The Green's water bottling decision exposes potentially fatal flaws and complacency at the heart of Green Parliamentary operations 

The Green parliamentary wing seem to be clueless about the mortal danger they face following news this week that their own minister, Eugenie Sage, has signed off on the sale and expansion of a water bottling plant at Otakiri Springs.

A local subsidiary of Chinese company Nongfu Spring will now be able to purchase 6.2 hectares of sensitive land at Otakiri, near Whakatane, and to take more than a billion litres of water a year, most of it for export to China.

Local people had organised in opposition and mana whenua including Ngai Tamawera hapu, Te Tawera hapu and Tuwakairora fought the sale.

The Green Party’s official policy on drinking water states, among other things:

The Green Party will put an immediate 10 cent/litre levy on water bottling and exports.

In government we will develop a new way of allocating and pricing all commercial uses of water, based on shared values of protecting fresh water, honouring Te Tiriti o Waitangi, and upholding mana whenua rights.

New water bottling consents will be banned until we have the regulation in place to ensure priority is given to good supplies of clean drinking water for all New Zealanders.

When Eugenie Sage’s role in approving the sale as Land Information Minister became public there was immediate anger from party members. It was reported that the co-leader of the Young Greens Max Tweedie said on an internal Facebook page that he was ‘extremely disappointed’ about what had happened. Some members threatened to leave the party.

Apart from a bland government media release and a ministerial blog closely replicating the official line there appeared to be no effort to forestall the inevitable sense of betrayal which would arise from the blatant turnaround on core party policy.

It seems that it was only when mainstream media picked up on the high level of internal unrest that the Green caucus realised they might have a problem on their hands.

Their responses, for example in this TV1 report, seemed defensive and obscure, focused on explaining why they believed the Minister’s hands were legally tied in making the decision.

And yes, it does appear that Ms Sage may have been trapped by current law into mandating an Overseas Investment Office decision based on the employment and export benefits that would accrue from the sale.

The party went quiet.

But perhaps it’s time the Green leadership in Parliament realises that it’s not just the unhappiness of members that needs to be assuaged. Voters are the ones who ultimately make the difference between survival and electoral disaster.

There are many of us out here who voted Green at the last election because we saw how marginal the party had become. If we cared about its core values and principles we had to give it one last chance. I’m sure there were those to the centre and right who felt this way, not just those of us on the party’s left flank.

Issues around fresh water, conservation values, mana whenua rights under Te Tiriti and overseas ownership of sensitive land are not necessarily positioned on the left-right spectrum of Green support.

Even the most dedicated Green voters may find themselves in a difficult position next time around.

It’s one of the most common political truisms that small parties in government get eaten by their larger partners. Surely the Green caucus focus from day one of government formation should have been on honing their political and strategic strategy and capacity so that the sort of situation which happened this week would never arise.

It is not nine days since the Greens became part of government. It is nine months.

Hefty parliamentary resources are provided to all parties to employ staff who can help the caucus deal strategically and well with situations like the one that arose this week.  I’m sure there are members within the party structures who would be happy to assist as well.

As things stand, it feels as though the caucus and those around them do not think ahead about the consequences of some of their decisions, water bottling only being the latest of a string of stuff-ups (think waka jumping and giving National some of their parliamentary questions).

There seems to be a lack of both the will and capacity to negotiate with the senior partner, Labour, and an inability to think ahead and manage this kind of crisis. There are all sorts of ways what happened this week could have been managed differently – where are the advisors who could have helped the caucus through this?

Behind this fateful lack of capacity lies a political question too – to what extent, if any, are the Greens really prepared to carve out their own path in this term of Parliament?

Once again, it appears the real agenda here is a sodden acceptance that being a safe pair of hands for Labour is all that counts, and that those pesky members and voters are something to worry about in maybe a couple of years’ time.


Comments (10)

by Tom Semmens on June 15, 2018
Tom Semmens

And you were never confronted with such difficulties a  minister?

Oh wait...

Pissing into the tent was only ever your style.

by Warren Doney on June 15, 2018
Warren Doney

I wish they were doing better at the "safe hands" thing. Question time and standing in Northcote look extremely disloyal, and they will lose votes if it looks like they aren't playing well with the progressive 'team'.

Northcote could have easily swung all the way to Labour if people thought they had a chance of winning. I think the decision to run may have been about the opportunity to raise Marama's profile. I doubt the tradeoff was worth it.

They definitely need better advice than they are getting around political strategy, internal and external. None of the current MPs seems to have much talent for it.


by Charlie on June 15, 2018

This was always going to happen.

There is an enormous difference between making outrageous statements in opposition and actually living up to them when forming part of a government. At some point the tyre has to meet the road...

The Greens have two fundamental problems that are the seeds of their own destruction:

1. Many of their policies are not science based

The Greens operate on a toxic mixture of half truths and emotionalism. Anything to gain attention. Anything to get a headline.

Water bottling is a good example. It really doesn't matter if water is extracted from the Edgemcombe area. The place is waterlogged and subject to flooding. Hey, it might actually help! It's also right next to the sea so any extraction from the water table would shortly have entered the ocean anyway. The Greens policy was based on a mixture of poor science with a just dash of xenophobia (because it's the evil Chinese again, right?). 

