Opinion: Imagine what our next government could deliver if National had the support of the Greens rather than Act or New Zealand First, or both.
It could deliver more effective economic, climate, environmental and social progress than if it was curtailed by Act’s extremism and dogged by NZ First’s dramas.
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Act, for example, campaigned on slashing the capability of government, and killing the Zero Carbon Act (the core legislation guiding our climate responses). If enacted, those two policies alone would drastically reduce the ability of government, business and society to work together on our most important long-term economic and environmental challenges.
NZ First campaigned on its usual hodgepodge of promises that appeal to its voter base but lacks any overall coherence. None of the policies are transformative; and all are subject to the whims of Winston Peters, the party’s leader.
National will strive to limit such damage and maximise its own policies in its negotiations with the two parties. But its hand will be somewhat weakened by the results from the special votes. They account for some 20 percent of all votes cast. In past elections, more of those have flowed to parties on the left than the right.
National, though, will still have more than enough seats to dominate the negotiations; and Act and NZ First will acquiesce because they are so eager to be back in government.
Of course, the idea that National and the Greens could co-operate is strictly hypothetical at this point even though the Greens will end up with more seats and a larger share of the party vote than Act.
National leader Christopher Luxon said repeatedly on the campaign trail National would never negotiate with the Greens. Their co-leaders, James Shaw and Marama Davidson, were less dogmatic but they still said it was an improbable idea.
But the concept of politicians coming together in unlikely alliances is one all countries need to explore urgently. Stagnating economies, polarising societies and escalating climate disasters are just some of the immense challenges all nations are facing. Yet, politics keeps producing conventional responses – as our parties showed in our latest election.
For example, National, Labour, Act and NZ First all trotted out simplistic economic policies dating from the 1980s such as low government debt and (depending on the party) higher/lower taxes and more/less benefits.
Entirely missing from the four parties were concepts such as solving complex problems such as climate mitigation and adaptation in ways that deliver economic and social co-benefits. The Greens did articulate such approaches, giving us some guide to the future.
For all countries, including ours, encouraging parties to achieve greater co-operation and cross-pollination of ideas is more important than ever. It would help us counter the growing tribalism of politics, and societies’ diminishing skills and confidence they need to right deeply structural and damaging failures.
For example, there is a growing backlash against climate policies in many countries, The Economist reported this week. This includes previous leaders such as the UK, Germany and France.
Worse this crucial subject is becoming a culture-war battleground. In the US, for example, at a recent debate for Republican presidential candidates, only one said human-induced climate change was real.
Other massive contradictions between voters’ sentiments and politicians’ actions are shown up by Ipsos’ latest annual global survey of opinions on climate. For example, in all countries except Japan the public believe the cost of climate change itself will be greater than the cost of actions to reduce it. But politicians are still failing to articulate policies that would build more public support and action. (New Zealand was not surveyed.)
Thus, thanks to our latest election, National and the Greens have an excellent opportunity to learn how to co-operate in ways new and beneficial to them and the country.
On climate and reform of the Resource Management Act, for example, they could build on the work that the out-going Labour government began but failed to fully deliver.
On the first, National could work more effectively with farmers than Labour did on agricultural pricing emissions, thereby speeding up the leisurely timetable National is currently proposing.
On the second, National could deal with its complaints about the first two acts already approved to replace the RMA (the Natural and Built Environment Act and the Spatial Planning Act) by amending them. That would be far quicker and more effective than its campaign pledge to repeal them – an action that would undermine the very effective work that civil society and government have put into the reforms over the past five or six years.
Post-election, my Newsroom colleague Jonathan Milne reported on some other issues the Greens want to find ways to work with the new National-led government; and on its MOU it developed with the Key government in 2009 to work together on a national cycleway network, and retrofitting home insulation to tens of thousands of homes.
But New Zealand and the world have changed massively since then. The opportunities and challenges we now must address are vastly more complicated, require much greater public understanding and buy in, and need much more sophisticated responses by government, business and public.
Act and NZ First look backwards to a poorer, simplistic, more divided past.
National and the Greens, by working together in new political ways, could help us build a future for our country that is richer (in economic, climate, environmental and social terms), more resilient and more cohesive.