Last Monday, James Shaw, a co-leader of the Green Party, fielded a range of questions from Moana Maniapoto in her weekly TV current affairs programme Te Ao with Moana, on Whakaata Māori.
Their discussion, understandably, was shaped pretty much by the general election looming on October 14. In this parliamentary term, which began in 2020, the Greens have had 10 MPs. There are the co-leaders, Marama Davidson and James Shaw, as well as Chlöe Swarbrick, Julie Anne Genter, Jan Logie, Eugenie Sage, Golriz Ghahraman, Teanau Tuiono, Ricardo Menendez March and Elizabeth Kerekere, until she resigned from the party in May.
Here’s a lightly edited version of their kōrero.
Moana Maniapoto: How are the Greens feeling?
James Shaw: We’re feeling really good. We’re finishing this parliamentary term with more public support than we started with. And, in 2020, we got more support than we did in 2017. So we’ve defied history because we’re the only support party, who, in a term of government, have increased our support. So I think that shows that we’ve kind of got it right.
What does your billboard mean?
“The time is now.” Well, we’re out of time. If, for example, you ask the people in Tāmaki Makaurau who lost their homes to the floods, or the people in Hawke’s Bay who were displaced by Cyclone Gabrielle, whether we should continue to kick the can down the road on climate change action, they would say “no”.
If you ask people who are trying to save our native wildernesses and wildlife from extinction if we should kick the can down the road there — and if you ask people struggling to put food on the table and pay the power bills at the same time, whether we can do this incrementally — they’d say “no”.
So we believe that now is the time to solve those problems. And we have a plan to do that.
We’re in Matangireia, the beautiful Māori Affairs committee room in Parliament Buildings. What’s the Greens position on Te Tiriti?
We uphold Te Tiriti. We put all of our policies through a Tiriti lens before we announce them. If you look at the promise and the potential of Te Tiriti, that would create a better country for all of us.
And I think this is a point that is lost on our opponents in National and Act and New Zealand First. Sharing power and sharing space doesn’t mean you’re losing everything. And the thing that makes me angry is how they’re saying to privileged people that if you share that privilege, then you lose everything. It’s a fear-based narrative and it’s wrong.
How worried are you about this? This election seems to be more polarising than others.
I’d agree. I’m not Māori, but I can understand why Māori would be very worried about what’s going on. It’s not the first time. If you look back to 2005, you had the National Party’s Iwi/Kiwi billboards which were saying that those two were different. They were creating a division between the two. And there was that Orewa speech which Don Brash gave and which led to a huge increase in National support.
You can see that that’s been kind of warmed up again for this election campaign. I desperately hope that the country doesn’t go down that path.
How do the Greens combat that?
Primarily by talking up the alternative. And that’s the view that, if we do embrace Te Tiriti, if we do get rid of some of the injustices, return land to Māori, and lift people out of poverty and ensure that we’ve got an inclusive society, then that’s gonna be good for all of us in so many ways.
As part of its new Tiriti policy, the Greens are pushing for law changes to return land to Māori. Given the volatile environment, how wise is that move in the lead-up to the election?
There are a few components to it. There’s one about ending perpetual leases. They are an outrage — and the vast majority of people in this country don’t even know about them. When we said that we were going to end perpetual leases on Māori land, it came as a shock to many people to learn that they exist. They’re a fundamental injustice and just need to end them.
Then there’s land that was seized under the Public Works Act and should be returned to Māori if it’s no longer needed for that purpose. There’s quite a lot of land like that which is still in Crown hands. So that’s not gonna come at any loss to individuals.
And a third step is about ensuring that the Public Works Act is not used to seize yet more Māori land the way it had been historically. If people want to take issue with any of those issues, that’s up to them. But they’re fundamental injustices that need to be fixed. You could argue that they could be like a red rag to a bull in an election year. But it’s the right thing to do.
Is that good economically as well?
Absolutely. It drives me a bit batty when I hear, over on the right side of politics, that they have a cost-based approach. But, if we focus on lifting people out of poverty, and focus on having an inclusive society that upholds mana, for example, then the impact of that is lower costs and better health and education.
