Week in Review

Greens co-leader wants to go ‘further, faster’

It was over to Marama Davidson to launch the political year for the Greens, and she grabbed the chance with both hands, writes Tim Murphy

Marama Davidson entered her first election year as a political leader with strong words and a strong performance delivering the Green Party's State of the Planet speech.

Her speech was equal parts poise and purpose and she avoided potential minefields of intra-government controversy without blinking.

Davidson told around 80 people at a lunchtime Auckland party rally she wanted the party "to go further, faster" - to be re-elected to its place as the "heart" of the Labour-led Government to make sure the initiatives it helped drive in its first term were followed through, and to keep a focus on social inequality, environmental degradation and climate change.

Introduced by her co-leader James Shaw, whose turn it was to play MC and then supportive nodding head at her press conference, as "one of the strongest voices of Maori leadership in our House today", Davidson also confirmed she would stand in the Tāmaki Makaurau Māori electorate at the election on September 19. 

Her speech was as heavy on helping fight inequality and poverty as it was on climate change policy, noting a social media response she had received when she posted about climate. "You know, Marama," it said, "I can't even think about this climate stuff while I'm losing the house I live in because I can't afford the rent increase."

The Green co-leader said: "They raise a valid point. In creating a zero carbon world, we have to make sure people are able to put food on the table and have a roof over their head, otherwise our solutions will irrelevant to their lives."  That line received a healthy round of "Kia Ora" from the crowd.

Davidson marked the party as more than a one-issue, one-cause grouping. 

"My vision for protecting our climate, solving inequality and caring for nature understands that all these issues are connected and dependent on each other and we must address them all holistically.

Marama Davidson and James Shaw. Photo: Tim Murphy

"However we need to be real about the challenges we face. That the situation we are in, and the problems we are trying to solve, have been created and perpetuated deliberately to benefit a few at the expense of the many, and at the cost of our planet. We have to ensure every single person lives a good, full life."

Davidson drove the point home, extending blame well beyond governments of the past generation or two.

"The problems we face now are the consequence of decisions our governments made, not just for the past 30 years but for generations.

"By driving the theft of Māori land, encouraging the exploitation of our Pasifika neighbours, entrenching the inequality of women and the exclusion of people with disabilities, we, politicians, have supported the wealthiest few to get wealthier at everyone else's expense, to build walls of poverty and disenfrachisement and call them opportunities."

She said: "As a country we have sat on our hands as our natural taonga have been driven to the brink of extinction and climate change has accelerated due to an unfounded belief that the very market which benefits from this will fix it. And in the process we have been divided against each other and told to think of ourselves as free-floating individuals, cut loose and competing against one another instead of working together.

MPs Golriz Chahraman and Chloe Swarbrick with Davidson after her speech. Photo: Tim Murphy

"We can choose something different. And we must."

Davidson gave a nod to MP Chloe Swarbrick, sitting in the front row: "I know you like that line, Chloe. I've seen you use it."

She praised all six MPs present, including Shaw, saying working with them was like "something I have to snap myself out of dreaming every day".

It was on social issues that the assembled crowd responded most actively - claps for Davidson's call for "immediately increasing core benefits", and her criticism of "armed roving police in south Auckland". 

She said the Greens had made a start in their two years in government, but needed to:

- spend another three years building structural support around the Zero Carbon Act;

- continue to prioritise the most vulnerable in society;

- massively increase the number of public homes being built;

- fully implement recommendations of the welfare experts' group;

- make companies responsible for where their products ended up; and

- implement the te mana of te wai blueprint for restoring and protecting waterways.

Davidson with youngest daughter Teina and father, Rawiri Paratene. Photo: Tim Murphy

"With your help the Green Party can push further and faster. It's possible. Our work is not done and we cannot stand idle. We've planted a seedling - now we need to help it grow."

Her standing in an electorate could possibly open room for an electoral accommodation with Labour, if the Greens seem in danger of dipping below the 5 percent party vote threshold. Davidson stood in the seat at the last election and was well beaten by Labour's Peeni Henare.

But standing also helps emphasise her place for the Greens as an Auckland-based, urban, Māori advocate for the socially underprivileged in a caucus and a wider party which is at times criticised for presenting a face to New Zealand that is too white and privileged.

"I work to support the call from Māori to have a tangata whenua response to ending homelessness. To ensure water is treated as a taonga, with intrinsic value, rather than a commodity to be sold off to the highest bidder."

Davidson singled out the protectors of Ihumātao - including organiser Pania Newton - for praise. "While others belittle you, your power grows stronger due to the tens of thousands around the country that support you."

Asked after the speech if that was a swipe at New Zealand First governing partner deputy leader Shane Jones, who had publicly belittled Newton, she said her speech had been written before Jones spoke out. She deftly avoided giving Jones or Winston Peters an opportunity to cry foul on the Greens playing party politics by declining to say that Jones should apologise. That was an issue for Newton, who was strong enough to sort that herself.

Instead, she cited the looming Ihumātao deal as a "massive opportunity" to have a hopeful conversation about Te Tiriti justice, citing Green policy that the Treaty "should be honoured not settled."

It was an accomplished and authentic big day out at the start of a big year. Davidson had a nod towards Jacinda Ardern's call for positivism, too. "I have hope, because people are good."

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