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Politics as usual not for Greens

Opinion Piece

The decision by the Greens to give most of their Parliamentary Question Time to National will be seen as a sign the party is determined to maintain its own identity and stick to its principles — and could pose problems in future for the Labour-led Government.

Announcing they were handing over 42 questions this year, party leader James Shaw said they believed in democracy and did not want to be part of the patsy questions, where what in cricket terms would be called full tosses are lobbed up to Cabinet Ministers.

He said the Green Party would also make a submission to the forthcoming Standing Orders Review on changes they wanted to see in Question Time.

The Greens have always been more ideologically motivated than other parties and the Question Time decision fits their philosophy that the Government should be placed under as much serious, genuine scrutiny as possible.

While that is behind the decision, it is hard to believe that it is not also about ensuring the Greens maintain their difference to both the other two parties in government.

The Green Party is already very different from New Zealand First in that they have a supply and confidence agreement with Labour, rather than entering into a full coalition.

Shaw has shown himself to be a practical and competent politician in the way he revived the party’s fortunes during the last election campaign, after the resignation of Metiria Turei over the fallout from her admission of unlawfully claiming a benefit.

He is well aware of what has happened in the past to minor parties that join in a coalition government, of which the most recent example was the elimination of the Maori Party in 2017.

He also warned Labour that barring a huge surge in the polls, they will need the Greens again for the 2020 election — saying Jacinda Ardern needs friends to stay in power, or she could end up on the same bench as National is now.

Like Ardern, Shaw has not taken a false step so far. There is some logic and consistency behind his otherwise puzzling decision on the Question Time handover.