Rod Oram looks at how the Greens could play two important roles in a two-party government: more innovative ideas than Labour has offered, and strong ministerial talent

Can a centrist party lead a progressive government? Not usually. The bulk of its supporters are not up for big change.

But this election is different. New Zealand’s effective response to the Covid-19 pandemic shows we are willing to innovate and adapt to cope with these very disruptive times; and it shows Jacinda Ardern effectively communicates to many people why and how we can change for the better.

Still, as Labour’s leader and Prime Minister, her deeply grounded belief in bringing people along on sustained but incremental gains would not make her government a progressive one if it governed alone.

Thus, the Greens will play two important roles in a two-party government. They will bring some more innovative ideas than Labour has offered; and strong ministerial talent that can deliver results on them. Most particularly James Shaw, co-leader, on climate and, hopefully, energy too; but also, for example, Marama Davidson, Eugenie Sage and Julie Anne Genter. If Chlöe Swarbrick wins Auckland Central, her good work on policy in her first term justifies giving her a junior portfolio in one of her areas of focus.

In the coming negotiations to form the next government, Labour will find a fair few proposals in the Greens’ manifesto it could support. If it got behind them, they would lift the new government into progressive territory.

The Greens top six policy priorities are: Future of Transport; Farming for the Future; Progressive Tax Reform; Homes for All; Clean Energy Plan; and Thriving Oceans. Examples of proposals that Labour could endorse include:

– In transport, introducing a target date to end sales of fossil fuel light vehicles, subsidies to accelerate the shift to lower emissions in freight transport, more subsidies for public transport and a greater emphasis on investing in walking and cycling.

– In farming, more funding to accelerate the shift to regenerative agriculture, and new rules to encourage a shift away from pine monocultures, and to ensure our most productive land is kept for food production.

– In housing, overhauling the building code to improve energy efficiency, expanding the Warmer Kiwi Homes insulation and heating programme, and to change the rules to encourage more diversified supply, through, for example, community organisations creating a non-profit rental market.

– In progressive tax reform, the core issue of a tax on capital gains or wealth tax is absolutely off the table, Labour leader Jacinda Ardern has decreed. However, the working groups on tax and welfare which reported back in the previous term made plenty of recommendations which would represent progress if the new government acted on them.

Many of these initiatives will cost money. Yet, this is a time when there are far more, enormous and justified demands for funding to help society and the economy to cope with the pandemic and rebuild from it.

However, there will be enough money for those progressive initiatives if the new government shifts its Covid recovery investments. Far too much money in the past term went into predictable, shovel-ready projects which played to the past not the future.

The outgoing government said it was investing in “double-duty” projects that, for example, created jobs now but also delivered new environmental, technological, social or other benefits. The projects in that category, however, looked like random or opportunistic choices without any discernible framework or criteria behind them.

Labour can also help deliver a more progressive programme by developing its relationship with business. Finance Minister Grant Robertson is highly respected by business for his management of economic policy through the pandemic and the incipient recovery; and the government engaged well last term with the Primary Sector Council on its Fit For a Better Future strategy.

But every sector in the economy has massive work to do on its long-term strategies to respond to a world changing at bewildering speed. The government has to be a very engaged partner in that work, while remaining very responsive to their short-term needs.

In our small, closely knit country, many businesses are more deeply engaged with their staff, stakeholders and communities than those in big, fractured countries. They are natural and essential partners in progress.

There is, though, an even bigger transformation that this new government could achieve. The economic, social, environmental and cultural gains from a progressive programme well-delivered will benefit people across society.

Hopefully, they will want more. Thus, National will move with them with insightful new policies that play to our new national strengths, rather than retreating to its old dogmas. Then we will have constructive political competition which drives us forward.

Rod Oram is a weekly columnist who covers climate, economics and politics.

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