For example, one of the ideas that we’re campaigning for on this election is support for free basic dental services available to every New Zealander — and that you should get an annual checkup, teeth cleaned, fillings and so forth.
The long-term health benefits of that would be significant, especially in limiting heart disease and diabetes among Māori. And it would also mean that our overall health care costs would go down.
So, we’re saying: “Why don’t we look at this as an investment in each other and in our future?”
How are you gonna pay for this?
We’d bring in a wealth tax for people who own more than $2 million worth of assets. And we’d ask them to pay a small portion of that, every year, to provide enough revenue to cover not just free dental but also a substantial increase in income support.
We can have an income guarantee for people that they’ll never fall below $385 a week. This is a political choice. We are one of the only countries in the OECD that doesn’t have a wealth tax or a capital gains tax, or a stamp duty or anything in that kind of category where we’re looking at taxing capital rather than work.
And, at the same time, we’re overtaxing people who work. So, what we’re saying in this election campaign is that we need to restore that balance.
How far do you think we’ve come because there are still people out there who don’t believe that it’s actually a thing. Have the Greens dropped the ball in convincing people?
No. We have not. I think we’re doing really well. If you check on the pollution that New Zealand is putting into the atmosphere, you’ll see that it has come down now, consistently, for three years. And, in the last quarter of 2022, the level of pollution that we put into the atmosphere, it’s the lowest that it has been this century.
That is a huge success because up until we got into government, the levels of pollution had just kept going up and up and up. And the public opinion surveys show that the vast majority of the country are very worried about climate change. If anything, the public want the government to do more.
There is a small, noisy rump of people who’ve cooked up conspiracy stories and have hooked on to a sort of anti-science movement. But it’s a tiny group.
How much traction have you had with farmers? That’s a big rump of people, isn’t it?
Well, yes, and you have a few voices with a high profile, constantly undermining or being skeptical about the need for change. But there are farmers all over the country who are very worried about climate change. And farmers are badly affected every time there’s a severe drought or flooding. If you look at the damage, in the Hawke’s Bay for example, orchards and farms were catastrophically impacted by that cyclone — and that cyclone itself was worse because of climate change.
James, you’ve faced two leadership challenges — and there’s been tension between the activist and the political segments of the party.
We need people to do both. And I can say after two terms in government and a term in opposition before we got into government, that the place to be is in cabinet, at the decision-making table, helping to change laws, helping to direct resources, ensuring that the governmental system is doing the best that it can to resolve the big, long-term challenges.
If there’s a change in government, is there potential for the Green Party to work with the government?
I can’t image a possibility in which, if National and Act and New Zealand first got together to form a majority government, that the Greens could be part of that. Nor would they want to.
What do you say to those who gathered outside Parliament to protest against mandates in a number of issues — and feel they were betrayed by the likes of the Greens?
I think they were betrayed, but not by parliament. They were betrayed by people like Brian Tamaki and other conspiracy theorist leaders and grifters who preyed on their insecurities and their exclusion.
Some time ago, you were physically attacked not far from here. How safe do feel these days?
Well, I don’t walk home at night anymore. But the level of violent language on social media and in other forums that I see directed towards Marama (Davidson) or Golriz (Ghahraman) or other female MPs, and particularly brown female MPs, is several orders of magnitude worse than anything I have ever faced.
There is a misogyny and a racism that’s extremely distressing. As a middle-class white man, I don’t get exposed to anything like what they get exposed to. We need to face that head on. We have to deal with it as a society. It is very, very corrosive.
Given the climate crisis, does that keep you awake at night?
The great thing about my job is that, yes, I see the data about how bad things are and how bad they’re getting. But I also see all the good stories about what’s changing for the better. So I have a great deal of hope about the future.
I don’t see hope as something passive. It’s an active thing. It’s a doing word. So I think that we’re gonna get through this. Not by resting on our laurels though. It’s gonna take a lot of work. It’s gonna take all of us — and everything we’ve got. But there is hope.
No worries. Thank you.
This is a longer, edited version of an interview from the award-winning current affairs programme Te Ao with Moana, which aired on Monday September 4, on Whakaata Māori. We’ll be running more of Moana’s interviews with party leaders in the coming weeks.
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