Sunday , September 24 2017
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Q+A: Metiria Turei interviewed by Jessica Mutch

Green Party co-leader Metiria Turei is not ruling out working with New Zealand First if her party is in a position with Labour to form a government after the September 23 election.

Speaking on TVNZ’s Q+A this morning, Ms Turei told Jessica Mutch that although she found leader Winston Peters’ approach to immigration “racist” she conceded she may have to work with him if the party wanted to be in government.

“Our relationship with Winston (Peters) is fine,” she said.

“New Zealand First has not ruled us out like they have done in the past and we have not ruled them out either because actually they may be necessary for the formation of a progressive government.”

However, she ruled out working with the National Party to form a government.

“We are certainly not prepared to prop up a government they (National) want to establish. We will work with Labour and we can work with New Zealand first if we have to for a progressive government.”

The party is launching its election campaign today in Nelson, where local councillor Matt Lawrey is standing against environment minister Nick Smith.

JESSICA The Greens launch their election campaign in Nelson this afternoon, trying to secure their place as the third-biggest party in Parliament. James Shaw was going to be here, but he’s in Nelson, but the beauty of having a co-leader means Metiria Turei joins me now. Thank you very much for being here.

METIRIA Kia ora.

JESSICA I want to start off by asking you — we have seen the new look from the Green Party on the cover of North & South Magazine. How important is it for you to rebrand this election?

METIRIA Change happens over time. We’ve been in parliament 20 years. We are different now than when we started. We have different people. We have a different look. We also need to broaden our reach and make sure that people know that voting green and being part of our moment is available to everybody. And so all of the things we are doing from the North and South cover to standing in Nelson to take that seat – all of these things are our way of reaching out to a much broader New Zealand constituency, because the green values – putting families and the environment first – are New Zealanders’ values.

JESSICA How do you balance that, though? Because you’ve got to look after that core green voter, which stereotypically is tree hugging and Morris dancing and people who like organic food. How do you balance that with the new voters you are trying to attract?

METIRIA Look, they aren’t distinct groups of people. And the people who built our party — you know, Jeanette Fitzsimons and Rod Donald and the first caucus and those who came from the values party built a party that was genuinely democratic and inclusive. And so our job now, standing on their shoulders and continuing their work is to keep broadening our movement, and that means making sure we’re accessible to a whole lot of different people. The values of the party is the same as they have ever been – the environment, democracy and taking care of people. The means by which we communicate that changes over time, because that is just the nature of political change.

JESSICA Is James Shaw changing the image of the party?

METIRIA Well, it’s fascinating, actually, because he is one of the signatories on the constitutional documents that established the Green Party. He’s been involved with the Green Party since he was 17. Now, of course, he is right at the front of the party as one of our co-leaders. And he has brought his international experience and his experience with sustainable business to the fore in the Greens. And that is great, because right now that sustainable business approach and people’s interest in putting the environment at the heart of their business operation is really important to people, so James is in exactly the right place at the right time to talk about our values in that context.

JESSICA Are you having to change your image too?

METIRIA I think, personally, I, you know, have had to be more… That is a funny question. I am finding it difficult.

JESSICA Yeah.

METIRIA To think about myself as a thing.

JESSICA Yeah. But, I mean, you are representing the party. And I do not mean that as a derogatory question.

METIRIA No, no, no.

JESSICA But are you having to change and adapt the things you bring forward perhaps in the media, like, for instance, the cover of the North & South Magazine?

METIRIA Well, I think it is true – and I’ll be talking about this this afternoon – that, you know, I have come from a very radical and alternative background, political background. And I’m very proud of that. And In my time in politics, there has been an attempt by people outside of the party, not within the party, to try to moderate that, for fear that it might have a negative effect on our vote or on our, you know, ability to communicate.

JESSICA That must be pretty tough. How do you feel about that?

