Election results 2020: Audrey Young – Labour holds all the cards as Ardern’s talks with Greens get underway

OPINION:

The Greens are being forced to get realistic about what they might achieve in Jacinda Ardern’s Government of 2020 after holding a second set of talks with Labour yesterday.

The Greens went into the election campaign earlier and harder on policy than any other party -more than 300 policies in 37 different areas.

It whittled the 37 down to six priority areas: Thriving Oceans, the Future of Transport Plan, Farming for the Future, Homes for All, the Clean Energy Plan and the Poverty Action Plan.

But after the election result, it will be lucky to get any policy concessions beyond the policies it already shares with the Labour Party – such as implementations of Fair Pay Agreements which would revive national awards in particularly low-paid workforces, abolishing 90-day trials for new worker, and getting rid of the Three Strikes law.

Labour won an outright majority on Saturday, with 64 out of 120 seats, and is more than likely to increase that majority when the final vote is declared on November 6.

At no point did Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern campaign for a Labour-Green Government although many Labour supporters are thought to have voted Green to ensure they did not fall below 5 per cent -it made it back with 7.6 per cent of the vote and 10 MPs.

But the prevailing view in Labour is that it needs to be seen as a Labour Government – a view reinforced this week with Labour’s huge new 2020 intake arriving at Parliament for induction courses.

Preliminary talks between Labour and the Greens were held on Monday, and the first formal talks held yesterday, with Labour being represented by Ardern, deputy Labour leader Kelvin Davis, Finance Minister Grant Robertson, party president Claire Szabo, Ardern’s chief of staff, Rajesh Nahna, and policy adviser Holly Donald.

The Greens were represented by co-leaders James Shaw and Marama Davidson and chief of staff Tory Whanau, policy adviser Deb Moran and party co-convenor Wiremu Winitana.
Davidson emerged saying the party was looking for ways to progress in three areas, climate change, the environment and addressing inequality.

Any suggestion of the Greens being in Cabinet in a coalition has been off the table since Labour posted the majority on Saturday.

Labour holds all the cards. These are not talks of equals.

While there is a large amount of goodwill in the talks, Labour can pick and choose the areas of co-operation and the type of co-operation.

It can decide whether to have an agreement on some or no policies, on whether there are still Green ministers outside Cabinet or none at all, whether it would be better to be only a co-operation agreement setting out principles of consultation on new policies, and access to official information and briefings.

The Greens can decide on whether they have been offered enough of a deal to pledge confidence and supply to a Government that doesn’t need it – or whether it would be better to remain more detached.

In any deal it signs, its members will want to retain the right to criticise Labour – the way new Green MP Ricardo Menendez March has repeatedly done on poverty issues.

Shaw has repeatedly said that the confidence and supply the Greens had with Labour in the 2017–2020 Government covered only 1 per cent of what was undertaken and that 99 per cent arose during the course of the Government.

In that respect, it is the ongoing relationship itself that is more important than any policy gains that are ticked off when talks resume next Tuesday.


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