Isaac Davison

Isaac Davison is a NZ Herald political reporter.

National the political extremists, say Greens

Labour Party leader David Shearer (right) and Green Party co-leader Russel Norman. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Labour Party leader David Shearer (right) and Green Party co-leader Russel Norman. Photo / Mark Mitchell

Green Party co-leader Russel Norman will attack undemocratic lawmaking in his speech to the party's annual conference this weekend and turn the tables on the National-led Government by describing it as "extremist".

Dr Norman will speak at the conference in Christchurch tomorrow and is expected to take a hard-hitting stance on the Government's passing of legislation that his party feel are unconstitutional.

"This Government has changed," he told the Herald. "It started out as nice and friendly and unifying and reached out to people. It's become highly divisive."

He pointed to the passing of urgent legislation which prevented most carers of disabled family members from getting paid, and removed their ability to challenge the law in court.

The bill was passed into law a day after being introduced and with official advice heavily censored.

The New Zealand Law Society yesterday expressed concern about this law change and said limiting judicial review should be considered only in "truly exceptional cases".

Dr Norman also singled out a bill which restricts anti-mining protests at sea, which he felt went directly against New Zealand's proud history of anti-nuclear activism.

The amendment to the Crown Minerals Bill prompted a campaign led by former Labour Prime Minister Geoffrey Palmer, who argued that the law change was unconstitutional.

Dr Norman expressed concern about the Government's abolition of the regional council in Canterbury, which he said had enabled irrigation companies to extract more water in the region.

Prime Minister John Key has emphasised in speeches this year that the 2014 general election will be fought between a centre-right party and a far-left coalition of Labour and Greens.

He claims the Greens are dragging Labour further away from the centre of the political spectrum with policies of printing money and placing controls on the energy sector.

Dr Norman aims to reverse this criticism by portraying National as the extremist party because of its "unconstitutional" legislation and environmental policies.

He said the Government's failure to respond to climate change made New Zealand an international outlier on reducing carbon emissions.

"This Government takes such an extremist position, in terms of destroying the price on carbon, pursuing every opportunity to dig up fossil fuels, I think they are on the extreme side. This Government is absolutely hostile to Green capitalism."

He would not rule out further joint policy announcements with the Labour Party, but said that the joint energy announcement was partly a coincidence because both parties had been separately developing similar policy.

Dr Norman is also focusing his criticism on Finance Minister Bill English's economic strategy of reaching surplus.

He feels National is deceiving the country by emphasising that a government surplus is a successful economic strategy.

"It's easy to be popular ... when you're borrowing money hand over fist," he said.

He highlighted in the House yesterday that the Government aimed to borrow $60 billion over the next five years.

Mr English responded by saying that the Government would be $1.7 billion worse off if it had not partially sold energy company Mighty River Power.

Asked how he would change the conversation away from the Government's goal of surplus, Dr Norman said: "If I knew the answer to that, I suspect we would bring down the popularity of the Government."


Conference behind closed doors

The Green Party may be the most vocal defender of transparency and open government in Parliament but most of its annual conference will take place behind closed doors.

Every conference session except the leadership speeches and several lectures will be closed to media at the Christchurch event this weekend.

Green MPs were in uproar two weeks ago when a official document for urgent legislation was mostly blacked out. But its programme had a similar appearance, with most sessions listed as "p" for private.

Green Party co-leader Russel Norman said that it was difficult to strike a balance between having an open, accessible gathering and allowing party members to express their views freely.

He felt that completely open sessions could stifle free and frank conversation between party members.

"If we have a whole line of cameras there, and someone wants to disagree with me, it is just a fact of reality that they will be discouraged from doing so with the full knowledge that whatever they say will become the news story."

Dr Norman said that MPs urged members to make the conference as open as possible, but that request was often resisted by the party.

He believed that if internal democracy could not properly operate, then political debate moved further behind closed doors.

"I'd argue that all you end up with is the National Party, where the real decisions and the real discussions and the real power operate elsewhere."

Green Party co-convenor Pete Huggins said that allowing party members to make decisions in private was part of a democracy.

"We're not trying to exclude [media] but we do have to balance that with internal membership stuff."

But he admitted that if the party continued to grow it would have to consider greater openness at its annual meetings.

Asked whether Greens were concerned about how they could be portrayed, Mr Huggins said: "We're perfectly happy for cameras to be there, but I think it's more just about the content of what goes on in those sessions."

The party has been haunted by television coverage of Green MPs dancing around a maypole at a previous annual conference.


Where do Labour and Greens stand?

Housing

Greens: Build $300,000 homes and allow tenants to rent to buy, introduce warrants of fitness for rental homes, set limits on rent increases.

Labour: Build 100,000 affordable homes for first-time buyers over 10 years.

Mining

Greens: Allow mining, but oppose deep-water drilling and expansion of fossil fuel extraction.

Labour: Support "responsible mining" but not on highest-ranked conservation land.

Climate change

Greens: At a minimum, strengthen the Emissions Trading Scheme. Make sure there is a good price on carbon, and consider a carbon tax.

Labour: Strengthen Emissions Trading Scheme.

Privatisation

Greens: Opposes partial sales of energy companies. Would consider the Government's fiscal health before deciding whether to buy back companies.

Labour: Opposes partial sales, has not confirmed whether it would buy companies back if in government.

Environment/Resource Management

Greens: Review the Resource Management Act, probably repeal changes to the act which affected environmental protections.

Labour: Supports streamlining of RMA, would repeal provisions which reduce environmental protections.

Energy

Both parties will introduce a single electricity agency (NZ Power) which sets prices. Monetary policy

Greens: Give more power to the Reserve Bank to intervene in currency such as through quantitative easing (printing money).

Labour: Give Reserve Bank more tools to intervene in currency, but would not print money.

- NZ Herald

© Copyright 2014, APN New Zealand Limited

Assembled by: (static) on production apcf02 at 01 Nov 2014 02:50:22 Processing Time: 670ms