Hiccup in joint attack on Key shows relationship far from stable.

The Green Party demonstrated two things this week: on Tuesday it showed it is working closely with Labour and on Wednesday it showed it will act independently of Labour if need be.

One was more successful than the other but it needs to continue doing both.

The attempts on Tuesday for Labour and the Greens to join forces against John Key did not work well.

They were trounced by one-liners.

Advertisement

The Greens' decision to do a deal with National to get the Red Peak flag on the referendum ballot paper worked, at least for the Greens.

What was more interesting was the tone of Labour's response by MPs on the floor of the House.

The Greens had done the deal with National that Labour had refused and Labour was very, very disappointed in the Greens.

Nothing about the decision was unprincipled, yet Labour's tone was that the Greens should feel guilty, but that Labour would forgive them because the Greens had been motivated by perhaps youthful exuberance and naivety.

The Greens were definitely guilty of making Labour look out-manoeuvred, but that was a consequence, not a motivation.

With Metiria Turei out of the country on a study tour, co-leader James Shaw placed a courtesy call to Labour leader Andrew Little on Wednesday to say the Greens would not be voting for Labour's amendment to change the referendum question.

Little took it professionally and without the guilt-trip some of his MPs have been levelling at the Greens.

Little and his deputy, Annette King, have been deliberately rebuilding the relationship with the Greens since James Shaw replaced Russel Norman as co-leader at Queen's Birthday weekend.

Advertisement

They all want a sound and trusting relationship.

It is being called a formal "reset," which is something that occurs when an important relationship needs a lot of remedial work - like when Obama tried with Russia in 2009.

There was more tension in the relationship last term. Russel Norman was making a big impact in Opposition turning the Greens into a strong opposition party while Labour was introspectively testing and changing leaders.

The Greens were spurned after approaching Labour in April last year seeking to campaign together as an alternative Government and Norman suggested that Labour's election costings needed to be audited.

After neither party emerged well from the 2014 election, one of the first concessions former Labour leader David Cunliffe made was to express his regret at having eschewed that advance.

And it was one of the first pledges Little made to correct that.

He wants the public to be in no doubt as to what an alternative Labour-led Government would look like by the time of the election.

Labour is not going to let New Zealand First's Winston Peters define its relationship with the Greens.

It won't keep its distance in case Peters vetoes a post-election deal that included the Greens.

The Labour and Greens leadership teams, Little and King and Shaw and Turei, have formal meetings or informal dinners every six weeks or so in trust-building measures.

With Shaw having been in the job for only four months and Little for just a year, it is still very new.

It needs to be a lot stronger in two years' time if they are presenting themselves as a compatible alternative Government.

Part of that means minimising the times they make the other look like losers, but Labour has to accept that the Green Party will act in its own interests, not Labour's.

The Greens have had a difficult year. It has been unsettled to say the least.

The first half was spent electing Russel Norman's replacement. And the party, MPs and staff, are finding their feet in new roles.

Russel Norman was all-dominant in the caucus with his political skills and responsibility for finance, economic and climate change.

Shaw can't hope to match him but actually, he isn't trying to.

Finance went to his strongest Auckland-based supporter, Julie Anne Genter. She, Denise Roche and the next list MP, Marama Davidson from South Auckland, will give the party a stronger profile in Auckland.

Shaw himself has economic development and climate change.

The one exception to the unsettled start for the party is the work Shaw and Kennedy Graham have done on the party's climate change policy ahead of the United Nations' COP21 in Paris in December. The party has proposed a target of greenhouse gas emissions 40 per cent below 1990 level by 2030.

It's miles away from the Government's 11 per cent target it will take to Paris but in a major concession, the Greens' policy also contains a five-year lead-in time for agriculture.

It was a concession arising more from the dire financial state much of the dairy sector finds itself in at present but it also showed a willingness on the part of the party to be pragmatic in its bid to get a cross-party consensus on the issue.

Kennedy Graham and Shaw also ran a conference at Parliament yesterday for climate change aficionados, based on a detailed academic paper by Graham, and both will be going to Paris in December.

Labour's Megan Woods was there and participated in a cross-party session as did New Zealand First's Tracey Martin.

Rumour has it that some of National's backbenchers wanted to go but were advised to stay away by their party.

Perhaps National has had as much co-operation with the Greens in a week as it can handle, knowing their true affections lie with Labour.

The events of this week will not seriously threaten the Labour-Green reset, but they did show that some of the old tensions are only skin deep and there is some way to go.