Waterways might not need tougher pollution rules - potential 'blue-green' party leader Vernon Tava

A rejected Green Party leadership hopeful planning to form a rival environmental party says New Zealand might not need stricter rules on protecting its waterways.

Vernon Tava, who unsuccessfully ran for the party's co-leadership in 2015, is in talks to set up a "centrist" green party that - unlike the present Green Party - could work with National.

"There have been a lot of conversations over the summer over the place about a definite lack in the political market if you will, in New Zealand, for an environmental party that is a genuine green-green kind of party," he told Magic Talk on Monday.

"One that isn't left or right, but is a centrist party who's primary focus is the environment."

That focus would extend to not bothering with policies on other topics, instead approaching each vote on a case-by-case basis.

"I don't think that you need to have policy on absolutely every single other area… Sustainability as a concept - that's including economic, cultural, social and environmental sustainability - is such as well-developed concept in academia and business and so on, that you could analyse any issue that comes along… through that lens and reach sensible and philosophically and politically consistent positions on that basis."

As for environmental issues, Mr Tava rates water quality as the number one problem facing New Zealand. Earlier on Monday morning, Fish and Game released the results of a survey it commissioned showing 82 percent of Kiwis would back mandatory water standards, even if it meant cutting back on intensive farming.

"This survey shows the public wants the Government to toughen the rules so those who are not doing the right thing will be forced to comply," said chief executive Martin Taylor, adding that support is even stronger - 90 percent - among those who say they're very or extremely concerned about water pollution.

Vernon Tava.
Vernon Tava. Photo credit: Newshub.

But Mr Tava's not one of them.

"We've got a lot of rules… the councils' policies, the regional plans, the district plans, RMA requirements, national policy standards, national environmental standards that are tough, but they're not enforced.

"A big part of our problem in New Zealand is actually not the rules themselves, it's the lack of enforcement."

And that comes down to funding, he says. Councils are left with the responsibility, but the cost is too high - but not for central Government, according to Mr Tava.

"I'd be wary of saying 'let's just make the rules a lot tougher' without supporting enforcement."

Optimistic, but realistic 

With the Greens wedded to Labour, Mr Tava hopes to attract votes from centrist and right-leaning voters who want to look after the environment without having to vote for the more left-wing policies the Green Party proudly waves, such as lifting benefits and shifting the tax burden to capital and polluters.

"There are a lot of people… who are to the right of centre, or are very much centrist - maybe swing voters, but not people who are to the left of Labour - who would give a party vote to an environmental party.

"I've lost count of the number of conversations I've had with people who've said they'd vote for that kind of party. Of course that's anecdata, but I do believe yes it would be a challenge, but it's an idea whose time has come."

With only 20 months until the next election and no party formed, Mr Tava acknowledges he has an uphill battle ahead - but he'd like to do it by getting over the 5 percent threshold, rather than relying on an Epsom-style deal.

"I would certainly hope that a party along these lines would be able to get over 5 percent… stand on its own two feet without needing accommodation from another party."

Simon Bridges.
Simon Bridges. Photo credit: The AM Show

National Party leader Simon Bridges is open to gifting a seat to Mr Tava's new party, should it look likely to fall short of the threshold.

"My job fundamentally is to get out and make sure National is the strongest party," he told The AM Show on Monday.

"I think we do need partners. But I think what you are going to see this year is whether it's this green idea, whether it's an indigenous Māori party, whether it's something else, I think you will organically see parties coming up to fill I suppose what is a void in the centre."

Mr Bridges denied being involved in setting up the new party as a way to bring in a few extra MPs on his side, like ACT has over the past couple of decades.

"I haven't been in any talks, I haven't seen anything concrete. But I suppose what I'd say is the idea of it, look, it could be a valuable contribution… I think the idea of a party in the middle that wasn't about all the left-wing stuff, if you like, but was about the environment and doing something with that, could be quite powerful."

Mr Tava finished third-equal in the Greens' 2015 male co-leadership election.

Mr Tava has also previously unsuccessfully run for Parliament as a Green candidate, and contested the National nomination for Northcote following Jonathan Coleman's retirement, but failed to make the party's shortlist. The nomination - and seat - ultimately went to Dan Bidois.