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Labour And The Greens Can Work Together - Just Look At What We've Done In New Zealand

31/05/2017 17:04
Hagen Hopkins via Getty Images

Like the UK, New Zealand is heading to the polls this year.

We - the Greens and Labour - are trying to unseat a centre-right party that's been in government for a long time (too long), headed by a leader who's been appointed Prime Minister by his caucus, rather than the people: does that sound familiar?

The similarities don't stop there. For most of my 15 years as a member of parliament, I have heard people from across the Left call for more co-operation between the various progressive parties to unseat the dominant conservative one. Time and time again, I've been told that the Left is better at fighting itself than we are at fighting the Right and that's why we can't have nice things, like being in government. Does that also sound familiar?

In New Zealand, the two major parties of the broad political left, the Green Party, of which I am Co-leader, and the Labour Party, decided to do something about that.

On May 31 2016, the two parties signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU), to work co-operatively to change the government. It was the first agreement of its kind in New Zealand, and it's a living, breathing, working pact that is still in place today, four and half months out from our election.

The MoU is far more than just a piece of paper. In practice, it's meant closer relationships between the party leadership and senior staff. We meet regularly, to talk strategy, update each other on policy, and assess the political landscape. Last year, leaders from both parties spoke at each other's national conferences before members (our most fervently party-aligned people), to rapturous applause. We also held a joint 'State of the Nation' event in January, for the first time ever. None of this happened before the MoU.

We've also worked closely on issues we have common concerns about. We undertook a nationwide inquiry into growing homelessness in New Zealand when the Government refused to. We did the same with the aged-care sector.

Most recently we released the Budget Responsibility Rules, a fiscal framework that outlines how the Greens and Labour intend to manage the economy. It was a significant announcement, which signalled that there is an alternative to the current government and it's coloured green and red.

Of course, as you'd expect, it hasn't been all sunshine and rainbows. We are two different parties, with different charters and principles. There are obviously good reasons why 'our people' aren't 'Labour people', and vice versa, and why I myself am a Green Party MP, not a Labour one - otherwise there wouldn't be a need for two parties in the first place. Politics can be very tribal, and grievances and grudges can hold firm for years. When you care deeply about an issue, compromise is not always top of mind.

So how we do make it work? I believe the key is that our relationship is equitable, regardless of which party is bigger or smaller, older or newer, or going up or down in the polls at any given time. Agreements like ours don't work if they become an exercise in dominance and subservience. When we sit down at the table with Labour, we do so on equal footing. It can't and wouldn't work any other way.

Something that's also undoubtedly in our favour is New Zealand's Mixed-Member Proportional (MMP) electoral system, which was used for the first time at a national level in 1996. It means that the bigger parties almost always have to play ball with the smaller parties to form a majority in Parliament and a government. There are seven different political parties represented in our current Parliament, of varying sizes - some are in government, some aren't, and some hope to be soon (us).

The Green Party-Labour MoU in of itself won't deliver us to government later this year. As parties, we will both be campaigning to convince New Zealanders that we deserve that right and, depending on how the numbers fall on the night, the extent to each party will influence the next government's agenda. To my eyes, it's essential that there's a strong Green Party presence.

What the MoU has undoubtedly done, though, is show New Zealanders once and for all that there is a credible, alternative, progressive government in waiting. I am hopeful we won't be waiting much longer.

Metiria Turei is co-leader of the Green Party of Aotearoa New Zealand

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