The Green Party is embarking on a big conversation about whether its co-leadership model is fit for purpose, writes political editor Jo Moir.
One male and one female co-leader isn’t the norm in green political parties globally.
The concept is one the New Zealand wing has maintained, however, and until more recently it’s done what it was set out to do – namely, boost women into leadership roles.
But with a caucus that has been overwhelmingly female in the past two Parliaments, MP and former Minister for Women, Julie Anne Genter, points out the model is now almost “limiting’’ women in leadership with a requirement that one be male.
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Genter, who ran unsuccessfully for co-leader in 2018, thinks the model as it stands has served the party well, but accepts there are those who are looking for change.
Auckland Central MP Chlöe Swarbrick sees value in change but she hasn’t made her own mind up about what that might look like.
“It could be a Te Tiriti-based model, or non-binary or trans, there’s so many options and some people are driving certain elements of that conversation,’’ she told Newsroom.
“We’ve always managed to surprise the general public, and ourselves sometimes, with the pace of change that comes out of our AGMs.’’
She doesn’t rule out that change taking place this term – neither do current co-leaders James Shaw and Marama Davidson.
Shaw says while there might have been an appetite for a discussion about the model last parliamentary term (when Davidson was elected co-leader) it had to be parked as the Greens concentrated on being in government and negotiating policy wins.
“This term I think there’s more time for those conversations,’’ he told Newsroom.
The Green Party avoids constitutional change in an election year, when attention is on campaigning, so Shaw expects discussions about the co-leadership model will take place at the AGM this year and next.
He says women in leadership isn’t a problem in the party because of the current structure, so it might be that other diversity aspects become more important.
One benefit of the co-leadership system is that it’s more stable and on average Green Party leaders stay in the role for about nine years – quite a contrast to what has been seen in both the Labour and National Party.
Shaw says the “hero leadership model’’ that you see in other one-leader parties doesn’t exist in the Greens and for that reason you don’t see the party’s leaders pop up in things like preferred prime minister polls.
And because of the distribution of the leadership, Shaw says there’s a steady roughly five percent support base that always exists within the Greens regardless of who the leader is.
“With other parties you see their support base move around a lot more depending on who is leader.’’
Davidson is really interested in the upcoming debate about the leadership structure but stresses her comments are personal to her and are not designed to persuade party members in any way.
“The community and membership and supporters are starting to talk about reviewing that and whether it’s up with the times.
“I think there’s an overwhelming interrogation of the gender-stringent part of the leadership.’’
She says the Green Party has a “long-standing legacy of support’’ from people who “operate and want to live well outside the restrictive gender norms.
“My thinking is ‘let’s have a look at that’. Maybe the basis is’ let’s say there’s at least one female, do we need to dictate what the other gender is at all’?
“They’re the conversations taking place and I think it’s time to review that and look at a modern 21st Century approach to that model. Probably, we’re moving past that male/female binary,’’ she says.
There are other debates too, such as whether the caucus is lacking South Island representation and whether it should be a focus when it comes to selecting candidates for the party list.
All of this will be up for debate when the party and its members meet in August.
Today on Newsroom Pro: The Greens’ new relationship with power in NZ