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2014 and the Greens: the timetable that really counts

With barely a week until polling day, it’s natural that all the media focus is on the intricate range of potential outcomes that MMP voting almost always turns up.

Russel NormanRussel Norman has brought the Greens into the mainstream

But let’s face it: the die is almost certainly cast for policy direction in the next three years.

At the very least, John Key and the National Party will get first crack at forming the next government, despite National’s campaign being a bumbling stodge-fest, while Labour’s campaign advertising – if not its leader – has had a competitive edge.

In miscalculating just how long the media would latch onto a balls-up over a tea-cup, Key will have eroded some of the critical swinging vote that National hopes could deliver it a working majority in the next Parliament.

The damage is further compounded by the fact the cuppa conundrum seems to have swung Epsom voters away from voting tactically for Key’s would-be chums, the Act Party.

Without Act, National has far less hope of securing the convincing mandate that looked possible if its campaign had run smoothly in the month between winning the Rugby World Cup and election day.

One big implication of that: National will almost certainly have to deal more constructively and actively with the Green Party than it might have otherwise, since the Greens will again be the third largest party in the next Parliament.

If so, such collaboration should provide a useful training ground for those parts of the business community whose heads are still stuck in the sand on the issues of green growth and sustainability.

Because if the die is cast for this election, the same cannot be said of the next one, scheduled in 2014, or the one after that in 2017.

Winning a second term is commonplace, and it’s not uncommon for governments to manage a third term in office, but a fourth is almost unheard of in New Zealand political history.

That means that in either 2014 or 2017, the political pendulum will swing back to a government dominated by some combination of an ageing, albeit still potent, Labour Party and an increasingly confident Green Party.

Polling consistently at around 10 percent in opinion polls for this election, the Greens are the only truly fresh faces on the political block, and the more visible of their two co-leaders, Russel Norman, is doing a sterling job of pulling what was once a fringe party much closer to the centre.

It helps that green politics are becoming mainstream anyway. But Norman has also been unashamed to present a version of the Greens that is more sobre, less sandally, and much less single issue. Last week, for example, the Greens had more to say on Basel 3 bank capital reforms than it did on the environment.

What does that means for businesses, lobbyists, regulators, local governments and non-profits with a horizon spanning more than the next few months? Simple: start preparing now for life under a Labour/Greens combination by the middle of the decade.

For those who see that as a threat, it may mean trying to lock in as much regulatory certainty as possible in the next three years on the kinds of things that a greened-up Labour-led government will pursue. That means land and water use policies that treat the environment and the economy much more as equal considerations.

It means accepting that the emissions trading scheme, or some form of carbon pricing, is not only here to stay, but will be a bellwether for investment in plant, equipment, products and services that will drive towards a lower carbon future.

It means not assuming that more dairying is the answer to everything, and that mineral exploitation is going to need a much better business case than its promoters have so far managed to mount.

It means forging new relationships sooner rather than later with the Opposition politicians who will rise to the top of the pile.

That’s not to say the next three years aren’t important. In fact, depending on the make-up of the next Parliament, they could well provide a harbinger of the kind of administration that will come next.

It’s just that by the time an election rolls around, the short term is generally fairly clear. And as night follows day, re-elected governments run out of political steam eventually. That makes the battle for 2014 relevant already.