Through an administrative oversight, Jacinda Ardern and James Shaw had clashing events in Wellington on Thursday.

But there was plenty of media interest in the Green Party leader's state of the planet address, given the non-stop attention Ardern has been given since becoming Prime Minister and the fact she had already held four press conferences this week.

She was on the Speaker's lawn behind Parliament explaining the compromises to workplace laws that Labour and the Greens accepted at the hands of New Zealand First.

Shaw was in a Victoria University lecture theatre seeking an acceptance from party faithful that compromise will be necessary if they want a sustainable political future.


His message was that if the Greens want to be part of the 2020 Government, they cannot afford to stand on principle on every issue; they have to focus on the big issues and can't fight every battle.

It was effectively a commitment to stick to the current Government parties for the next election.

It was also sensible advice from a leader whose standing has risen substantially - inside and outside the party - since leading the Greens solo through its leadership crisis last year and saving it from the precipice of parliamentary oblivion.

But the Greens are better known for being more principled than compromising and that makes for special challenges for them.

Managing differences in Government is as important as policy gains, the demise of the Alliance being the perfect case in point.

It is early days and patterns are not yet firmly established. The Greens have not yet settled on whether they are an equal part of the three-way Government, or whether to emphasise the technical reality that they sitting outside of the two-party coalition, and claim greater independence.

Certainly, when Ardern takes leave to have her baby in June, Winston Peters as Acting Prime Minister will have to have normalised his historically distant relationship with the Greens.

Green Party Leader James Shaw has shown that he is adept as a partner in Government. Picture / Dean Purcell
Green Party Leader James Shaw has shown that he is adept as a partner in Government. Picture / Dean Purcell

The Greens didn't make a bid to sit at the cabinet table in this, their first experience as part of a Government, given Peters' record in 2005 of shutting them out altogether.


That not only avoided disappointment but it avoided handing Peters apparent power over them.

But Shaw made the early running in seeking to normalise relations with New Zealand First.

His victory speech on election night reached out to Peters over their common policies.

And once Peters chose the left, Shaw presented him with a bottle of whisky - Shaw has since been to Peters' Beehive office for a late night drink.

The events of this week have marked a turning point in the three-way Government because it is the first week in which major differences over major policies have been highlighted.

The first was over the conclusion negotiations of the TPP, opposed by the Greens, and second was over employment law, with a heavy dilution by New Zealand First of Labour and Greens' policy.

It was a week in which the elation of over gaining power has given way to reality of compromise Government.

Labour and New Zealand First don't have the numbers; Labour and the Greens don't have the numbers. Labour and the Greens and New Zealand do have the numbers but don't always agree, and Labour and National together have the numbers but which both want to use sparingly.

For Ardern, who has been promoting her Government as "transformational," it has become more apparent that the possibility of real transformation are limited in the short term.

It is a sign of MMP in maturity that the differences this week have not been painted by the media as unstable Government or a Government in disarray.

Illustration / Guy Body
Illustration / Guy Body

But this Government has had a fairly easy ride so far.

Largely because it was unexpectedness, the threshold for what constitutes success has been set low since its formation.

Basically anything they haven't stuffed up has been deemed successful.

Competent political management has been seen as success. That is not invalid because the complicated nature of the Government and its sheer inexperience means that there is great potential for things to go wrong.

So the parties will deserve to be applauded for getting the 100 day plan completed, with few alterations, as it will be by next Saturday.

And Labour must be applauded for getting the TPP back on track for signing in Chile next month, although it will still need National's support.

Shaw appears more ready to genuinely work across the aisle than Labour or New Zealand First.

In his speech this week, James Shaw spoke of a Government that makes "friends of our enemy," shows greater collaboration and resists the urge to succumb to tribalism over inclusion.

The message on tribalism is one that Labour could take on board.

Tribalism appears to be responsible for Ardern this week ditching the Better Public Services programme instigated by National and its evidence-driven approach to social spending, dubbed social investment.

In his own Climate Change portfolio, Shaw has promised to consult widely including with National before introducing legislation for the Climate Change Commission.

National's new spokesman on climate change, Todd Muller, said last year he was open to considering support the commission, but he since curbed his enthusiasm and is seeking greater recognition for his own party's progress in office.

The imminent election of a Green female co-leader – on April 8 under the timetable announced yesterday – will give Shaw some relief from leadership burdens.
But it could also pose problems.

If the co-leader is not a minister, Marama Davidson for example, she may be more inclined to criticise Labour and New Zealand First with greater alacrity than if the co-leader is a minister, Eugenie Sage or Julie Anne Genter.

Either way, Shaw is facing challenges within his party and within the complicated structure of Government.

But they are challenges his party waited 21 long years in Opposition to face.