Zen and the art of greening the government

Written By: - Date published: 6:25 am, February 3rd, 2018 - 65 comments
Categories: activism, community democracy, democratic participation, greens, political education, Spying - Tags: , , , ,

I protest because dissent & diversity are essential to our democracy, because it is Green, because Kiwis always have. And this government respects that because we are friends.

– Golriz Ghahraman

In this 2 minute video Ghahraman covers “protest, and dissent, about diversity of thought in politics and why we’ll be staying loud and proud on green issues”

For those a bit confused about it, here’s the transcript of the video,

I want to talk about protest, and dissent. About a diversity of thought in our political system.

Recently I spoke at a protest against mass surveillance at Waihopai spy base where Green MPs have spoken since the early 1990s – even while we were in that other little confidence and supply agreement with Helen Clark’s Labour Party.

But I realised that people now think that we can’t do these things as Greens because of our role in government. That was alarming to me. Especially coming from those within our political system.

Last year the Green Party helped form the new progressive government we have today together with our partners Labour and NZ First. It’s been heralded as the first ever true MMP government. As Greens we give Confidence and Supply to the government. For the first time we have Green Ministers which is exciting!

But some of our MPs like me are outside of government. That means we have more freedom to voice  Green positions even when they don’t accord with Labour or NZ First policy. In fact, that’s our duty on important issues. It’s something that I for one value greatly. Which is why I proudly spoke at the Waihopai spy base, standing proudly side by side with other protestors.

The issue of mass spying is a big deal to me personally, as a human rights concern, which is why I am a Green. And our government partners are well aware of our different views. They knew I’d be speaking out against the TPP, against the spy bases. In fact, most of my portfolios  involve oppositional issues.

They know I’ll be loud on those issues because they’re important to the Greens. They know when I’m going to protests. There are no surprises here because we’re friends. In fact, our new close relationship means that we’re in a great position to talk about our differences, including on protest issues, and make progressive change.

I believe the right to protest is fundamental to our democracy. It’s a huge part of our kaupapa as Greens and we will all be upholding that precious mantle handed up to us by the giants of our movement. New Zealanders have a loud, proud tradition of protest, against nuclear testing, whaling, apartheid.

That’s how change happens, and this government respects that.

This is how adults behave. They talk to each other. But it’s also how the Greens do politics that is different from the macho, ‘leverage and power are all that matters’ politics. Build strong relationships so that you can work together even when you disagree. Then allowing dissent ceases to be a problem. Kudos to the Greens’ partners in this. I’m writing about the Greens here, but Labour and NZ First are part of the structure and process that make this work (I think Jacinda Ardern is a big reason why this is possible).

Just as importantly, this is how the Greens remain a distinct party and not get subsumed into the FPP mentality politics that has driven much of MMP in the past 20 years, and has cost smaller parties dearly. It’s becoming increasingly obvious that the Greens landed on their feet after last year’s fairly brutal election campaign, and that the ‘in government but not in government’ position is probably pretty close to the ideal for them given the election results.

The Greens are an activist party and that doesn’t change by becoming part of the government. Valuing and taking part in protest while in government is also one of the ways that the Greens maintain their commitment to their founding document, The Green Charter

Last week Ghahraman was tweeting that she’s not part of the government and is thus free to criticise government policy. This is true, and it’s time to get passed the temptation to imply that the Greens should be pure and stay out of all government if they don’t get everything they want, simply because that implication suits a certain political agenda (it’s a fundamentally dishonest argument). What the Greens are doing is good for NZ and our democracy.

And so we can say that the Greens are part of the government and not part of the government, just to keep everyone on their toes. It’s the Green Paradox*.

I think it’s also safe to say that how people perceive this is their choice and reflective of their politics and how they value the Greens. In other words there’s nothing wrong with what the Greens are doing except where it challenges some people’s ideas about what is proper (or where some people will use any excuse to hate on their political enemy). Watch the criticisms and see how few have any substance.

We may as well get used to the paradox, because this is how MMP will work for this term, and the Greens aren’t going to fit into the establishment designated boxes. They’re there to green the government and that includes changing how things are done.

Bonus, these apparent contradictions are useful to break us out of the western dualistic mindset, which is probably a prerequisite for getting out of the mess we are in.

None of this is news, the Greens are being consistent with who they are. I’m glad Ghahraman has clarified these points, because it’s going to make a great reference going forward. Perhaps we can be generous and allow that otherwise well informed political commentators were unaware of how coalition government in NZ can work, but thankfully we can now assume that people still telling confusing stories about this issue are probably just shit stirring.

