Green Party Co-leaders Metiria Turei and Russel Norman by Radio Live
Owing to a longstanding conviction that true political power rests in corporate boardrooms, prior to coming to New Zealand I viewed electoral politics as a waste of time. For the best part of 30 years, I have devoted my limited leisure time to direct action (public education events, rallies, protest marches, etc). Ten years ago, it would have been unthinkable to put my personal life on hold for six months for an electoral campaign. Yet that's exactly what I've done this year, as a volunteer fundraiser for the New Zealand Green Party and campaign manager for the Greens' New Plymouth candidate.
The outcome of our November 26 elections was extremely gratifying, with the Greens receiving an unprecedented 10.6% of the party vote. The success of the referendum to preserve MMP (New Zealand's system of proportional representation) was also a major coup. Under MMP, 10.6% of the party vote will translate into thirteen Green MPs (Members of Parliament). Six of the new MPs will be women. This is largely down to the scores of gray-haired women (like me) who are the mainstay of the Green Party in the rural provinces, which account for half of this country's population. At a 2009 meeting of the women's caucus, we decided it was time to transform the thousands of phone calls and cups of tea we make every year into a strong female presence in Parliament. We did this by identifying, supporting and promoting strong women candidates -- and via strategic voting on the list (which all party members vote on) that determines the order in which new MPs will be admitted to Parliament.
Parliamentary Presence=Media Access
I have no illusions that the presence of thirteen (possibly fourteen when the overseas votes are counted December 10th) Green MPs in Parliament will end corporate rule in New Zealand. As a minority party in opposition, the Greens will have no power to enact legislation or policies. Yet it's impossible to deny that having MPs in Parliament gives the Green Party a presence in the media they would never enjoy as a community group meeting in members' living room. Over the past nine years they have used this media presence extremely effectively to mainstream formerly fringe issues, such as climate change, Peak Oil, food security and ecosystem protection.
The coverage of Parliamentary business is never as good as it should be in a well-functioning democracy. New Zealand's two pro-corporate parties (National and Labour) still drown out the Greens and other minor parties, no matter how powerful or urgent our message is. That being said, coverage of legislative issues is still far better here than in the US. Political controversy is still news in New Zealand. I suspect this relates to the absence of a robust infotainment industry, which is so effective in distracting Americans from the important job all citizens should play in a democracy -- namely holding elected officials to account. New Zealand has no homegrown movie or TV stars to speak of, and efforts to glamorize rugby stars and Wills and Kate to the level of Brittany Spears, Jennifer Aniston and Brad Pitt have been pretty pathetic.
Over the last nine years, with the help of Greenpeace New Zealand, which is far more militant than the US organization, and a strong sustainability movement, the New Zealand Green Party has used their limited media presence to mobilize public support around a range of environment-related issues. In the last three years, the total disarray of the official Labour party has established us as the experts in a number of areas. This means that reporters ring the Green Party first, instead of Labour, for an expert response regarding river contamination from farm run-off (i.e. cow manure), the Pike River disaster (which killed 28 coal miners), the Rena oil spill and, increasingly, child poverty and the increasingly lucrative Green technology industry.
I have every reason to believe that 2012 will usher in a similar synergy between the Greens and Occupy New Zealand and other non-partisan groups committed to reforming New Zealand's economy and banking system. Although the New Zealand Green Party has produced a substantial body of visionary, people-focused economic policy over the years, up till now, the national media has totally refused to cover our perspective on any issues other than environmental ones.
One of our main objectives in the recent election campaign was to blast our way out of this box by conducting a sophisticated campaign that forced reporters to acknowledge our equally visionary social justice and economic policy. We did this by limiting our platform to three simple planks that, according to market research, resonated most strongly with potential Green voters. We promised to clean up New Zealand rivers, bring 100,000 children out of poverty and create 100,000 green jobs by subsidizing the development of renewable energy technology.
Establishing our economic credentials seems especially important, given recent IMF and OECD warnings that the global economy is again on the brink of meltdown. The unwillingness of US and European politicians to take a hard line with international banks makes collapse look inevitable at this point. When it occurs, it will be essential to have players at the table who are committed to solutions that benefit people, rather than business interests. With well-thought out, consensus-driven policies around ways government can support local food production, recycling, sustainable transport and renewable and sustainable energy production, the New Zealand Green Party is in an ideal position to fill this role.