The Green Party haven't started off 2018 very well. Between selling out their principles to back the controversial Electoral Integrity Amendment Bill and failing to get any reciprocal backing from their partners in Government for Chlöe Swarbrick's medicinal cannabis Members' Bill, they ended up with the worst of both worlds from Parliament's opening week of the year.
What that points to is that the while the Green Party is good at activism and campaigning, they're still behind the eight-ball when it comes to the nitty-gritty of politics itself. Given the Greens support for the Electoral Integrity Amendment Bill isn't a condition of their confidence and supply agreement with Labour, the Green Party missed an obvious opportunity to salvage a defensible position.
The backlash the Greens experienced from former MPs, members, the media, and commentators, could have been somewhat mitigated had they made their support to Select Committee for the Electoral Integrity Amendment Bill dependent on Labour and New Zealand First returning the favour to vote Chlöe Swarbrick's bill through its first reading too.
Herein lies the big problem for the Green Party in 2018 (and for the rest of the term too for that matter). As the year goes on they're going to into difficult positions over and over again by the Labour/New Zealand First coalition. If they keep emerging from these situations looking more like a doormat rather than a partner in Government, then their members will begin to get restless, which will flow onto their MPs too.
That brings me to the Green Party's co-leader vote. As at the time of writing only Marama Davidson is in the running for the position, having stolen a march on any potential opponents with a cheeky Facebook event promoting an upcoming announcement which took place on Sunday.
The media have talked up Eugenie Sage and Julie Anne Genter as possible options, though if they're thinking of running they're keeping clear of Davidson's announcement. Jan Logie has been largely discounted by media, with Chlöe Swarbrick and Golriz Ghahraman not figuring in calculations due to being first term MPs.
On the latter two, I'm not sure Chlöe Swarbrick should be discounted due to being a first term MP. James Shaw was only a few months into his first term when he ran for the co-leadership. Like Swarbrick's Auckland mayoralty campaign, Shaw impressed with his ability to turn out supporters in Auckland, and that success (combined with his business background) helped propel him past the far more politically experienced Kevin Hague.
Swarbrick is a politician who I think has a rare x-factor. She earned immense respect for her 2016 mayoralty campaign where, despite struggling to get media cut-through, managed to show up significantly better funded opponents. She has a formidable work ethic, is a fantastic public speaker and communicator across social media, has a great understanding of policy and argues her position compellingly, and her position to motivate and turnout the youth vote could be instrumental for the Green Party in 2018.
Some may argue that Swarbrick's youth and perceived inexperience would count against her, but I'd think that's nonsense. Neither of those factors seem to have stopped her rise so far, and in an age where there's a sense people are getting frustrated with politics as it was, Swarbrick represents what it could be instead.
That's not to dismiss the strong cases for Davidson, Sage, or Genter, I just thought there was a strong case to be made for Swarbrick putting her hat in the ring.
All that being said, Davidson is clearly the front runner. Viewed by many to be the natural successor to Metiria Turei, Davidson is similarly strong on the same social justice issues that Turei was a champion of. I remember my wife, during the Spinoff's election debate, being hugely impressed with the two Marama's - Fox and Davidson. Renee loved Fox's energetic, no-bullshit, but have fun at the same time, style, but she also found Davidson's more softly spoken but deeply passionate style resonated with her too.
While Davidson has less Parliamentary experience than her two expected opponents (Sage and Genter), her long career at the Human Rights Commission, as well as involvement with the Glenn Inquiry into Domestic Violence and Child Abuse, gives her a solid base of experience on important issues that the Greens existing co-leader James Shaw isn't as strong on. Davidson's extensive connections with, and ability to mobilise the Greens activist supporters will also help her bid too.
In many ways, the Green Party co-leadership campaign - if there is one as it's entirely possible that only Davidson puts her name forward and then presumably she'd be subject to a confirmation vote by the Greens' branch delegates - also points to that same issue I addressed earlier. Throughout this year, and this term, there will be a constant tension in the Green Party between the need to compromise and accommodate the more moderate Labour Party and the more conservative Winston Peters, and the feeling in the membership that more needs to be done, especially in the areas of climate change, conservation, and inequality.
If Davidson takes out the co-leadership and remains without a ministerial portfolio (as is widely expected) then she'll become the focal point of those tensions. Members and activists who get frustrated with compromises, or the pace of change, will put pressure on her to take a stand and drive a harder bargain for the Greens support on future issues.
There is good news for the Green Party this year though. With the Climate Change Commission likely to kick off this year, and the Green Investment Fund to be set up too, some of that pressure will be mitigated by getting tangible runs on the board.
The problem is, as it always is in politics, is that once you've knocked off one achievement, your supporters always ask the question, "What's next?"
Cabinet Minister Clare current looks to have fallen foul of the Cabinet Manual for the second time this month, with a tweet that appears to simultaneously question the Police's decision not to prosecute as well as imply that they were somehow involved in a conspiracy.
Section 4.14 of the Cabinet Manual is a hugely important one, in that it prohibits Ministers from commenting on, or involving themselves in Police investigations or the decision on whether or not to prosecute someone. As far as I'm aware, that prohibition extends to decisions that have been made, as it's entirely possible for Police to reopen an investigation, or revisit a decision to prosecute and as such, any comment made by a Minister on a previous decision, could be seen as an act of political interference in an operational matter for the police.
Regardless of whatever your personal viewpoint on whether Todd Barclay should have been charged or not, one of the most fundamental rules of government in New Zealand is that politicians do not seek to influence or interfere with the operational work of Police. As an example of that, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern followed the Cabinet Manual correctly when asked about the decision of Police not to prosecute anyone over the collapse of the CTV building in the 22 February 2011 Christchurch earthquake.
