whether the whole policy review was just a charade to allow Labour breathing space before the election. The Greens, too, need to spell out what policies they have acquiesced on just to get through the election, and which ones they would expect to see reinstated if there is a Labour/Greens government next year.

National’s Luxon makes the point that if the policy bonfire is a genuine scrapping of unpopular policies, then the Labour government is left with very little to show for the last five and a half years in office. He now needs to hammer home this point – that, by its own admission, Labour’s cupboard is bare, and therefore that the last five and a years have been largely a waste of time. National also needs to constantly harry Labour on what policies are gone forever and which ones will return after the election, as the price of doing a deal with the Greens.

In a nutshell, it comes down to this. Labour cannot stay in government without the support of the Greens, notwithstanding their current grumpiness and threats not to support Labour. Each knows the only outcome from that would be a National-led government, which would be political anathema to both. Therefore, some sort of deal will have to be done between them.

Consequently, voters will be rightfully wary about how credible, Hipkins’ self-proclaimed “bread and butter” policy reset is, or whether, as is looking increasingly likely, it is no more than a cynical stunt to save Labour’s electoral bacon.

The Greens may well know the answer already.


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