Laila Harré goes all the way (WARNING: Politically explicit)



Last week I joined the Green Party.

Sure, we’d been friends for a long time, but this wasn’t a courtship. The last time anyone actually asked me to join was just after the 2005 election. It was Rod Donald and we were at the CTU Conference as the Greens were being side-lined from Helen Clark’s third Government. Rod thought it was time for me to come out of mourning for the Alliance. I took another eight years to get there.

Ever since I was presented with a smorgasbord of political parties and tendencies as a 15 year old activist (I chose Labour), party joining has been a serious matter for me. Voting, leafleting, making donations – that kind of stuff is easy (which isn’t to say it’s easy to get people to do it). The Party’s grateful, it’s not an exclusive deal and you can hang onto your independence. But joining? That’s going all the way. And for a practical person like me that kind of leap requires a balance of conviction and trust.

Let’s start with the conviction.

A week ago Julie Anne Genter, Green MP and transport spokesperson, kicked off a speaking tour on the case for the Auckland City Rail Link. It’s not as if the Greens have the monopoly on this patently obvious addition to Auckland’s transport network. Len Brown campaigned on it in 2010. Labour says it will fund it if elected in 2014. A business lobby is about to get behind it in a big way. The Greens do, however, have a monopoly on coherence. The rail link doesn’t just make sense on the transport economics front. It makes sense as part of our contribution to reducing global greenhouse gas emissions, it makes sense in democratising access to transport infrastructure and it makes sense for the development of a city of neighbourhoods.

Last night more than 60 West Aucklanders came to hear Green Co-Leader Meteria Turei and housing spokesperson Holly Walker talk about the Green’s “Home for Life” proposal. One time Green candidate and housing issues expert, Alan Johnson, who joined them on the platform, didn’t shy away from the conundrum that Auckland’s housing shortage, twinned with excessive investment in Auckland property, represents. With 4000 fewer houses being built each year than can accommodate our population growth it is going to take more than the unitary plan to stand between a liveable city and the Government’s appetite for easy greenfields development.

Housing and transport are among the big systems issues of our time. How they are resolved will define the kind of lives our grandchildren live. And big systems need political champions. There’s no question that the right have able champions for their big systems – epitomised by Steven Joyce and Gerry Brownlee with their extractive industry crusade and roads of national significance, window dressed by Judith Collin’s human rights appointments, John Banks’s charter schools and Paula Bennett’s periodic plucking of the welfare state’s eyebrows.

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The Greens provide different sorts of champion, not just because of any particular technical policy solution but more fundamentally because the kind of systems thinking this stuff needs is a natural fit with greenie-ness. Greens like getting on trains and bikes and putting out our recycling bins. We’d rather be on a surfboard than a jet ski. We dream of community gardens even when we haven’t got the time or local connections to make them happen. Most of us use far more resources than we could claim to replace, but we’d accept significantly greater limits on that in the interests of social justice and a healthy planet.

But this sense of an identity shared with other greens needed a booster to get my broken political heart over the line to join another political party. While the part of me that smiles when I put my peelings in the compost bin on the bench or hands over my keeper cup to the barista like a secret green handshake could have a happy picnic with the Green Party, it takes more than that to get into the political trench with folk. It takes trust.

Russel Norman has taken down a big hurdle there. I wish the party had a dollar for everyone whose first response when I say I work for the Greens is a positive comment on Russel’s grip of his economic portfolios. Given a pretty good chance of having Greens in government next year, that matters.

So with two of my identities intact – the greenie one and the social democratic one – I’m ready to get involved in the machinations of a party again. Not enough of us do and there is a lot of work to be done. Naturally enough I’m keen to be involved in policy work in my old patch of industrial relations, where it’s time to address the deficiencies of the Employment Relations Act, and I’ll be putting my oar in for free tertiary education and universal student allowances. I’d like to see the Greens navigate the battle lines of welfare and work without getting their heads shot off (or shooting off each others). This is one of the toughest policy challenges of our time.

