Thursday, July 11, 2024

Peter Dunne: The Greens moral high horse

The curious case of ex Green MP Darleen Tana raises interesting questions beyond her immediate political future.

Whether she leaves Parliament or stays, her fate is largely settled - her (brief) political career is over. If she goes, she at least has the opportunity of a fresh start, far away from politics. But should she decide to stay, she faces two years of ostracism and scorn from all sides of the House, and limited opportunities to participate in the House's proceedings, in either the Debating Chamber or select committees.

Moreover, because of the government's comfortable majority she will be even more politically irrelevant than Alamein Kōpū was in the late 1990s. (Her vote was important then on some issues and was secured when needed through a periodic cup of tea with the then Prime Minister.) Tana would not enjoy such feting, and would face a lonely political life, idling away time, until put out of her misery at the next election.

While there remains murkiness about many aspects of the Tana case, one certainty that has been established in its wake has been the utter ineffectiveness and pointlessness of the Electoral Integrity Act, the so-called Waka Jumping law. The first Electoral Integrity Act was passed by Labour in 2001 with the support of New Zealand First. It expired in 2005 and was not renewed. During its life, two MPs (Labour’s Dame Tāriana Turia and ACT’s Donna Awatere-Huata) potentially triggered its provisions by resigning from their parties. Turia subsequently resigned her seat but was re-elected in the by-election that followed for the new Māori Party. The ACT Party sought to invoke the Electoral Integrity Act against Awatere-Huata, but the process proved far from straightforward. There was a protracted legal battle, lasting around ten months, before the Supreme Court finally rule that Awatere-Huata could be removed from Parliament.

A second Electoral Integrity Act was passed in 2018, again by Labour at the insistence of New Zealand First. Since then, five MPs (Jami-Lee Ross from National, Gaurav Sharma and Meka Whaitiri from Labour, Elizabeth Kerekere and now Darleen Tana from the Greens) have left their parties. But so far, the Act has not been applied in any of these cases. Significantly, none of the defecting MPs survived beyond the Parliament in which they defected.

All of which renders the Electoral Integrity Act utterly pointless. It was only ever promoted by New Zealand First as utu from Winston Peters against those who deserted the Party in 1998 when the first National/New Zealand First coalition collapsed. It had no other redeeming feature. The only time it has been applied in either of its incarnations led to complex and drawn-out legal proceedings. It is simply a nonsense and a waste of time that a principled government would repeal forthwith. Excepting Turia who fought a by-election and went on to serve until 2014, none of the other MPs who left their parties while Waka Jumping legislation was in place were re-elected. Properly, the public, not Electoral Integrity legislation, decided their fate.

But for coalition reasons, National will continue its tiptoe on eggshells approach to dealing with New Zealand First on this issue, so the legislation will remain, gathering more dust, disrepute and irrelevance on the shelf.

If what has happened previously is any guide, another area where the Tana case is unlikely to lead to change is the level of public support for the Green Party. In May 2023, when Dr Elizabeth Kerekere acrimoniously split from the Greens, raising many questions about candidate selection processes and internal management systems, the Greens average level of opinion poll support stood at 8.7%. At election time, a few months later, the Greens polled 11.6% of the party vote. That steady rise in support has continued so far in 2024, the Golriz Ghahraman, Julie Anne Genter and Darleen Tana controversies that have arisen in recent months, notwithstanding. Last month, the Greens were averaging just under 13% support in the opinion polls, and one poll earlier this month reported their support as high as 14.5%.

Nevertheless, as all the incidents from Kerekere’s departure onwards suggest, something is seriously awry with the way the Greens manage differences and problems that emerge within their Parliamentary team. There seems to be a disconnect between the overt empathy and support the Greens show for every passing social bandwagon, and the way they treat dysfunction within their own team. In that regard, the Greens would be making a serious mistake if they assume, as they appear to have done so far, that rising levels of public support mean keeping their own house in order is a secondary consideration.

The Greens have always sanctimoniously described themselves as a “party of principle”, thereby inherently different from every other party. But those “principles” are now coming home to roost. Do they take the expedient course of applying the Electoral Integrity Act to oust Tana from Parliament, despite their long-standing opposition to Waka Jumping laws? Or do they hold fast to their self-proclaimed principles, and let Tana thumb her nose at them, Parliament, and the public, by continuing for the foreseeable future to draw a Parliamentary salary and allowances just for being there?

The Greens moral high horse has become a much more uncomfortable ride.

Peter Dunne, a retired Member of Parliament and Cabinet Minister, who represented Labour and United Future for over 30 years, blogs here: - Where this article was sourced.


Anonymous said...

Thank you for that article Peter .It confirms why politicians are viewed with contempt and derision by their employer ie ,the long suffering taxpayer.Think about the cost in the Tana case ,then consider how long Tana would last in private business.You look at the calibre of todays politicians and conclude they have little to recommend most of them.

Anonymous said...

"A party of principle", the Greens? Lol, really? Who says that and where? What a load of codswallop. Still good for a laugh tho.

Anonymous said...

A Chloe word salad should help clear the matter up. Chuck in the World is burning, climate disaster, threat to humanity, blah, blah, blah.
Problem Sorted! Tana will be picking up the dole before teatime.

CXH said...

There are two different scenarios with an MP. The first is one that is elected by voters to represent them. Should they have a falling out with their party, no matter the reason, I can see no reason for them not to move benches and become an independent.

The second is a list MP that has a similar falling out. They are not directly voted in and are appointed to represent the party. In this case they should be removed from parliament immediately. The party then gets to replace them with their next list member.

Not at all difficult, simple and sensible. Which is probably why we will never get such rules.