The Green conundrum: Sit with the power brokers or hustle from the sidelines?

Opinion: The conundrum facing the Green Party right now is one of the great quandaries of MMP. Is it better to be at the table with the power brokers or hustle hard from the sidelines?

I remember back in 2013 covering a National and Māori Party gambling harm minimisation announcement. It was an issue very close to the heart of Māori Party co-leader Te Ururoa Flavell and his party. What was announced though, was a watered down, gutted, meh of a bill. Nothing like the strong, effective bill that had originally been put forward by the Māori Party. 

I remember watching Te Ururoa’s face during the Government announcement and how uncomfortable it felt listening to him defend the pittance of gains he had secured. It was sad.

This was only a couple of years after Hone Harawira split from the Māori Party after criticising how beholden it was to National. And I’m being very euphemistic here - Harawira’s language at the time was vile and utterly disrespectful of his former colleagues. 

Such is the strength of feeling around the question of whether to sit at the table or not. 

But look back more holistically at the impact the Māori Party had over three terms in governing relationships with National and there are some real wins that almost certainly wouldn’t have happened without them. 

Whānau Ora, the repeal and replacement of the Foreshore and Seabed Act, the early charge on Smokefree 2025, and the pardon of Rua Kēnana. Not to mention funding for papakāinga, te reo Māori and passing Māori land reform, just having a Māori voice considered by Government. Even the bugger all gambling bill was something rather than nothing. 

That said, there was also a lot to like about Hone Harawira’s style of politics before he sold out to Kim Dotcom. He spoke his mind, he wasn’t whipped by anyone or any party and he could speak out openly and honestly about political failings. He achieved good things this way too. Food in Schools, case in point. There was a strength to his independence that was missing from Flavell the day the gambling announcement was made. 

Despite that, I do believe it’s better to be at the table achieving some gains - even compromised gains - than to not achieve anything at all from the cross benches. 

This is what MMP is all about. A more representative parliament, a diversity of voices - outside and inside Government. 

Sure, it’s a bit icky - the whole lap dog to a bigger party thing - and even James Shaw’s too often mentioned frustration yesterday at the pace of Government bureaucracy felt sanctioned by Jacinda Ardern. Ok little Green, you can have that one without compromising our agreement not to criticise your portfolio area. 

Because it is of course in Ardern’s extreme political interest that the Greens don’t fail. She won’t be able to do it in the next election without them. 

And arguably, the bigger lesson out of this whole Green muddle is for Ardern and Labour. Throwing the Greens compromised crumbs might have seemed ok off the back of a landslide majority win for Labour but now with so much hampering the left, it’s time to throw them another bone.