New Zealand’s Labour and Green parties have met for the third time to discuss what role the latter might play in the new government expected to be formed by Jacinda Ardern within days.
With Labour holding all the cards after its landslide victory earlier this month, a formal coalition government is seen as extremely unlikely after the latest talks on Tuesday.
However, even though Ardern claimed 64 of parliament’s 120 seats, the only outright majority since 1996 when New Zealand’s proportional representation system was introduced, there are still good political reasons for her to involve the Green party.
For its part, the Green party has reason to tread carefully where any role in the new administration is concerned. Unlike other parties that are purely political machines, the Green party is both a social movement and a political party. Its support ranges from activists to those who back the more pragmatic politics of co-leader James Shaw, who was climate minister in Arden’s first government.
Some in the party prefer for it to be outside government to preserve its ability to criticise. “Change can be made and it’s important that the Greens be an independent and critical voice working cooperatively, and challenging from outside the cabinet,” said the former Green MP Keith Lock on Tuesday.
Ardern, who has said she is aiming for any agreement to be reached by the end of the week, has already ruled out any discussions about the wealth tax backed by the Greens.
Coalition governments are rare in New Zealand and no one expects one this time around. That said, the previous government was, by necessity, a Labour/New Zealand First coalition. The Green party also gave support via a confidence and supply agreement for which it gained three ministerial posts and a parliamentary under-secretary. But Ardern has appeared to pour cold water on a repeat for the Greens.
If they do come to an agreement, Labour’s position of strength means it can be more selective about what it consults the smaller party about, said the Auckland University politics professor Jennifer Curtin. It could be the environment in general, or specifically climate change – areas of commonality – but almost certainly would not include the budget, which sets the country’s financial course, Curtin said.
“What we are seeing now is new terminology. The talk is of a consultation agreement, so there is no precedent.
“But I do think Labour will be thinking about including the Greens in some form, maybe as associate members outside of cabinet.”
Though not being in the inner circle would deny the Green party information, it has the advantage of freeing it from the secrecy rules that come with being in cabinet. It also might save it the harsh penalties that small governing parties face at subsequent elections, said Curtin, a price paid by New Zealand First which was voted out of parliament two weeks ago.
The juggling act for the Green party, which campaigned on climate action, protecting nature and ending inequality, is to find a path that shows it is ready to govern but does not burn off the activist part of its base.
Though not easy, it is doable, said former Labour party chairman Mike Williams, who managed its campaign through four elections. The Green party’s cabinet ministers were effective in the last government, Williams said. “James Shaw did an extremely good job as climate change minister. He signed the Tories [the centre-right National party] up on one aspect!”
While Ardern will get pushback from her large number of MPs if too many jobs are given to the Greens, Williams said, the party will also be mindful they need to keep the Greens sweet.
“The only other time Labour got the vote it did two weeks ago was in 1938. It would be wise to anticipate that 2023 won’t be a Labour landslide and to stay friendly with what is their long-term support party who at some point they will need.”