Time for Greens to play their game

Strip it all back and the Greens are fighting two things. Not Winston Peters and his immigration racism. Not Act on the rights of the poor to procreate. Not Labour.

The Greens are this weekend focusing down on two big, signature, defining issues - climate change and poverty.

Their election year conference is held in the shadow of a political spat with putative coalition partner New Zealand First and an alarming polling performance by their main dance partner, Labour.

What the Green leadership seems to have concluded though, after a carefully choreographed warning about Peters, is they cannot be their brother or sister's keeper.

They need to emulate the All Blacks and play their own game, focus on their own systems and processes and let the result fall where it does.

So this conference has few sessions open to the media for public assessment of the Greens' agenda or readiness or strategy. Just two main segments over two days: co-leader James Shaw on Saturday on climate change and co-leader Metiria Turei Sunday on poverty - with a little bit around the edges open to the media on aspects of the campaign.

But it is probably wise. The Greens' target market and New Zealand First's surely don't intersect much; and if they do they would intersect least on climate change and issues of inequality, welfare and poverty.

Shaw announced to about 210 people in his keynote address the Greens would require a left government to find an initial $10m to start a Green Infrastructure Fund, which would have a $100m line of credit over three years and ultimately involve $400m of public funding to 2022.

It would be funded from raising oil royalties from the 46 percent now levied by New Zealand to 70 percent, the global average, a move the Greens expect to raise $100m a year for diversion into  new clean projects. 

The fund would rely on private sector investors, including iwi, to deliver billions of dollars for new renewable energy plants, solar panel installations, energy efficiency retrofits and big biofuel developments.

While it would be government owned it would be operated at arm's length - what the Greens describe as "an independent and expert facilitator of private sector capital to build new low carbon, climate resilient infrastructure." Overseas examples had seen private investors raise up to $10 for every $1 of government contribution.

But the small print of the Greens' announcement bases their calculations on a 1:3 public to private 'leverage rate' - meaning for investments to reach the target total of $1.2 billion by 2022, the state would have to commit $400m.

Shaw's fund was part of a speech in which he committed a governing Green Party to taking New Zealand to a carbon-neutral economy by 2050 - 33 years from now.

"The Green Infrastructure Fund wil be the Kiwibank of the clean economy, kick-starting our transition to a carbon neutral economy. New Zealand needs to jump on board the global response to climate change and get a piece of the economic action, instead of letting it pass us by."

Later, he added: "The Green Party is putting climate change front and centre because if we don't we will face the costs of moving towns and cities to higher grounds and dealing with displaced peoples from the Pacific."

Documents explaining the fund say: "Clean  technologies generate social and environmental benefits that are not always captured directly by the investors, and therefore government has a role making them happen."  

Examples of the fund's target investments include wind and solar power projects, smart LED street lighting, innovations in waste, and sustainable agriculture projects 'like on-farm energy solutions". It would focus on projects in their later stages of development.

The fund would have to be a success commercially, achieving a target rate of return "well above the government's 10-year bond rate of four percent," the papers say. "We believe it is vital for the fund to be seen making good returns to ensure an enduring shift of private sector capital into the cleantech economy."

Asked how a company like Fonterra might use the fund, Shaw said it needed better supply of biofuels like wood chips to power its drying units and improvements in supply could be a fund project.

He thought the New Zealand Superannuation Fund could be asked by a government involving the Greens to "participate in this"

Shaw said the impact of climate change was on the environment and society, but the cause was economic. That was why a business- focused approach was needed.

His speech won most applause when he said: "Under National, New Zealand is not only not a fast follower [on climate change], we're not following at all. But I believe we ought to lead" - and when he defended spending money to find solutions to climate issues. "Reckless is to change the chemical composition of the atmosphere and condemn entire nation states to extinction. That's reckless. That's criminal."

Getting back to climate change must have been a relief for the party faithful. The week's attacks on Peters for his immigration policy racism had been carefully calculated but diverting. Turei revealed on The Nation on TV3 the party had thought about what she would say on the matter over a fortnight, and had alerted the Labour Party to its intent in the week before she made the criticism. In the same interview, however, she said she "would certainly work in a government with Winston Peters."

It was all necessary theatre. She labelled as 'a great analogy' a comment on Twitter by @Jock_NZ after that TV interview which said: "Was Winston v @Metiria mudslinging just for cameras #nationnz? Are they like brother and sister who argue but pull together when pushed?'

On day two of the conference, Turei is expected to bring out the second leg of the Greens' own issues double: a package against poverty.

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