Adam Bennett

Adam is a political reporter for the New Zealand Herald.

Election 2011: Greens weigh options

Green Party co-leaders Russel Norman and Metiria Turei take stock. Photo / Brett Phibbs
Green Party co-leaders Russel Norman and Metiria Turei take stock. Photo / Brett Phibbs

Saturday may have been "a great night to be a Green" as the party posted its best ever result, but the Greens missed out on the bigger presence they were eyeing and are disappointed their natural allies Labour suffered a stinging defeat.

The Greens easily gained the 10 per cent of the party vote they had targeted for the last year but with pre-election polls putting them as high as 15 per cent, they were in with a chance of doing even better.

However, their 10.8 per cent showing brings an additional four seats, taking the tally to 13. With well-known MPs Sue Kedgley and Keith Locke retiring the Greens will have six new faces in Parliament.

The Greens' success on Saturday night was marked with exuberant celebrations at their party venue on Karangahape Road with co-leader Russel Norman asking supporters: "Isn't it a great night to be a Green?"

However, the mood was somewhat tense before he and his co-leader Metiria Turei arrived as supporters waited to see whether the big urban polling booths, which have been kind to the party, would bump them significantly above their target.

That never happened.

The other disappointment of the night was Labour's trouncing.

"We wanted to be part of a progressive government of change and we always said our preference was to work with Labour and that's obviously not possible with the numbers in the House," Dr Norman said.

However, gaining a 14th MP remains a real prospect for the party with Ms Turei yesterday saying a gain of about 0.25 per cent through special votes would do it. That would bring Canterbury-based water issues activist and scientist Mojo Mathers into Parliament as New Zealand's first profoundly deaf MP. "If we do get an extra one it comes off National which again narrows their majority," Dr Norman said.

That would set the stage for an even more dramatic tussle over National's asset sales policy.

"Obviously National's mandate is pretty narrow. If the Greens pick up the 14th seat and we take it from National and if the Maori Party sticks by what they said pre-election, that they're opposed to asset sales ... basically you're talking 61 votes in favour and 60 opposed so it's very very tight."

Given its slim majority and overwhelming public opposition to the asset sales policy, "National needs to think hard about how they want to proceed there".

Meanwhile, the two co-leaders yesterday held discussions with their national executive, during which it was agreed the party would not call a special general meeting which would be required to give the rubber stamp for formal coalition talks with National.

While that doesn't rule out the possibility completely, the Greens and Prime Minister John Key both underscored how unlikely that prospect is over the weekend. Instead, the leaders of both parties will meet after National has completed its confidence and supply negotiations where they will discuss an extension of the memorandum of understanding (MOU) under which they were able to work together on projects such as the national cycleway, home insulation subsidies, and pest control during the last term.

Ms Turei said there was a chance the new MOU may move from co-operation on specific projects to "engagement on the policy process" which would be a marginally closer relationship.

The Greens co-leaders made the point that with Act and to a lesser extent the Maori Party in all sorts of trouble, Mr Key is running out of potential coalition partners.

"If Mr Key is going to lead a three-term Government he knows there are a lot of National Party supporters with green sympathies so it helps bolster his support to have a good relationship with the Greens. That's one of the key reasons they've done the memorandum of understanding when they didn't have to. We can use the fact he wants to do that to get good stuff done and that's the essential trade off."

- NZ Herald

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