Press Release – The Nation
Turei says new male co-leader won’t lead to any radical changes in direction for the partyLisa Owen interviews Green Party co-leader Metiria Turei
Turei says new male co-leader won’t lead to any radical changes in direction for the party
Commits to staying on as co-leader for the 2017 general election
A few minutes ago, I spoke to Metiria Turei and asked her, with Norman gone, is this an opportunity for a change in direction?
We are absolutely moving forward with the change of co-leadership this weekend, and we’re really looking forward to having the new guy working alongside me and working with the caucus and with the party and focus, actually, very much on the 2017 election. Russel will stay as an MP, and the caucus priorities will remain – inequality and climate change. The party commitment to working on the ground with communities remains. So although we’ll have a new co-leader, much of our approach to issues will continue the same. It’s the party that makes all our important political decisions too, rather than the leadership or the caucus, so I think that’s important to note.
So steady as she goes is the attitude you’re taking?
We’ll, I think we’ll see who the new guy is and what changes he might want to make to our direction. But we work collaboratively with our caucus and with our party in making these decisions, so you won’t see any radical shifts in direction. But we will be moving forward towards the 2017 election with fresh blood, with new ideas, but we’ll take a little time to work all those through.
Well, you said it depends on what the new guy thinks, so you’re open to a change in direction?
Oh, absolutely. We’re open to what a new co-leader will bring to our caucus and to our party. It’s a very exciting time for us. We don’t change leaders very often, compared to some other parties, and so it’s always good to have someone new, with new ideas about where we should be going and how we should be opening our relationships and the kinds of solutions we should be putting forward to the public.
We’ll talk a little bit about that later – the relationships – but you said this week that you want a running mate who understands that leadership is about forging a new direction, so what did you mean by that?
Both a new direction, because, of course, a new person in this role is going to have new ideas about things they might want to change, but also that leadership is about service – service to our members and service to our voters. So although a person— the new guy is going to have great ideas about things we should be doing, but we also need to be respectful of our membership and what they want to do, because they are the ones that we serve, and our voters and what they want to see us doing. So it’s a relationship that you build, rather than changing direction or making—
Okay, can you afford not to change direction? Can you get 15% of the vote without changing direction?
We have been fantastically successful, and, in fact, Russel and I have been one of the most successful political partnerships now for a number of years. We’ve led the Greens over two elections to over 10% of the party.
Yes, but you’ve also had nine elections where you’re not part of the government at the end of the day.
And we have worked really hard with other parties to try to form this idea of a government in waiting, and we will try to do that again for 2017. But in terms of the work that the Green Party does, putting solutions to the public, making sure that we have good relationships across the political spectrum, Russel and I in particular have done a great deal of work in that, and it’s been successful. The Green Party is very successful. We’re the only party other than National and Labour to achieve other 10% of the party vote in two elections running. So I think the Greens are doing really well.
But you’re still not in government, and isn’t one of the lessons from the last election that you have maxed out your vote on this road?
Not at all.
You’ve said that you’ve raised more money than Labour last election; you had the highest record of membership. You played nice; you didn’t make 15%. If you do the same, won’t you just get the same? That’s it; you’ve maxed it out.
We set an audacious target so that we work really hard to achieve it. And although we didn’t hit the target, we did have more members, more voters and raise more money at the last election than ever before. This is two elections in a row where we’ve hit over the 10% mark. So I think we’re on a trajectory of growth, absolutely. And with the new co-leadership team focused on 2017, I think we will continue to grow. That’s why this time is so exciting for us.
But the evidence doesn’t seem to suggest that you are on a trajectory for growth, because you have about the same result both times, both elections.
So we’ve been in Parliament now for nearly 20 years, and it’s only been in the last two elections that we have achieved over 10% of the vote. I think that shows that we are both stable and here for the long-term as a third political force in New Zealand politics, that we have the capacity to grow significantly more, and that with a new co-leadership team focused on 2017 that we will.
Some people might see that as being stuck in a rut — not moving, same spot.
Moving forward, growing our vote, growing our membership, raising more money, these are all… this is all about momentum, and we have great momentum as a party. The last few months have been focused on ourselves, with our co-leadership, and I think that’s been important. Today we elect a new co-leader, a new co-leadership team, and we will move forward from here. There is only… I think there’s only room for growth for us at this point.
When you talk about moving forward, well, Labour learned some hard lessons at the last election. After bombing at the polls, it started to ditch unpopular policy. So what policies do you think that the Greens need to flick?
I don’t think we need to flick any, and I think what we now need to do with the new co-leadership team is we will look at our priorities, which at the moment are climate change and inequality, and we’ve proven really successful in putting those issues on the political agenda up to this point, and so building on the success that we’ve created so in our momentum towards 2017. And National would not have raised benefits if there had not been a strong political voice from the Greens on child poverty time after time. A persistent strong voice, particularly in the election campaign. We continue—
But the thing is you don’t look like you’re listening to the electorate. You don’t look like you’re listening to the electorate because your vote is stuck around a certain amount. You say you don’t need to flick any policies and you don’t need any major changes in direction. Are you ignoring what the electorate is telling you?