2. An uncomfortable mixture of enviromentalism and socialism

Socialism doesn't work. Anyone who has studied 20th century history can tell you that. The more of it you have in a society, the more dysfunctional that society becomes. This is particularly true for the environment. When socialist states fail, as they generally do, they always leave one hell of a mess behind.

This is not news!

It was elegantly captured by a Victorian economist with the phrase 'The tragedy of the commons': Collectively owned assets are generally mismanaged and abused.

The Greens had a choice years back to chose environmentalism or this 'social justice' claptrap we see now. And they chose the latter. The reds are in charge, and as we've seen from the Metiria farce, the truth takes a back seat and the few remaining qualified environmental scientists are forced out of the party.

As a result, technically literate people can see straight through the BS, and the Greens are stuck on around the 5%. Supported by those daft enough to think they're a real environmental group plus a few leftist hippies from the '70's.

by Andin on June 15, 2018

Hey Charlie talking in absolutes doesnt work for anyone even you.

"Socialism doesn't work. Anyone who has studied 20th century history"

The 20th century wasnt a study in socialism failing, it was a study in failed dictatorships of various strips, meglomania, and in the later 20th C the failings of capitalism and rampant individualism in the business sector. And thats just the one error I can be bothered pointing out

by Kat on June 15, 2018

The conundrum facing NZ Andin is it appears, if we accept the polls, that currently 44% of the voting electorate are made up of Charlies.

by Nick R on June 15, 2018
Nick R

I can't work out what depresses me more, the political naivity of Greens supporters who are criticising Eugenie Sage or the daft decision to have a Green Minister of Land Information.

Ministers have to make decisions according to the law.  Just because they oppose the law - eg the Overseas Investment Act - doesn't somehow make it ok to ignore it and make a decision based on a dislike of Chinese water bottling companies.  What was she supposed to do?  Do the Greens really just want Ministers to make decisions based on personal inclination?  Would they be happy for a National Government to behave like that?  The lack of a commitment to the rule of law is pretty breathtaking.  Really, it just goes to show that even after decades as a political party, the Greens still aren't fit to be part of a Government.  Maybe they should stop pretending to be a Parliamentary political party and just focus on activism.  Life's easier when you have no power and are not responsible for anything.  

The other side of this is wondering what the Green Party was thinking when they decided to accept the Land Information portfolio.  Making decisions like this is a poisoned chalice but also inevitable for a Minister in that job.  And you can't just refuse to make a decision because it owuld be politically embarrassing.  So the smart thing would have been to take a different portfolio instead and let a Labour or NZ First Minister make these decisions.  I wonder if the Labour Party are sniggering quietly to themselves about this while the Green party self-immolates.  I would if I were them.

by Bruce Thorpe on June 15, 2018
Bruce Thorpe

Sue has called this one almost 100 per cent correct.

The current Green Party parliamentarians seem consistently badly advised. 

I doubt Labour finds anything to celebrate in their incompetence and bad judgement, because a Labour led government is very dependent on the Greens making up the numbers in parliament.  


by Dennis Frank on June 15, 2018
Dennis Frank

Sue makes a reasonable case on behalf of Green purists, many of whom will indeed be alienated by Eugenie's pragmatism, but it wouldn't surprise me if a significant portion of the 18% of voters who told exit pollsters at the 2014 election that they had considered voting Green but didn't (on top of the 10.7% who did) are pragmatists like her and more than make up for any purists who are alienated.

So Sue's critique is just as likely to be scare-mongering as rational.  As a centrist early seventies hippie I'm okay with much of Charlie's critique too, but his case is over-stated.  My take is that Eugenie is intelligent enough to know that her ministerial portfolio will only remain hers as long as she demonstrates that she's a team player.  Jacinda will expect her to work on behalf of the government, not on behalf of Green Party policy.  It is actually unreasonable for any member of the GP to expect her ministerial decisions to conform to GP policy, given that the Greens are not formally part of the government.

The leftists may try to force a rerun of the Values Party schism, but I doubt they'd be that stupid.  We know how the similar realo/fundi split in the German Greens played out.  As of this year I've been half a century in the Aotearoa green movement and I'm confident more of us by far want to make progress on a common-interest basis.  As Eugenie notes in her blog, the company is willing to pay royalties.  Our Green parliamentarians will benefit more from working with the government to legislate for those royalties than reverting to the simple-minded zero-sum thinking that protestors remain locked into.  But that's because the region has excess water and needs the jobs.  If it was a drought area, or if aquifer-depletion was proven, I'd oppose water extraction by foreign companies.

by Charlie on June 16, 2018

The irony of all this is that the real environmental issue is the need to create millions of plastic bottles for this product - which will no doubt come floating back to us on the ocean.

Complete silence over that!

by Andin on June 18, 2018

Potable water is a resource that will become scarce. NZ has an abundance and other countries were always going to come looking to buy. Is it a good deal? have we been sold down the river? I dont know. Have principles been compromised? probably.

The whole thing smells of political expediency but that what politicians do, especially in coalitions. Do what appeases as many parties as is possible. Thats what politicians do and will do until they cant, till the outside world comes pouring in through the cracks.

And those cracks are growing

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