*or humorously, Schrodinger’s government.

65 comments on “Zen and the art of greening the government”

  1. Zorb6 1

    The Greens benefited from a sympathy vote last election.People who did not want to see them disappear as a potent political force supported them.They can not rely on that sympathy next time,and will be judged on their record .As perception usually trumps reality ,they better appreciate that pragmatism has long term benefits .

  2. Antoine 2

    Greens prob shouldn’t support the waka jumping bill at that rate, if they think permitting dissent is important in a democracy


    • chris73 2.1

      The Greens will do what Winston tells them to do, sorry but thats how it appears being that NZFirst gave no support to the Greens bill yet the Greens supported Winstons bill

      • One Anonymous Bloke 2.1.1

        Here is a short quiz:

        What is the difference between a conscience vote and a party vote?

        Take your time now.

        • chris73

          No problems with the Greens doing what they think is right as long as they’re willing to accept the repercussions of their actions

          • One Anonymous Bloke


            Funny, because just a moment ago you were windbagging about how they answer to Winston Peters. Weka is right: you couldn’t muster a substantive criticism if your life depended on it.

            • Ed

              73 is the clue.

            • chris73

              Laugh all you want but Winston holds the whip hand and he and he alone decides what the Greens will achieve in government

              • One Anonymous Bloke

                Spin all you want, you’re just demonstrating that you don’t understand Green philosophy or politics. From its inception, the party has always been about what can be achieved – the repeal of S59, for example, or the various Ministerial positions in this Parliament.

                If Winston holds the whip hand over anyone, it’s the National Party, which will achieve none of its legislative agenda, and in fact parts of its legislative agenda, being repealed, will go into negative territory.

                We won. You lost, and although your whining from the sidelines is understandable, the only person who believes it is you.

                • chris73

                  “the party has always been about what can be achieved”

                  Well Chloe Swarbrick’s bill won’t be counted amongst its achievements will it

                  “it’s the National Party, which will achieve none of its legislative agenda,”

                  Apart from the TPP, sorry CPTPP, which was a pretty big deal

                  “We won. You lost, and although your whining from the sidelines is understandable, the only person who believes it is you.”

                  and yet the 90 day employment law hasn’t been done away with completely so it’ll be interesting to see how many things won’t be changed by Labour

                  Doesn’t matter whos in power as long as things keep moving along in the general (right) direction

    • SPC 2.2

      No choice, it is part of the Labour-NZ First coalition agreement.

      Not supporting it, is not supporting the coalition government.

      The reason why this as it is, is because of Peters experience of National bribing members of his 1996 election caucus to leave the party. He sees it as a necessary defence against National corruption.

  3. funstigator 3

    I’m pretty sure she would change her tune if this so called “mass spying” was used to track tax minimisers rather than her mass-murdering friends.

    • One Anonymous Bloke 3.1

      Weka’s right eh: your criticism has no substance.

    • solkta 3.2

      What a ridiculous thing to say. Have another go.

    • AB 3.3

      Mass spying is far more likely to be used against people who wish to hold tax evaders to account, rather than against tax evaders themselves.
      And that encapsulates the point – mass spying is not a legitimate tool of the justice system, it’s an instrument of elite power.

    • roy 3.4

      Read the context around the sentence “This is how adults behave.” And do likewise.

    • Hanswurst 3.5

      Im sure you would shit mushrooms of you were made of fungus. Refute that.

  4. Ad 4

    The simple measure in 2020 will be: what change have the Greens made?

    As for Golriz Gharaman, she would do well to read P. J. O’Farrell’s biography “Harry Holland, Militant Socialist”.

    Holland was a true radical agitator who altered the direction of the Labour Party and of the country, while gaining high position in both the Party and in Government. His alliance with Fraser set New Zealand’s political ideology for decades. It’s a model for any activist MP to aspire to.

    The benchmark is not whether you express your ideals well, protest well, or even whether you critique well. The point is to change things for the better. That is, and will be, the benchmark by which the Greens will be evaluated in 2020.

    • One Anonymous Bloke 4.1

      One problem with your story: people who’ve been consistently snide and hostile towards the Greens don’t get to set benchmarks for them.

      Their supporters do that: it us they have to represent, it’s our values they protect. Not yours.

      • Ad 4.1.1

        That depends if they want to get into Parliament again or not and attract more votes than 5 or 6%. The measure of leadership success if you want to change something is: look behind you and see how many are following.

        I can see you want to protect “our” values, and it’s just possible that they could get back in on protecting their values alone. It’s very sweet.