Well, the electorate is— The electorate is telling us that we are successful. More people voted for us at the last election than ever before. We’ve only been in Parliament for less than 20 years, and we are already cemented as the third-largest party. Of all of those parties that were involved in the alliance, we are the only ones still here, and we are growing.
Third-largest party which is on the outside, on the periphery, not making the decision, not in power.
But that’s not true. I mean, when we were… When Labour was in government, we had great success with them, including significant budget successes with them. When— Now that National is in government, we’ve done the same through our MOU. So we’ve gotten our policy through with both Labour and National in different kinds of ways, and we are growing, and we are cementing ourselves in New Zealand politics. The future for the Greens is only success and growth at this stage, and with the new co-leadership team, I think we’ve got infinite possibilities for how we want to extend that growth.
Okay, in your speech, you say that in the past, people have looked and thought… And this is your words. ‘What would a bunch of hippies and treaty activists know about the economy?’ Is that the problem? That people still see you that way, and without Russel, they are going to perceive you like that?
No, you’ve taken that quote totally out of context in the speech—
It’s how you say people used to see you, but I’m suggesting to you that perhaps that’s the way they still see you, and that might be your problem.
No, it’s not. That’s the point – and you will hear more in the speech if you quote more of it – is that actually our ideas on the economy, our capital gains tax, has been taken up by National; we’ve campaigned so hard for child poverty and raising benefits – that’s been taken up by National. Even Labour has taken our policy ideas, as we saw with capital gains tax as well. We are the thought leaders inside the Parliament, and other parties are taking our policy ideas, because they are tired and struggling to find their own. Now, you know, we welcome that. Please, take our ideas. Put them into place. But there is no doubt that the Greens are the ones who are leading on these issues.
OK, well, when it comes to Labour and your relationship with Labour, do you want Labour’s vote to grow or do you want their votes to come to you? What would be the best thing for the Greens?
Well, we always are going to be in competition and cooperation with Labour around votes, and that’s just the way it is. In an election campaign, I want as many votes as possible, and I don’t care where they come from – Labour, National, from other parties. We want to make sure our ideas— we sell our ideas really well to the public and that the public want those ideas put in place, either in government or in a relationship with government.
Yeah, but where do you think those votes will come from? Where is the growth market for you?
We get votes from both Labour and National. Some elections, it’s quite a similar percentage, and some elections it’s different. But we know that we can get votes from across the political spectrum. That’s what our evidence shows us. And we welcome that, because our ideas for combating child poverty and inequality, for protecting the environment, for smart, green economics – these are ideas that cross the political divide.
OK, well, if they cross the political divide, then isn’t the problem with the Greens declaring that they would work only with Labour and not National? I mean, no one really has to fight for your affections. You’ve got no leverage, no power.
No, what we said is that we’d be more likely to form a coalition relationship with Labour than with National but that we could work across the political spectrum, and we have proven that to be the case. The only reason why—
Policy by policy. But on the outside?
Well, we haven’t been in a government relationship – that’s true. And we are looking forward to that. And I expect that in the next co-leader— male co-leader’s term that we will be in a governing relationship at some point. I’m really looking forward to that challenge. I think that’s going to be a fantastic new step up for the Greens. But in the meantime, we have got our policies through, and that’s the most important thing.
But having identified that as your biggest goal—
It’s a great goal.
New Zealand First has been bolstered by the win in the Northland by-election. They’re in the centre, where politics are won and lost. So why would Labour choose you, the Greens, over New Zealand First?
Labour knows that the Greens are the growing political force on the left of centre and that they will not govern without us. So they’re coming to terms with that, I think. I’m not worried about—
They can govern without you.
They can if they choose Winston Peters. And Winston Peters has made it clear that he doesn’t want a bar of the Greens.
No, that’s not true either. You know, that’s an old thing from, like, 10 years ago. I mean, that’s ancient. No, Winston and the Greens, we work quite well together, actually, and we’ve got a lot of common policy.
So are you making nice with Winston Peters? Are you fostering that relationship?
We’ve been managing a relationship with Winston Peters for years now and with Labour and others.
No, but are you actively fostering it now with Winston Peters, a relationship?
We’ve worked together with him on the manufacturing inquiry in the last term. We work really well with a number of the MPs, including Tracey Martin. I talk with Winston. We are very committed—
So can you talk him into a coalition that involves—?
Nobody can talk Winston into anything. Let’s be really clear about that.
You can’t talk him into a coalition with the Greens, then?
The best thing we can do is make sure we have good relationships with Labour and New Zealand First and National, where we can, and other parties and put solutions— our green solutions to the public so that they vote for them so we have the strength in an election to be able to negotiate well. That’s the best— that’s what we need to focus on, and I think that’s what the new co-leadership team will.
All right. Metiria Turei, thanks for joining me this morning. But just before we go, how long are you committed to being a leader in the Greens party?
I will certainly be here for the next election.
All right. Thank you.