Despite emotions running very high, and many people, including the families of those who died in the tragedy, being angered by that decision, Ardern correctly said that she couldn't comment on the prosecution decision due to it being an operational matter.
As former Beehive advisor Hamish Price tweeted last night, the Cabinet Manual acts as a check on the formidable powers of Ministers and government to not unduly influence the operations of the Police. Commenting, critiquing, and insinuating as Curran has done risks turning the police from non-partisan arbiters of the law, to enforces of political whims. Doubly so in this case given that the subject of the Police decision is a former politician from the opposite side of the House to Curran.
Combined with her previous minor breach of the Cabinet Manual, as well as a generally incompetent performance in the House fronting up about her portfolios in Question Time, which has seen her not once, but twice, hidden away from scrutiny from the opposition, Clare Curran's time in the Ardern Ministry appears to be on its final countdown.
It will be telling to see how Jacinda Ardern responds to this, and whether she's able to match all her rhetoric of integrity and doing things differently by sacking Curran, or whether she'll gamble that this breach gets swept under the holiday carpet.
As an interesting post-script, Green Party Minister Julie Anne Genter also briefly seemed to run foul of the Cabinet Manual too, as she tweeted her criticism of Police for raiding, and destroying $16,000 worth of hemp (for which the Police were apologising for). Unlike Curran, Genter appears to have realised her mistake very quickly, and deleted the tweet within a minute.
If Julie Anne Genter has any responsibility for the transport portfolio in the new Labour-led Government I hope she doesn't try and mislead people with statistics like she did back in May regarding the MacKays to Peka Peka Expressway.
You see, back in May I spotted an article claiming that the MacKays to Peka Peka Expressway (known locally as the Kāpiti Expressway) had slowed the commute into Wellington by 10 minutes. Something smelt fishy to me about that claim. At the time I'd been driving that commute at least a couple of times a week from Paraparaumu (other days I'd take the train) and that claim simply didn't equate with my anecdotal experience.
Sure, there was a slightly increased queue at MacKays crossing as traffic merged, and the queue started earlier in the morning, but overall my commute to and from town was quicker, largely because the perpetual merge northbound in the evenings at Raumati South, traffic lights and another merge at Paraparaumu, and the Otaihanga roundabout had all been bypassed.
Julie Anne Genter had sourced her information in written questions to then Transport Minister Simon Bridges. You can read them here and here. What's notable about her questions is that she only asked about Paekakariki, which is south of the Kāpiti Expressway, so was never going to directly benefit from its construction. Everyone on the Kāpiti Coast knows this. Paekakariki has terrible access on and off the current State Highway 1, it's a notoriously dangerous intersection, and the more steady flow of cars caused by no traffic lights breaking up the flow in Waikanae and Paraparaumu would make things more difficult for that community.
However everyone on the Coast also knows that Transmission Gully, when it's finished, will completely remove traffic issues for Paekakariki, as State Highway 1 will turn southbound north of the town, restoring its peace and quiet, and enabling locals to more easily commute.
Julie Anne Genter had gone for as misleading a measure of the impact of the Kāpiti Expressway as she could. For a party that's tried to pride itself on its honesty, and integrity, it was hugely disappointing.
So I sent an OIA into NZTA to find out what the actual data said about the communities who did benefit from the Kāpiti Expressway. And while it's only indicative at this stage, as the TomTom and BlipTrack data aren't completely comparable, it still suggests quite a different story to what Julie Anne Genter claimed. Data from 24 February to 28 April showed net savings across the board, ranging from just a minute saved in Paraparaumu, to a total saving of 15 minutes if you were driving in from Ōtaki.
So while there had been a 10 minute increase in the morning from Paekakariki, it was largely offset by gains from the Kāpiti Expressway north of Paekakariki. Only from Paraparaumu (and presumably south of that in Raumati and Raumati South) were morning commute times slightly increased. Where the big benefit came though was in the evening rush hour, where bypassing the choke points at Raumati South, Paraparaumu, and Otaihanga, delivered big savings for commuters.
And that's the average saving too. I imagine that if you looked at data on Fridays in particular, especially in the evening, it would be much more significant, especially as those commuters on a Friday often include people from Wellington who are heading north for the weekend.
As of this morning I've sent another OIA to NZTA to hopefully get the August and September figures using the TomTom data so that it can be directly compared to TomTom's August and September data from previous years too, and I can see if the savings hold up comparing exactly like for like data. Likewise I'll hopefully check back in May next year to see how the commuter chaos season played out on the road too.
It's hugely disappointing to see someone like Julie Anne Genter pull off a stunt like this. She's generally respected for her work in the transport space, and is from a party that prides itself on its honesty and integrity.
Yet in this case she appears to have misled the Kāpiti and Wellington communities by misusing statistical data to claim the Kāpiti Expressway was increasing commuter times when it seems that for the most part, those communities who were meant to benefit from the Kāpiti Expressway are getting those benefits.
Let's hope that if she is involved with the transport portfolio in the new government that we don't see a repeat of this.
The Kāpiti Coast, at least up to Waikanae, has pretty decent public transport into Wellington. Yet our roading network had been largely ignored for nearly two decades bar MacKays Crossing and the Otaihanga roundabout.
With ongoing rapid population growth, about a third of the district commuting into Wellington daily, and recent natural disasters highlighting the vulnerability of existing rail and road links between Kāpiti and Wellington, the reality is that projects like Transmission Gully, the Kāpiti Expressway, the Peka Peka to Ōtaki Expressway, securing funding for the Capital Connection rail link between Palmerston North and Wellington, and the possible extension of the rail commuter network to Ōtaki, are all needed to help cater for that growth and create the resilience needed for the lower North Island's integrated transport network