COMMENT:

Unlike New Zealand First, which knows how to use power, the Greens haven't yet settled as comfortably into their role in Government.

Part of that is just in the DNA of the Greens. Their base in activism and dissent means they are naturally suspicious of power. As idealists, they will never be satisfied. They will always have something to agitate about.

Their conference this weekend gives them a chance to reflect on their successes and failures.

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Some of the members' gripes are small beer. It is hard to argue with the merit of Marama Davidson's case to reclaim the C-word as a body part rather than the worst insult imaginable, but that is surely a task to be left to the feminists outside of Parliament.

There may be a bit of grizzling that Eugenie Sage's plastic-bag ban announcement was gate-crashed by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and that that is a symptom of the Green part of Government being underplayed.

However, Ardern's association with the decision undoubtedly elevated the coverage it got.
This week the Greens had a win in getting more of the billion-tree planting programme to go into native trees.

Sage has been the most visible of the Green ministers. She is trying to restore the Department of Conservation to its glory days, when it operated at strength almost as a free agent of conscience within government.

Members will have to get used to her approving a few more unpopular overseas investment decisions under the rule of law, or change the law or change the minister.

Julie Anne Genter has had some big wins for the funding of public transport, cycling and walking. The Greens may want to look and learn from New Zealand First on the way it has exploited and branded the provincial growth fund as its own.

There is bound to be criticism that co-leader James Shaw has been missing in action as he goes about his preparations for the zero carbon bill, which will establish the climate change commission.

That is a legitimate complaint but it is a deliberate strategy in the bid to build as much consensus for it before it is introduced.

Shaw has been working constructively with the National Party, farming and other businesses and has avoided politicising it, at this stage. That would run counter to the intention.

The biggest gripe the Greens have is against the party-hopping bill, which has already eroded party unity and coherence within the Government.

National's filibuster on the bill was highly successful, and final debate has been delayed until after the current recess. The original plan was to have had it out of the way before the Greens conference.

The fact that it is still a live issue will allow the heat to be put on the MPs.

Members will have a last chance to press their MPs to at least promote an expiry clause in the bill if they feel they cannot oppose it without destabilising the Government.

Supporting or opposing the bill is a relatively benign issue for the public. It has no effect on people's lives. But it has soured the first nine months for the Greens in government.

The revelations that New Zealand First MPs, the initiators of the bill, have already signed a pledge to pay the party $300,000 if they defect, goes to the obsession of leader Winston Peters on the matter.

Not much attention has been given to how the problem arose in the first place but it was not an oversight, as previously suggested.

Labour took a calculated gamble during negotiations with New Zealand First that the Greens would fall into line on the bill when the coalition agreement was published.

The alternative was Labour saying no to New Zealand First on the party-hopping bill during negotiations and the risk that it was a deal-breaking bottom line.

Peters' obsession put Labour in an invidious position at the time and the Greens subsequently.

In blind negotiations, Labour could not tell the Greens about the bill, and could not risk saying no to New Zealand First.

No amount of due diligence by the Greens during talks could have anticipated the problems. Peters had said nothing in the election campaign about wanting a rerun of such legislation – or in the previous three years.

Yet it was raised in the first session of negotiations with both the Labour and National parties after last year's election.

The result is draconian legislation that will allow political parties to oust properly elected MPs from Parliament and disturb the comity between the courts and Parliament by effectively inviting the courts into the caucus rooms.

But that is the power of a party that will bargain with either side to give itself leverage.
Labour insisted on having an insurance policy - a clause in both agreements requiring the Greens and New Zealand First to act in good faith to allow the other's agreements to be complied with.

The sweetener for the Greens has been a commitment by the cabinet to compensate for that dead rat by an extension of the Bill of Rights Act - it will give courts the statutory authority to declare a law inconsistent with the Bill of Rights Act (authority which is disputed at present) and when they do, Parliament will be required to review that law.

One can only hope that once the courts' new powers are conferred that the first law to be declared inconsistent with the Bill or Rights Act will be the party-hopping bill.

The Greens' greatest success has been in getting a ban on future offshore oil and gas exploration, one that no one saw coming as quickly as it did, not even the Greens.

The decision was driven by Labour, and Ardern used political capital to get New Zealand First on board in the first flushes of the governing partnership.

Agreeing to that ban was possibly as difficult for New Zealand First as the party-hopping bill for the Greens.

The party-hopping bill may have been an unpleasant exercise of pragmatism over idealism for the Greens.

But they had better get used to it if they want to get used to government.