Green Party co-leaders James Shaw and Marama Davidson have congratulated themselves on doing 'phenomenally well' this year. But that's not what a lot of other people think, including many members of the Green Party itself. 

GREEN CO-LEADERS James Shaw and Marama Davidson have marked their own end-of-year report card and given themselves an A+. 'I think under the circumstances, we've done phenomenally well,' Shaw said in an interview with RNZ's Giles Dexter this week. It is a remarkable revision of the Green Party's recent history. 

It is often said that history is written by the victors and Shaw may well think he's in that position now, having overcome 'the circumstances' of a serious challenge to his leadership this year. But such confidence is misplaced by him since that challenge failed not because of overwhelming support for Shaw but by the failure of his political opponents to put up a candidate against him. That had much to do with Chloe Swarbrick's decision not to put her name forward. Shaw was re-elected as co-leader by default.

But the discontent with Shaw's leadership in particular continues to rumble on under the surface and the Young Green's and the Green Left Network, who mounted the challenge against Shaw, haven't changed their opinion of him. For them, 2022 did not go 'phenomenally well' and it could well be argued that this spin from the Green Party co-leadership, clearly trying to protect their own backs, will only annoy many Green Party activists further. The divisions within the Green Party remain and may well spill over again next year especially over the contentious issue of the Green Party's relationship with the Labour Party.

The discontent with Shaw's leadership has continued to grow while he has continued to pursue his corporate-friendly environmentalism. Former Green MP Sue Bradford has observed that James Shaw has taken a 'very moderate position on the climate', almost providing the Labour Government with 'green cover' for taking a conservative position on policies meant to tackle climate change.

Under the leadership of Shaw and Davidson, the Green Party is not only out of step with a significant section of the membership but also out of step with a global environmental movement that has reached the conclusion that time has run out for merely tinkering with the very economic system that is eating up the planet. The Swedish activist Greta Thunberg, who has criticised New Zealand's record on climate change on several occasions, has emphasised that view throughout the year and recently she commented: 'We need to change everything because right now our current system is on a collision course with the future of humanity and the future of our civilisation'.

But this is not a view that either Shaw or Davidson agree with. While Davidson is instinctively conservative on most issues and is loyal to Shaw regardless, he continues to be obsessed with his fantastical notion of a 'green capitalism'. That means he remains a firm favourite with business. This year The Mood of the Boardroom survey conducted by the NZ Herald saw Climate Change Minister James Shaw come out top with the corporate sector.   

But Shaw's continued conservatism has inexorably led to a situation where any progress on tackling climate change has been limited by the continued protection and prioritising of corporate interests. As Branko Marcetic of Jacobin magazine observed this year of Shaw:

'Giving the biggest polluters a free pass, lagging behind on emissions cuts, accruing a reputation as a climate dilettante on the world stage — all of this would be pretty damning for anyone with the title of minister for climate change. The fact that the minister is the co-leader of the Green Party is an added indictment.'

Greenpeace have accused the Green Party of 'greenwashing', especially over the dairy industry, which it describes as 'New Zealand's biggest polluter'. Greenpeace's Russel Norman, a former leader of the Green Party, wrote in August: 

'We have had the same Prime Minister and the same Climate Minister for the nearly five years of this government. There have been a plethora of nice sounding climate announcements — the PM said that climate was her generation’s “nuclear free moment”, we’ve had the so-called Zero Carbon Act, a climate emergency declaration, an independent climate commission established, emissions reductions plans, improved nationally determined targets for reduction, signed the global methane pledge etc.

'But there is still no effective government policy to cut emissions from agribusiness, by far the biggest polluter.

'The problem is not just that the government is doing virtually nothing to cut emissions from agribusiness, the problem is that it is saying that it is taking climate change seriously.'

For many people the Green Party, under the conservative leadership of James Shaw and Marama Davidson, had far from a 'phenomenally' good 2022. The political divisions within the party remain and while Shaw has been known to use heavy-handed methods in an effort to suppress dissent, the challenge to his leadership this year was just the opening salvo in what is likely to be a protracted battle. If Labour loses the election next year, which seems likely, James Shaw may well find his position to be increasingly untenable. And while Davidson is protected by the Green Party's new constitutional rules which demands both a female and Maori co-leader, her loyalty to Shaw will undermine her continued position as co-leader as well.

THE MEDIA focus has tended to fall on James Shaw which has meant that his fellow co-leader, Marama Davidson, has largely escaped the scrutiny the Shaw has received. Given her poor performance this year, especially on the issue of housing and homelessness, this has worked in her favour. 

In return for the continued political allegiance of the Green Party, Shaw and Davidson were made ministers outside of the cabinet shortly after the 2020 election. While Shaw was reappointed as Climate Change Minister, Davidson was appointed the Minister for the Prevention of Family and Sexual Violence and also became Associate Minister of Housing with responsibility for homelessness.

On the Green Party website Davidson is described as working diligently on housing and homelessness:

'Over the past five years she has dedicated her efforts on understanding the housing crisis around the whole country and is deeply committed to helping those with the greatest need get into secure housing. As Associate Minister for Housing with responsibility for addressing homelessness, Marama will bring her expertise and commitment to create real change for our communities.'

But there has been little evidence of the 'real change' that the Green Party website speaks of. Under Davidson's watch, homelessness has soared and there are now over 4,000 households living in 'transitional housing' - motels, hotels and boarding houses. Although described as 'transitional', some families have been living in such housing for over two years.

In September TVNZ’s Sunday programme screened a half-hour documentary that exposed the appalling conditions in emergency housing in Rotorua. It prompted the Human Rights Commissioner Paul Hunt to say he was 'horrified' by what he saw and condemned the  conditions that people were being forced to live in as a violation of their human rights.

In October Wellington missioner Murray Edridge said that there was an 'unprecedented demand' for emergency housing and that the situation on the ground was 'dire'. 

From June 2017 to June 2022, the number of people living in cars surged from 93 to 477. 

While Davidson cannot be held entirely responsible for what has become known as a 'housing catastrophe' - ministers like Housing Minister Megan Woods and Social Development Minister Carmel Sepuloni must also carry the can - that still doesn't excuse Davidson's failure to act. Her inaction prompted Monte Cecilia housing trust boss Bernie Smith to say that Davidson had been 'very silent' about the growing problems with emergency housing.

This year Newshub reported that Davidson had issued just eight press releases and presented only three papers to Cabinet - which were jointly written with others - and introduced zero Bills to parliament to address homelessness.

National's Chris Bishop commented that Davidson was a ' zero-time homelessness minister. She seems to spend very little time doing any work.'

The failure of Davidson to address the issues of housing and homelessness - her ministerial responsibility for which she gets paid rather a lot of money -is perhaps best summed up by the fact that the most publicity she received this year was for promoting Whittaker's chocolate simply because it was labelled in te reo. I wrote at the time :

'It is incongruous, to say the least, that Davidson who has a ministerial brief to assist some of the poorest people in the country, should be promoting a brand of chocolate. There are tens of thousands of people either living in emergency accommodation, sleeping rough, or living in cars, garages and on couches across New Zealand. A brand of chocolate labelled in te reo is the least of their concerns.'


  1. Green Left what a joke! & I say that as a party member. Humourless..soulless? Read this equity policy & weep.


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