Week in Review

Resignations, allegations swirl within Sustainable NZ

A new, "true green" party hoping to break into Parliament at this year's election has been hit by resignations and allegations of questionable conduct, Newsroom's political editor Sam Sachdeva reports

Fledgling political party Sustainable New Zealand has been rocked by a flurry of resignations and allegations of questionable behaviour by its leader, Newsroom can reveal.

One of the departees, former party secretary and board chair Helen Cartwright, has criticised the party’s lack of profile, policy and money, likening the nascent organisation to “a fast fail”.

Sustainable New Zealand launched in November last year, with founder and leader Vernon Tava pledging to lead a “full-time environment party” which could partner either National or Labour.

However, the party has struggled to find any traction since then, and has failed to register in any public polling to date. 

With the September 19 election fast approaching, Tava and the party are now contending with a number of resignations by party officials since the new year.

In a February 15 letter announcing her resignation with immediate effect, a copy of which has been obtained by Newsroom, Cartwright said her position within the party had become untenable.

“My voice as party secretary and board chair is vastly ignored by my fellow board members.”

'No policy, no profile, no money'

In the letter, Cartwright outlined key problems facing the party, which she did not believe could be resolved “in a way that makes us fit for Parliament, nor a suitable collation [sic] partner for the left or the right.

“This is the truth of our current position: We have no policy. We have no profile. We have no money. We operate with no regard or reference to our constitution and rules ... We do not have a bona fide party leader nor a legitimate board.”

Cartwright said she had “poured in thousands of hours and thousands of dollars” working for the party, but felt she had no choice but to leave her roles.

“I am a lifelong entrepreneur and the skill of staying alive in my profession is to be able to see an opportunity and commercialise it, but this must be combined with the ability to spot a fast fail and exit it.”

The party’s treasurer Alethea Baldwin also resigned her position in January, citing difficulties in fulfilling her obligations regarding scrutiny of party expenses.

“As Vernon still has control of the bank account, I cannot faithfully reconcile many items of expenditure, without supporting paperwork. He has advised me that he has all that is required and that I need not worry too much about it,” Baldwin said in a formal notice of resignation seen by Newsroom.

Sustainable New Zealand’s national volunteer coordinator and youth wing leader have also left the party in recent weeks.

Newsroom understands one area of concern from some within the party was whether it had fallen short of a legal requirement to have 500 financial members before registering with the Electoral Commission - and whether it had been suggested the matter should not be proactively raised.

Sustainable New Zealand did ultimately discuss the issue with the Electoral Commission, and received an assurance that it was compliant with the law.

Ironically, it has been suggested that Tava himself is technically not a member, having failed to pay his joining fee within three months as required under the party’s constitution - which in turn would make him ineligible to be leader.

Baldwin declined to comment when contacted by Newsroom, while Cartwright said only that her resignation was due to concerns about the party’s operation.

Tava responds

Tava downplayed the significance of the resignations when speaking to Newsroom, suggesting they were a normal part of life in a political party.

“In a brand new party, you have to take people as they come and people are, based on initial promise, given positions and some of them obviously are going to be significant and high-trust positions, and it doesn’t always work out. 

“You are under a lot of pressure establishing a party, particularly coming into election year, and there are complex interpersonal dynamics - you need to have a really high-functioning team of people who are all rowing in the same direction.”

Tava said Sustainable New Zealand was and always had been compliant with electoral law, but would not comment on whether that compliance had been debated within the party as it was an “internal” matter.

“When these things are raised, you have a discussion and people talk through, ‘Well what are the various approaches we can take?’. Ultimately all the actions that were taken by the responsible people were the correct actions.”

He also denied the allegations of improper processes regarding expenses, saying the party used online accounting software which was visible to a number of people.

“These are all internal matters, but yes of course any expenditure can be supported with an accompanying receipt.”

“People will be hearing a lot more from us soon, and I’m sure that recognition will increase because as far as the interest in the idea and the popularity of that, I’m confident that’s there.”

Asked whether he had fully complied with the party’s membership requirements, Tava said: “That’s certainly my understanding, yeah.”

He was critical of Cartwright’s letter, saying he rejected its contents.

“This is coming from someone who was in charge of the board, this is not a bystander who is watching this happen. How, when you’re in that position, can you suddenly go ‘Here’s this long set of issues and I’m out’?

“The reality was, I’m afraid, rather more mundane, which is that there was an inability to continue working together.”

Tava said he was not concerned about Sustainable New Zealand’s failure to register in the polls, and was confident that would change as the party’s candidates engaged more with the public.

“People will be hearing a lot more from us soon, and I’m sure that recognition will increase because as far as the interest in the idea and the popularity of that, I’m confident that’s there.”

The party’s candidate selection process was currently open, with Tava hoping to field 15 to 20 candidates around the country.

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