First Auckland, then Wellington. Is Christchurch next?
The Green Party vote increased in Ōtautahi this election, and its candidates put in such a good showing, two political commentators are picking a contagion of electorate wins spilling over Cook Strait to Te Waipounamu/South Island.
“The seeds are there,” former United Future leader Peter Dunne says.
Gareth Hughes, a former Green Party MP who’s now the New Zealand lead for the Wellbeing Economy Alliance, says: “Surely some of the Canterbury seats must be on the radar for the future.”
Following the 2020 breakthrough electorate win by Chlöe Swarbrick – becoming only the second Green MP to win a seat – this year’s election was notable for Swarbrick retaining Auckland Central, and wins in Rongotai (Julie Anne Genter) and Wellington Central (Tamatha Paul).
Confirmation of special votes, released this past Friday, placed the Greens as the third-highest polling party in Parliament, with 11.6 percent of the party vote. That meant Kahurangi Carter, who ran in Christchurch Central, gets in as its 15th MP.
The Greens now have two list MPs from Christchurch – Carter and Lan Pham – as well as Otago’s Scott Willis, boosting its South Island representation.
Across Banks Peninsula, Christchurch Central, Christchurch East, Ilam, and Wigram, the Greens gained almost 11,500 raw party votes on the 2020 election results.
(Raw because we haven’t accounted for voter turnout or population growth. Labour, meanwhile, lost more than 53,000, and National gained almost 25,000.)
The more surprising situation, perhaps, is how well the Greens’ electorate candidates fared in its party-vote-only campaign.
Pham, a former Environment Canterbury councillor, got 8325 votes in Banks Peninsula. That’s well behind winner Vanessa Weenink, of National, with 17,860, and Labour’s Tracey McLellan, on 17,464, but a big gain on outgoing list MP Eugenie Sage’s 2020 result of 6222.
Undoubtedly, Pham’s popularity factored in the final result.
The greening of Christchurch
In a repeat of 2020, Christchurch Central was won by Labour’s Duncan Webb (15,622 votes) over National’s Dale Stephens (13,641), although his margin was cut from 14,098 to 1981.
In third place was Carter, of the Greens, who will enter Parliament as a list MP. The former Ministry for the Environment staffer managed a respectable 5441 votes, up from the 2566 in 2020 by Green candidate Chrys Horn.
Party vote for the Greens was 19.6 percent in Banks Peninsula, and 19.4 percent in Christchurch Central, well up on 2020’s proportions of 14.3 percent and 12.8 percent, respectively.
(Wellington Central was an astounding 37.7 percent, with Rongotai at 31.9 percent, and Dunedin 26.9 percent.)
With 15 MPs, this is the Green Party’s best result since it first entered Parliament in 1996, as part of the Alliance.
Its success is bittersweet as it will sit on the Opposition benches, considering the swing away from Labour to National, Act, and New Zealand First, which are negotiating to form the next Government.
In a column for The Post newspaper in February, Hughes was talking up the Greens’ chances in Wellington Central and Rongotai, given the incumbents, Labour’s Grant Robertson and Paul Eagle, retired from the seats.
Hughes tells Newsroom the Greens have done well, traditionally, in metropolitan centres but water quality issues being prominent in Canterbury has helped the party.
The buzz over Swarbrick’s 2020 win, and 2023 retention, as well as the strong showings by Genter, Paul, and Ricardo Menéndez March in Mt Albert would have filtered down to Canterbury, Hughes says.
"Perhaps it would have made people think more about casting a candidate vote the Greens’ way."
His former party must be considering how it can leverage the 2023 result into "permanent medium party status", and contesting electorates in Christchurch and Dunedin.
Dunne, the former United Future leader, says the Greens will be reviewing its overall strategy – and he suspects it’ll go "all out" for two-tick campaigns at the next election in a bid to win more electorate seats.
If it had done that this time it might have won more seats, Dunne says – although that would have come at the expense of Labour.
"Labour’s always had a reasonably passive approach to the Greens, but now the Greens look like they’re going to eat a lot of its lunch.
"What are they going to do in response and where does that leave us overall?"
Dunne is looking to Pham and Carter, as Green list MPs, to entrench their position within their Christchurch electorates.
"That would make for a much more interesting contest [in 2026], particularly in Banks Peninsula because the margin there’s so tight. It’s going to be a frontline seat at the next election."