METIRIA It is. And I think that sometimes, I have, you know, been more moderate in my approach because of that worry, because I represent the whole organisation. But I also know that voters and our supporters want us to speak truth to power. And what I have brought to the Greens and to the New Zealand Parliament, I think, is someone from that alternative background who is speaking truth to power and will continue to do so. And so that remains a critical part of my leadership and my ability to represent those who do not otherwise have a voice in Parliament.

JESSICA What is your aim for this election? You are disappointed with 11% last election?

METIRIA Well, we were hoping for more, always hoping for more. We do not have a number, but I would like to build our caucus and have many more of our new people on our list. I would very much like to see Matt Lowry, who is 21 on our list, in Parliament, preferably for having won Nelson. But whatever we get in our vote, the most important thing to me is that we have the strongest possible vote.

JESSICA What’s the number, though?

METIRIA Well, we do not have a number.

JESSICA 15% was last time?

METIRIA Yeah, well, it was last time. But the strongest possible vote, so that when we are in government with Labour, we have the most power in that government that we can wield.

JESSICA What are you saying to your supporters, though? What you need to take to the table? Is it 15% or has that changed from last year?

METIRIA Look, we do not have a number. What we are saying to people is if you want a genuinely progressive government, then make sure the Greens are the strongest possible inside that government, because we are the strongest progressive voice. And people will see more of that progressive quality over the next period over the lead up to the campaign. But if we are not strong in that government, then that things that are important to us – taking care of families and putting the environment first – won’t be the priorities for that government, and that is what we need to see.

JESSICA You said when you are in power with Labour.

METIRIA Yeah. Yeah.

JESSICA Do you think that you can trust them? They have left you high and dry after a couple of elections. The memorandum of understanding runs out on Election Day. Why not keep that going and secure your place?

METIRIA Well, the memorandum of understanding was about showing the voters that Labour and the Greens could work together over this last year for the purpose of changing the government. And when we get to that point in September, then we will start the negotiations for a coalition agreement. But it’s really important that people understand we are separate parties with separate priorities. And that is how we will campaign, but the goal is the same.

JESSICA But aren’t you vulnerable after the election?

METIRIA I think any political party is vulnerable to the vote by the New Zealand public. And so what I’m asking the New Zealand public for is that for every single progressive voter to back a progressive government and give their vote to the Greens.

JESSICA But you don’t options, do you? Because are you prepared to work with National?

METIRIA No. We are certainly not prepared to prop up a government that they want to establish. We will work with Labour, and we can work with New Zealand First if we have to for a progressive government. But any government that we support or are part of has to be genuinely progressive. We are not going to accept an inferior deal.

JESSICA What is your relationship like with Winston Peters? You’ve described him before as annoying as hell.

METIRIA Yeah, I think everybody thinks that Winston Peters. Look, our relationship with Winston is fine. He is on a roll at the moment which is I think a very racist approach to immigration, for example. The worst of his rhetoric is coming out.

JESSICA But you’d be prepared to work with him?

METIRIA Well, we may have to. And my plea, I guess, to the New Zealand public is don’t make that necessary.

JESSICA What’s James’ relationship like with Winston Peters? Is yours better?

METIRIA Well, I have known Winston for a long time now — for the 15 years I’ve been there. And so I do know that Winston and James have spoken, and that’s fine. New Zealand First has not ruled us out, like they have done in the past. And we have not ruled them out either. Because actually, they may be necessary for the formation of a progressive government. I think this is just the political reality we have. Either it is going to be National and New Zealand First, which is completely unacceptable, or it may be the Greens and Labour with or without Winston.

JESSICA Shane Jones? Would you work with Shane Jones?

METIRIA Oh. I mean, I don’t think that Shane Jones is going to have a great impact, actually, on the vote for New Zealand First.

JESSICA What was that sigh about, though?

METIRIA I mean, if we have to work with Shane, we will. I mean, we’ve had to cooperate with Labour when he was in Labour as well.

JESSICA But you don’t sound that keen.

METIRIA Well, I don’t think it’s going to make a huge difference, to be honest.

JESSICA I want to talk about Nelson as well, because I find it really interesting, the fact that you’re standing there. Nick Smith has a majority of 7600 votes there. Why not choose an easier seat?

