Recently reinstated Green Party co-leader James Shaw wants to make the case for what the party should be - even closer to the levers of power after the next election.
The Greens wear the mantle of power uneasily (something Shaw says he likes about his party). The Party has been among the most unlucky in our MMP Parliament, winning seats in each MMP election, but failing to secure ministerial positions under the Clark Government, and missing out on a powerful coalition agreement after Labour's 2020 landslide.
James Shaw was ousted from the co-leadership in July after failing to win a 75 per cent majority at his party's AGM. He regained the co-leadership in September, winning an overwhelming majority with 138 voting delegates in favour, and just four delegates voting to reopen nominations for the job.
The contest caused some to question whether the Greens might be better suited out of government, criticising the Government from the crossbench.
Shaw, unsurprisingly, thinks not, and is redoubling his effort to make the case for the party being in government.
As members debated the "messy" nature of power, Shaw said he was "really upfront" about the fact that he wanted to lead the party deeper into government, including having a place around the Cabinet table, something the party has never had. For the last two terms, the party's ministers have all been outside of Cabinet.
"Next time, we'll be really clear about this; I think that we need more MPs, we need more ministers, and we need to be around the Cabinet table, and we need to secure that third term in government," Shaw said.
Shaw said the vote confirming his leadership showed this vision was endorsed by the membership.
He said the next term of government was particularly important for the Greens because, over the next three years, a number of significant climate change decisions come up for renewal.
2025 is the end of the first emissions budget under the Zero Carbon Act, and the beginning of the second emissions budget.
It is also when the Government decides what the fourth emissions budget will be, and when they will decide on the next Nationally Determined Contribution under the Paris Agreement - this is New Zealand's international emissions reduction commitment.
The second emissions reduction plan will be published, and decisions will be made around bringing international aviation and shipping into domestic emissions accounts.
And, perhaps most significantly for New Zealand, it is when agricultural emissions pricing begins. This would mark the beginning of the end of a decades-long standoff with the sector.
"That, to me, is the wheel we started to turn in 2017. That's when it comes full circle. It goes through its first full revolution in 2025," Shaw said.
Shaw disputed the idea that the leadership contest was a battle between social justice and environmentalist factions within the Green Party.
"There were all these pundits kind of speculating, 'Is it the socialists versus the environmentalists - where is the bifurcation point?'," Shaw said.
Instead, he saw the contest as one of opposing theories of change. One side of the party thought the best way of achieving change was to stay out of government and shape the debate around issues through advocacy - the other side believed that the compromises of government were worth it for the opportunity to have their hands on the levers of power.
"My reflection on all of that is, actually, everyone is concerned about the same thing: climate change is definitely the highest order of business, I mean, that dominated every conversation to an extraordinary degree… but ultimately, the tension point was around a theory-of-change question," Shaw said.
"Would it be better for us to be using our ability to shape public discourse and put pressure on the political system to change it that way, versus the very messy being in government, and all the compromises that come with that?" he said, acknowledging that he was personally "very clearly identified with one end of that spectrum", which was being in government.
He said he personally liked the fact he belonged "to a political party that's uncomfortable with power, that it is constantly questioning its place in the system".
"If you don't, you just become institutionalised. Some other political parties are there for the sake of government, rather than to do something useful," Shaw said.
Ultimately, the contest doesn't appear to have hurt the party, which is polling at 9 per cent according to the most recent 1 News-Kantar poll. Shaw said membership was up, and some members had become more active in the party.
However, it's not all good news. Polling suggests the problem for the Greens in 2023 may be the opposite of what the party suffered in 2020, when Labour's landslide kept them out of Cabinet.
Now, Labour's fading polling threatens to render moot any philosophical questions about where the Greens belong in government.