        But you may as well learn something since you don’t like hostility in politics: the Greens need to learn how to be a movement that changes something. They haven’t so far.

        Holland showed how to do the trifecta: be radical and expand the movement, be in government, and alter policy: in so doing turn the direction of the entire country.

        • One Anonymous Bloke

          No changes to government policy have ever happened as a result of Green Party lobbying?

          That’s nice dear.

          • Ad

            That’s up to the electorate to evaluate.
            So far, only the absolute core 6% are convinced.

            The simple measure of Gharaman’s – or any other Green MP’s – effective change will be held up by the electorate in 2.5 years’ time.

        • solkta

          The Greens achieve a lot more by having more radical and progressive policy and forcing Labour and National towards those policies. Clean water is a good example of how the Greens have shaped the policy of both major parties. Child poverty is another issue that they continuously force to the fore.

          • mauī

            +1, exactly. The last 9 years national took ideas like electric cars, the City Rail Link, insulation schemes from the Greens so they could have something actually appealing to vote for.

            • Ad

              Generation Zero, Employers and Manufacturers Association, and TransportBlog were the lobbyists who altered both Brownlee and Twyford on CRL. Plus grinding work by Mayor Brown and his executive team. There is absolutely nothing the Greens did that altered National’s policies on transport in government.

              • mauī

                Of course the last thing the nats would do would be to sit down with the Greens in order to discuss and form policy, that’s a given. Must be a coincidence then that nat policy looks like a shit version of green policy in all sorts of areas.

          • Ad

            I agree the Greens have shifted the debate on fresh water. And Labour adopted and amplified it. But sorry, now Labour and the Greens are in government, just remind me what advances in water policy have there been?

            As for poverty, the Greens made a comprehensive hash of it leading up to the election. It was that bad they nearly eradicated themselves out of parliament altogether. It was CPAG, Salvation Army and Barnados that had better lobbying and policy effect.

            The big card The Greens have to play won’t be in intelligence and security, where Gharaman is preaching to the converted fringe of the fringe. Their big card in achieving stuff is in climate change. Which is clearly still to come.

            • solkta

              While the Greens might have made a hash of delivering their policy re poverty keeping up the pressure on this issue had both Labour and National promising child poverty reduction targets by the end of the campaign. That is huge shift for National who have previously refused to even measure child poverty let alone working on reducing the numbers of such a measure.

            • adam

              Ad you machiavellian analysis of the greens approach to poverty before the election does stink a little. A tad revisionist at best, down right wishful thinking at worst.

              Mind you, hit jobs, and that nasty type of behaviour by interested groups is what liberalism lives for, the ability to be smug and self righteous at the destruction of others.

              White power has a similar approach to politics, funny that.

            • Psycho Milt

              The idea that child poverty became a major election issue that had National scrambling to make promises contradictory of their entire term in office due to CPAG, the Salvation Army and Barnardos is laughable. It was the Green Party that forced it up the agenda.

    • alwyn 4.2

      “while gaining high position in both the Party and in Government”.

      That is certainly a proposition I haven’t heard before. The bit about the party is fair enough but when would you say that Holland held any position in the Government of New Zealand?

    • weka 4.3

      “The simple measure in 2020 will be: what change have the Greens made?”

      Given you seem utterly incapable (or is it unwilling?) of understanding the changes the Greens have already been part of, or of understanding who they are and what they do and why they do it (or is it that you just don’t like it?), despite you commenting under posts that clearly explain some of these things, I find your perspectives largely ignorant and irrelevant to the point of the post.

      Hard not to see it as propaganda from the centrist left position. Which is strange because you used to be much more progressive.

      The mansplaining and patronising slurs to the Greens, esp the women MPs*, is getting tedious. Stuck record.

      *and TS commenters for that matter. I’m fairly sure I’m not the only one seeing that pattern. You’re better than this and I don’t want to make this personal but this shit now needs to be named. I’d address some of the points you make in this thread, but I suspect there is no point, as you appear largely to be motivated by the desire to put the Greens in their place.

  5. One Anonymous Bloke 5

    Our authoritarian friends forget how it is that we have MPs at all: We forced those who had the power and were using it to do whatever they pleased, to share it. They didn’t share it voluntarily.

    I’ll take activist MPs who remember that fact over the nodding dogs in the National Party any day of the week.

  6. patricia bremner 6

    The Greens stopped further mining in Coromandel by convincing the electorate it would harm an unstable pristine area.

    Protest is part of true democracy. It is part of advocacy. Legislation building is contributing to governance, which is also part of the democratic process.