METIRIA Oh, no, it’s absolutely possible to take Nelson. Nick Smith is the architect of New Zealand’s housing crisis, and he is also the one who has allowed the most pollution and destruction of our rivers and waterways.

JESSICA But he’s been there for a long time, and people keep electing him.

METIRIA That’s right, but Matt Lawrey, our candidate there, has also been elected to local council twice, is also really well known and holds to his heart the values of the New Zealand community, which is making sure families have a decent place to live and an environment in which they can be proud.

JESSICA But I just don’t understand why you choose Nelson? Why not choose a closer, more easily achieved seat?

METIRIA Actually, because I think it is achievable. Nick Smith has a terrible reputation amongst New Zealanders for his failure to deal with their housing crisis and his failure to clean up New Zealand rivers. These a two major issues for the New Zealand public, including in Nelson, and I think that with Matt Lawrey – who is a particularly strong candidate there – that he can take it, and we are backing him 100%.

JESSICA You got a donation from an estate in Nelson as well. How much did that play on your decision to run there? $280,000.

METIRIA Yes, but we can’t spend that. So that’s—

JESSICA Tell me about that.

METIRIA The only amount of money that we can spend is the usual amount for any electorate, and we would have been able to raise that anyway, so it had very little to do with the decision. The fact is that Nelson has a very weak minister who has been the cause of two of the major issues, problems that are facing the country, and we have a great, strong candidate who we think can take it.

JESSICA But Labour’s also standing there. Why not do a deal with them? Did they refuse?

METIRIA Well, there was a discussion about that. We decided not to do any particular deals other than in Ohariu.

JESSICA Why?

METIRIA Because, well, that’s just how it worked out, because—

JESSICA Because Labour refused?

METIRIA No, no, no. Oh, not because Labour refused, but that’s just— We decided that we would just leave it on the table for this election, make sure that we had the best chance of keeping Peter Dunne out in Ohariu, and that deal has been done, but all other deals are off the table.

JESSICA It seems a bit unfair, though, that Labour wouldn’t throw you a bone with Nelson.

METIRIA No, no, it was not about that at all. I think the fact is – we had Matt, who was wanting to stand, and he was a great candidate – really strong. He‘s been campaigning there now for quite a while, and Labour does have a good candidate there, but we think that Matt is the man for Nelson and that he can take it.

JESSICA As soon as we’re finished here, you’re heading to Nelson.

METIRIA Yes, I am.

JESSICA We understand you’re making an announcement around water.

METIRIA Yup.

JESSICA Can you tell us any little nuggets about that?

METIRIA No, I can’t.

JESSICA Where are you going with it?

METIRIA No. No, and, I mean, I think the two major issues for water is – those who make a profit out of it for selling it overseas while people are getting sick, because their water has faecal matter in it in New Zealand, and the fact that we have an issue with our rivers from the dairy industry, which I know you’re going to do a story on soon. So those are the two major issues that people are concerned about, and we’ll be addressing those over the election campaign.

JESSICA So we’ll expect to hear an announcement on that this afternoon. One thing I wanted to touch on with you quickly – we’re going to speaking with Annette King and Jacinda Ardern later in the show about women in politics. What’s been your experience in your time?

METIRIA The women in the New Zealand Parliament, I think, work really well together when we get the opportunity, and we saw that when, together, the women from Labour and the Greens stood up against John Key and his use of rape as a political weapon in the House. I think those are the times when people can really see how strong women can be inside the New Zealand Parliament. There’s no doubt that we suffer from the kind of casual sexism that every woman, I think, in any working environment is suffering from, and we need to fight that and name it when we see it, but this is why I’m so proud of the Greens. We have a woman who is number one on the list – that’s myself; we have a list, the top 20 that is predominantly women; we’re the only party with a caucus that is predominantly women and will stay that way, and that’s because we believe women have the right to be at the table in the New Zealand Parliament.

JESSICA We’ll have to leave it there and let you get off to the conference. Thank you very much for your time this morning.

METIRIA Kia ora.

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