There’s a line in a song from American hard rock band Guns N’ Roses that goes: “What we have here is a failure to communicate.”
And this is exactly what has happened with the Greens and their decision to give some of their questions to the Leader of the Opposition.
This is an important distinction; not National, but the Opposition. It is to stop enabling the Government to ask questions of itself and pat its own back while important questions requiring transparency and justification are marginalised.
There are several reactions to explore here. The first and most prominent is the Greens are sidling up to National to keep that door open for future negotiations. Another is that the Greens are being weak, unable to hold their government partners to account.
Frankly I think it is neither. The Greens have always maintained that patsy questions are undemocratic and only provide fuel to the government’s own flame, and that all governments should be held to the highest standard and occasionally doused.
That is democracy in its best form. Forfeiting patsy questions rather than a hint to National on behalf the Green executive, it is about changing the nature of the beast of Parliament and empowering the opposition, whoever that may be.
However, there is some merit in arguing that the Greens should ask those tough questions themselves, or simply refuse to accept patsy questions.
There is precedent before, where the Greens have had a confidence and supply agreement (supporting but not part of a coalition government) and have taken the hammer of accountability to their own partners. Former Green MP Keith Locke explains this very well in a blog post.
It is worth remembering that the Greens have every intention of maintaining the right to their own questions on issues that they are allowed to disagree on.
This is where the Greens are stuck between a rock and a hard place. Because now the Greens have an opportunity to prove themselves in government, with policy wins and ministers gained after the election.
It’s hard to distinguish yourself with chains like that. And with the wild card of Winston thrown in the mix, it is important to temper actions within government. This may cause some back-room irritation, but it’s not going to bring down the government and the pragmatic silence from parties other than National show that this is not a deal-breaker.
The bonus is that it shows independence – something every minor party in a coalition government needs – whether you agree with how they exercise that or not.
It could have been handled better. It could have been done differently.
There was a lot more thorough explanation required than a press release or sound bite could provide. James Shaw did an excellent explanation on Q + A but unfortunately the Sunday morning TV show has a tiny audience.
And the click-bait headlines were too enticing to ignore – it’s also entirely possible this could not have turned out any other way than it has, and that’s a reason to kick themselves later.
But while the selling of the idea may’ve been off-the-mark there is no doubt there are genuinely good intentions and principles behind what this represents; showing a path where we can empower the opposition to hold government to account and provide transparency.
A world where useless questions (the media ignores anyway) can be replaced with questions in the public interest. And where the Greens have a combination of backbone and political acumen can only be good things.