Lloyd Burr: The Greens have lost their way

WELLINGTON, NEW ZEALAND - MAY 15:  Green Party co-leader Metiria Turei poses for a portrait at Parliament on May 15, 2017 in Wellington, New Zealand.  (Photo by Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)
Photo credit: Newshub/ Getty

OPINION: Thanks to Metiria Turei, the Green Party is in the midst of an identity crisis.

It's a crisis that cuts to the heart of what the party stands for, and what its priorities are. 

Just as importantly, it cuts to the heart of its name: The Greens.

The party doesn't look like the strong, unwavering voice for the environment anymore.

It is not focussed on forests and rivers, or climate change, or conservation underfunding, or waste and pollution reduction.

It is now a party focussed on fighting for the rights of beneficiaries. It is focussed on legitimising benefit fraud, boosting welfare payments, and removing welfare obligations.

Does the party need to change its name?
Does the party need to change its name? Photo credit: Newshub Graphics Team

Co-leader Metiria Turei is mainly to blame for the new direction, but so are the MPs, party chiefs and staffers who backed her move to publicly admit defrauding the social welfare system in the 90s.

The last three weeks have seen the Green Party's brand entirely associated with social welfare, benefit fraud, Ms Turei's alleged electoral fraud, and her ruling out being a minister.

The struggle of the environment vs social welfare isn't new to the Greens - it's been simmering away in the background for years.

In 1995, the Green Party's internal imbroglio came to a head, with environmentalist Guy Salmon defecting and forming the Progressive Green Party.

He claimed the Greens had become "hopelessly lost and mired within the Alliance and its policies".

Guy Salmon launched the Progressive Green Party in 1996.
Guy Salmon launched the Progressive Green Party in 1996. Photo credit: File

At the 1999 election, The Green Party's policy priorities didn't include social welfare - all of them were to do with the environment:

Stop genetic engineering; Stop West Coast logging; Put more money into conservation; Introduce waste and pollution taxes; Promote organic farming.

In those days, the Greens were making headlines about the environment - its supporters were delivering dead kereru to Prime Minister Jenny Shipley to show the effect of her West Coast Beech Forest logging.

An environmentalist shows PM Jenny Shipley a native kereru he found dead in the West Coast area being logged by her Government.
An environmentalist shows PM Jenny Shipley a native kereru he found dead in the West Coast area being logged by her Government. Photo credit: File

Labour will capitalise on Green Party's de-greening

Labour leader Jacinda Ardern is now in the box seat to mop up the voters disillusioned by Turei's benefit scandal.

While many Green voters support beneficiaries being treated with dignity, it's not a priority for many.

There is a big pool of them who want to prioritise the protection of the environment, cleaning our rivers, combating climate change, and reducing the amount of plastic that ends up in our oceans.

These voters may will be put off by the Green Party's new direction - and they'll look elsewhere.

Chances are they'll look to someone new, exciting and refreshing who will be a champion for environmental issues.

And Jacinda Ardern is right there to take them - in fact, Labour has a major environmental policy coming up on Wednesday.

Lloyd Burr is a Newshub political reporter.