Synthesis/Regeneration 13   (Spring 1997)

Politics in New Zealand from Beginning to Breakthrough

by Rosalie Steward, International Secretary of Green Party of Aotearoa

Green Politics emerged in New Zealand with the birth of the Values Party in 1972. A vital new vision was offered to the voting public, achieving 4% and 6% support in 1975 and 1978. There were eight principles that would find little conflict with the Greens' Key Values of the 80's and 90's: "To build a society that is: just, sustainable, community-based, participatory, diverse, co-operative, internationalist, but above all, humanitarian."

The Values party pre-dated any fashionable Green terminology. It was seen as a party of social renewal that incorporated restoring a respectful relationship to nature. Legend has it that the first manifesto of the Values party, known as Beyond Tomorrow, was one of several documents that the Germans used when building Die Gruenen. The Values Party changed its name to "Values, the Green Party of Aotearoa" in the mid-80's.

The Values Party changed its name to "Values, the Green Party of Aotearoa" in the mid-80's.

"Aotearoa" is the Maori word for New Zealand. We have incorporated it into our name because it demonstrates our commitment to our nation's being bi-cultural. It's translation is "Land of the long white cloud." When the Maori arrived here in the "great migration" of the seven canoes from the ancient land known as Hawaiiki, they knew they were finally approaching land after their long sea journey because the islands were obscured by cloud.

There was a renewal of interest in Green politics in 1989 when several new groupings emerged to contest local government elections. At this time, some of the remaining Values activists decided that it was time to allow fresh energy to take over the effort. Others felt it was important to maintain everything that the Values Party had developed and keep the Party going. The new groupings (that included former Values activists) and the remaining Values Party activists came together in 1990.

A revitalized Green Party won 7% of the vote in 1990. The election brought together campaigners from the Greens, New Labor, Mana Motuhake, and the Democrats. It was recognized that we had more in common than we had in difference, and later that same year the four parties came together to form the Alliance.

Unlike the other Alliance partners, the Greens also focus upon seeking representation at local government level.

The parties have struggled, since the inception of the Alliance, to maintain their own organizations. They have done so, but it remains an on-going difficulty. The Greens made their entry into the Alliance conditional upon maintenance of the Green Party as a separate entity.

The Greens still hold regular monthly executive meetings, an Annual Conference, and an annual policy conference. Local groups still meet and carry out their own programs. Their activity has been reduced because of the demands of Alliance involvement as well. Unlike the other Alliance partners, the Greens also focus upon seeking representation at local government level.

Another Green process adopted was a policy of openness at the highest level.

Local actions include organizing education seminars, lobbying for recycling programs in their districts, and making submissions to local government District Plans.

Various Green processes were accepted by the Alliance partners -- consensus decision-making at the National Council being a key feature. Another was a policy of openness at the highest level. The National Council was open for all recognized Alliance members to attend and observe decision-making in process.

It is also widely accepted that policy formation was especially influenced by the Greens, with key Green Party co-Leader Jeanette Fitzsimons, who held the office of Deputy Co-Leader within the Alliance, also holding the position of overall Policy Coordinator.

Political and social tensions in New Zealand grew throughout the early 80's. Recognizing that the "First Past the Post" electoral system shut out alternative voices, progressive activists campaigned to bring about electoral reform, culminating in an Indicative Referendum in 1992 and a Binding Referendum in 1993 where a 56% majority voted for the Mixed Member Proportional (MMP) system.

In 1993 the Alliance won an average of 18% of the vote, and also secured two seats-retaining the South Island seat of Alliance Leader Jim Anderton, and winning Auckland Central with Mana Motuhake's Leader Sandra Lee.

Later, in a 1994 by-election in the South Island seat of Selwyn, the Alliance won 34% of the vote, narrowly missing winning the traditionally conservative seat, and defeating the Labor candidate soundly (the Labor vote plummeted to 16%).

In recent Local Government elections the Alliance campaign in Auckland raised its support from 35 to 37% of the vote. Under the MMP system this result would have delivered 40 parliamentary seats to the Alliance, out of the soon to be formed 120 seat parliament.

On October 12, 1996 New Zealanders voted for the first time under the MMP system. Three members of the Green Party-Jeanette Fitzsimons, Rod Donald and Phillida Bunkle-entered Parliament from the Alliance Party List, as part of a 13-strong contingent of Alliance MP's.

About the Alliance...

The largest party in the Alliance is the New Labor party, comprised of former Labor Party members and activists and one MP, Jim Anderton. They left the Labor party in 1988 when Telecom was sold. For traditional Laborites, the massive sell-off of State-owned assets was the last straw. Media comment at the time when Jim Anderton (former Labor Party President) resigned-taking hundreds of members and party workers with him-was that he was going off into the "political wilderness."

The Democrats were previously called the Social Credit party-their main policy thrust was towards economic sovereignty, based on the economic program developed by Major Douglas, and used to some degree in Canada. Mana Motuhake is one of the few political expressions of the indigenous Maori, based around (but not exclusive to) the northern tribe known as Ngapuhi. Their leader, Sandra Lee, won the key Auckland Central seat for the Alliance in 1993. She lost it with re-drawn boundaries in 1996, but remains an MP because of her position in the Alliance list. A very much smaller grouping are the Liberals who are former National Party supporters who left their party when National broke its election promise concerning a surtax on retirement income in 1990.

The National Council of the Alliance is comprised of 4 representatives from each of the 5 parties. The parties elect their delegates according to their own party processes. The National Council also includes nine Regional Representatives of the wider Alliance. What has happened is that there is now a significant group of people who joined the Alliance after it was formed, and have no wish to belong to any of the five constituent parties. They are represented by the Regional Representatives.

We have a National Alliance conference, and there is still tension and debate about the status of this conference. Constitutional deliberations are being carried out at this time. At present, the supreme body remains the Council, and only has the five votes of the constituent parties (Regional Representatives are not entitled to vote but take part in all consensus decision-making-it is very rare for Council to resort to a vote).

When the Alliance was first formed there was a veto right on the part of any party. That single veto was shifted into a two-party veto at the conference of 1994. No one person can block a decision.

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