    The Greens’ job is to sway the current government to be even more democratic. This involves criticism and compromise.

  7. UncookedSelachimorpha 7

    The greens have had a lot of positive influence on nz politics, even without much actual official power. I liked the bit below :

    But it’s also how the Greens do politics that is different from the macho, ‘leverage and power are all that matters’ politics

    The last bit describes 100% the national party world view, and the Green way is so much better (and simply not as childish)

  8. Anon 8

    Better than backroom deals to spend taxpayer money on the gambling industry, but a bit toothless when you vote for antidemocratic bills like waka jumping.

  9. Sparky 9

    Wasn’t it Labour who started the surveillance ball rolling? Any plans on the part of this so called “progressive govt” to dismantle it? To walk away from the five eyes? Lets wait and see but I wont hold my breath.

    • weka 9.1

      The Greens obviously want to change that. If enough people vote for them they will have more influence over that change.

      • One Anonymous Bloke 9.1.1

        This is where the Greens and I part company on a fundamental point of principle. From their website:

        …oppose any intelligence assistance to these wars by closing down the satellite communications station at Waihopai.

        …and yet it’s clear that they do not support defunding the armed services, who would be left without eyes and ears and placed in much more danger by denying them access to intelligence facilities.

        Hostile armies may face each other for years, striving for the victory which is decided in a single day. This being so, to remain in ignorance of the enemy’s condition simply because one grudges the outlay of a hundred ounces of silver in honours and emoluments, is the height of inhumanity.

        Sun Tzu.

        • Psycho Milt

          Yes. To accept that you might have to commit military personnel to combat but then to deprive them of intelligence about potential threats is a very bad combination.

        • Anon

          I assume the idea is to stop gathering intelligence on wars that we shouldn’t be involved in anyway – if our military personnel isn’t involved where’s the danger to them in that? I assume they also want to stop supplying intelligence to war mongering foreign powers, again what’s wrong with that?

          • Exkiwiforces

            How’s the NZDF plan for the unexpected then?

            There is an old saying “the War you are trying to avoid is the War you get sucked into and by then its to late”

          • One Anonymous Bloke

            to stop gathering intelligence on wars that we shouldn’t be involved in anyway

            How do we know we shouldn’t be “involved” in them if we don’t know what they’re about?

            • Anon

              Do we know what they’re about anyway?

              • One Anonymous Bloke

                That’s what spies are for.

              • One Anonymous Bloke

                …to expand on that a little, let’s say one of our allies, let’s call him “George Bush” insists that a dictator, let’s call him “Saddam Hussein”, has weapons of mass destruction. Do we:

                a. Believe him or
                b: Ask our spies if they can independently verify the claim?

                Take your time now.

    • Exkiwiforces 9.2

      What’s the Greens view on the Following:-
      Counter Espionage-Intelligence gathering,
      Espionage-Intelligence gathering or Counter Espionage/Intelligence gathering during Peacekeeping Operations,
      Espionage -Intelligence gathering on Fisheries Protection/ Anti Poaching Operations,
      Industrial Espionage/ Intelligence gathering and Counter Industrial Espionage/ Intelligence gathering and Cyber Warfare as we are contacted to the Internet at home and at work in some form or another?

      Its seems that who ever form the Greens policy on this subject is either living a utopia world where this shit doesn’t happen or really doesn’t understand modern warfare either in a kinetic/ non- kinetic form of warfare or how the underworld crime works.

      One doesn’t work without the other.

      • SPC 9.2.1

        Is there any evidence of Waihopai or Tangimoana ever passing on intelligence on crime onto police?

        Is there any evidence for the same of passing on intelligence for fisheries protection/anti poaching? Or for counter industrial espionage or cyber warfare?

        Is industrial espionage/IP theft legal?

        What has communications surveillance of foreign governments in peacetime(demonstrating a disregard of the right of other nations to have their national sovereignty respected) to do with our military security?

        Of course any nation caught doing this to us is fair game.

        • One Anonymous Bloke

          What has communications surveillance of foreign governments in peacetime … to do with our military security?

          Read Chapter 13 of Sun Tzu’s Art of War. Better still, read the whole thing.

          tl;dr: it helps prevent wars.

  10. Incognito 10

    A very good post weka and I love the title 😉

  11. Tanz 11

    First MMP govt, progressive, or you could say, first govt ever chosen by one man.

    • You could say that if you were incapable of figuring out how the Westminster parliamentary system works, I suppose. It’s one of the drawbacks of democracy that the votes of such incompetents counts for the same as the votes of less-cognitively-incapacitated voters, but wadjagunnadu?

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