I’m looking forward to having my say in the list selection but I’ll be steering clear of anything that requires tortuous consensus decision-making around the minutiae of Party rules. That’s when you’ll find me peeling the spuds.


  1. The reason I’ve chosen to make the Green Party my sole focus rather than the many other valuable organisations that exist is because my limited time and energy goes towards many positive things all at once. The two most important things the Green Party contributes (for me) are votes in Parliament, and being the spokesperson for points of view that otherwise wouldn’t be quoted in the media.

  2. a thoughtful, carefully analytical and beautifully written blog. The Greens are lucky to have you Laila!

  3. Ok. Ka pai Laila. Have you thought about the subtle shift of the Greens economic policy away from sustainability into growth. Growth economics is killing the world. There was a time when the Greens were our last hope. I was contemplating throwing my lot in with them. Engari mo tena! No way now! They are now just the same as everone else. The “green-ness” is a veneer. No reira e hoa, e Laila, kia tupato. Unless of course you still espouse growth as the way to go. Why aren’t the Greens talking sustainability and degrowth?

    • Rakau, I’m not sure what has informed your idea that the Greens are not pushing for economic sustainability. Our policy supports it and David Clendon is currently traveling around the country supporting sustainable practices in small businesses. We are also great supporters of fair trade over free trade.

      It is interesting that you have the impression that the Greens support ongoing growth and the dairy industry feel that we are pushing the opposite message. Perhaps this confusion is because we think that market forces can sometimes be used positively.

      • Dave just answer one question.
        If the Greens are not pro growth, why did they support (and continue to) a retirement/saving scam that has to have growth to survive?
        Kiwi Saver is growth
        No growth = no Kiwi Saver ….
        As an educated person you must have a logical answer ?

    • Tena koe Rakau,

      “Why aren’t the Greens talking sustainability and degrowth?” Because if they did they wouldn’t get enough votes to have influence or be part of a government. Let the Greens move to the centre, gain some power, and still shift the centre back towards the left where it was before. In the meantime, something else will arise to hold the truth about powering down and degrowth. It’s not the job of the GP at this time (but we should still keep on their cases about it).

  4. In the early 2000s I supported the Green Party: then I discovered what a bunch of idiots and denialists they were. For several years I have seen very clearly that the Green Party is very much part of the problem. And getting worse by the month.

    First it was the abject failure to let the general populace know that Peak Oil was imminent and would demolish all long-standing economic arrangements. Well, Peak Oil in the rearview mirror and is in the process of demolishing he global economic system. And what do the Green Party have to say? Nuthin’,

    Then it was the promotion of international tourism as a ‘sustainable’ industry. How brain-dead can you get?

    Then it was the promotion of non-existent biofuels.

    More recently it has the been promotion of manufacturing and the promotion of money-printing to stimulate the economy. Runaway greenhouse? Not a word from the Greens.

    I don’t know what the Green Party leadership are smokin’ these days but it must an awfully powerful psychotic drug, whatever it is.

    • The shift to the Centre from the Greens is a sound strategic move, allowing them to more than double their share of the electorate vote. They’re also, barring some desperately needed course correction from the Labour party, the most-leftest party with a shot at getting any seats that we have.

      All of your complaints – a reduction in focus on environmental issues – can easily be addressed by asking yourself: What other party in Parliament even cares about the environment at all?

      The Greens still care about peak oil etc, they’ve just learned message discipline and are much more appealing to dissatisfied Labour voters as a result. Which is a good thing!

      And, lets face it, realpolitik time: Refusing to vote at all is effectively a vote for National. And nobody wants that.

      • “message discipline” Oh, they have “learned to deceive.” Excellent. Great spokes-people,yet conviction? I don’t think so. A Few Knows The Truth

  5. Funny! From the title I was expecting a real whine.
    Congratulations, Laila. The Greens, we rock. Green is our life. Greetings from the Far North.

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