The Green Party has defied history as a minor party, not only returning in 2020 after a stint in government but increasing their polling since. In a mid-term report Michael Neilson speaks to the co-leaders about why they continue to cop flak, potential to work with Te Pāti Māori come 2023 and how they plan to stay distinct from Labour without walking away.
In spite of all the criticism, from disgruntled former MPs and supporters and opponents alike, the Green Party has arguably done quite well for itself.
They went from 6.3 per cent at the 2017 election to 7.9 at the last election, and averaged about 10 per cent in the polls ever since.
Commentators have pointed out they're the only minor party that supported a government to get back in above the 5 per cent threshold, let alone increase their support amid a Covid-related surge in popularity for Labour. Unlike NZ First and Act, their polling has held steady throughout.
And this despite after the Green schools debacle in 2020, co-leader Marama Davidson warning they risked not even getting back into Parliament.
On the latest poll - 9 per cent - and with Labour now well below the 50 per cent mark, the Greens are well placed to get more than a simple co-operation agreement should the centre-left hold government benches in election 2023. Labour's majority meant the Greens were offered two ministerial positions and are not in Cabinet.
Some supporters and insiders say the party's more mainstream approach, the "James Shaw-factor", compared to the more hippy image of old has played a key role in maintaining that stable support, even drawing in some non-traditional Green votes.
But they also warn that the party risks losing its more radical supporters by straying too close to the centre. Losing that element could hurt the party in the longer run, especially with the return of Te Pāti Māori which shares many of the same policies and a similar philosophy.
Needless to say, it's the steady bedrock of support co-leaders Davidson and James Shaw are at pains to focus on during a sit-down interview with the Herald.
They are not interested in discussing any leadership changes on the horizon, after it was revealed the party was looking to change the rule requiring a male co-leader, potentially paving the way for shining star Chloe Swarbrick.
"The polling tells us the co-operation agreement that we're in, we've been able to get stuff done, make good changes for people, for the planet, for climate change," Davidson said.
"But we've also been able to be really clear that the Greens are our own party, and we've stood up really strongly for things that are outside the co-operation agreement, as well."
They have had a lower profile since the election, but they hit back strongly at any suggestions they've been inactive or even quiet.
The media took notice of a lack of announcements and press releases coming through in the first year of this term - in stark contrast to the Act Party with the same number of MPs.
The co-leaders agree of course there is "always more to do", and accept the "perception", but disagree with the criticism.
After the 2020 election and Labour's majority victory the Greens had a big decision to make - sit outside on cross-benches or continue the work they'd done with the Government, albeit minus NZ First.
They chose the latter, and with relatively little bargaining power were able to secure a co-operation agreement with Shaw as Climate Change Minister and Associate Minister for the Environment (Biodiversity), and Minister for the Prevention of Family and Sexual Violence and Associate Minister of Housing (Homelessness) for Davidson.
The agreement meant the party had to publicly support the areas where they worked together, but could criticise the Government outside of that.
It was not until recently that the Greens started taking full advantage of the latter part, although they claim it has happened throughout.
Shaw's discontent with climate action - and limited powers of his portfolio - increasingly boils over in interviews, Davidson has been criticising housing policies and calling for rent controls, and Swarbrick's been boldly challenging the Government on everything from fuel subsidies to tertiary support.
The party has also been vocal about the Covid response, especially as the restrictions started to ease and calling for a more equitable and careful approach.
They already had a relationship with Labour, but admitted in the new configuration it did "take a bit of time to work out" how they could, and should, operate.
On the gains side of the ledger, they point to work in the climate space, from the Zero Carbon Act the last term to electric vehicle rebates and soon to be released emissions reduction plan. Climate change is set to be a centrepiece of this year's Budget and Shaw will be at the front of that.
Davidson's got the family violence strategy Te Aorerekura over the line and is involved in addressing the homelessness crisis.
However, critics say not enough is being done to differentiate the party, especially in relation to Labour.
Some former MPs say the co-operation agreement has "stifled" the party on its core platforms - climate change and inequality.
"I was very critical of the co-operation agreement and still think it was a terrible decision," said former Green MP Sue Bradford, who left the party in 2009.
"They are inside the tent but without any power. This was a win-win for Labour. The Green voice is stifled."
Bradford said the party needed to take much stronger positions to keep their loyal - but passionate - supporters happy.
"Everything they've done Labour would have done anyway. I doubt they would break that agreement, but they need to come out swinging in the rest of this term."
Former MP Catherine Delahunty said the party should be prepared to walk away from their agreement, especially if Labour continued to back down on core issues such as stronger action on climate change.
Former Green Party staffer Dave Cormack said the party was the "success story" of the last five years, given its stable polling.
However, he said they needed to do more to show voters exactly who they were.
"A lot of people still don't know what a Green Party of 2022 is, if they're not on Twitter, don't know what they believe in.
"They need to be more active, but they are on track to aim for 10 to 12 per cent, and that should give them a lot of strength at the next election."
On the next election and any post-election negotiations, the co-leaders say that will be up to the voters and party members to decide.
Shaw said that being ministers inside Cabinet delivered "maximum leverage" but other configurations also had benefits.
"We were more influential across a much larger part of the government work programme last term, but in the areas where we're ministers, we're getting at least as much traction."
Both say they would prefer a simple Labour-Green combination – but they could "easily" work with Te Pāti Māori, which has held the kingmaker position in some recent polls.
"We vote together most of the time on most things, ever since Te Pāti Māori, was founded," said Shaw.
"I don't think that that would be hard at all [to work together]."
As previously, Shaw is reluctant to even talk about National.
"They've changed the leader, but they haven't changed their party."
Davidson said a governing arrangement with Te Pāti Māori and Labour could see a chance to work on Te Tiriti justice policies, including the party's Hoki Whenua Mai, land back policy.
"[Labour's] approach is certainly not our approach, and approaches of some others we shouldn't even be entertaining." The latter is a reference to Act and National's recent comments about co-governance.
"We're really clear that we don't want to engage in that boring lacklustre, rather racist debate that is happening."
They are "very focused" on Swarbrick retaining Auckland Central, but further decisions on other electorates will be announced next year. Green Party candidates usually only campaign for the party vote, and special approval is needed to campaign for the candidate vote as well. Last election, that was only given to Swarbrick and Marama Davidson in Tāmaki Makaurau.
Ahead of the 2023 election expect the party to "refine" itself in core areas of climate change, inequality, nature, and even housing and another shot at a wealth tax - but Shaw said walking away from the co-operation agreement did not make sense.
"You don't fix something that is not broken," he said, again pointing to the polling.
"Whatever we're doing, it's clearly resonating with the public and the people who supported us."