How 'consensus builder' Jacinda Ardern could work with Greens despite Labour majority: What we know so far

Newshub understands the outcome of Labour-Green talks will be announced on Friday as self-described "consensus builder" Jacinda Ardern continues discussions on how her party could work with its closest ally despite holding a majority.  

The election delivered an historic win for Labour, picking up 64 seats in Parliament - three more than the 61 needed to govern alone. Meanwhile the Greens picked up 10 seats - two more than last term - and they've made it clear they want to return to power.  

"The dream is to form a Government," Green Party co-leader James Shaw said last week after wrapping up a meeting with Ardern alongside co-leader Marama Davidson.  

But the Greens essentially have no negotiating power. Newshub has already revealed that Labour will not be forming a formal coalition with the Greens, with the Prime Minister planning a lower-level support arrangement. 

After the election in 2017, neither Labour nor National won enough seats to govern alone, which put minor parties New Zealand First and the Greens in powerful positions, as they were in a position to negotiate promises from their larger counterparts. 

At the time, NZ First had nine seats and leader Winston Peters was known as the 'kingmaker' because his party had worked with both Labour and National in the past, whereas the Greens were clearly aligned with Labour. Peters met with both sides to hear them out and see what he could secure. 

National won 56 seats in 2017 - 10 more than Labour's 46 - but in the end Peters decided to form a coalition with Labour, who signed a confidence and supply agreement with the Greens to use their eight seats, which formed the Government. 

Labour leader Jacinda Ardern is holding talks with the Greens despite Labour holding a majority in Parliament.
Labour leader Jacinda Ardern is holding talks with the Greens despite Labour holding a majority in Parliament. Photo credit: Newshub / Zane Small

It's a very different picture in 2020. NZ First is voted out and Labour does not need the Greens to form a Government. Ardern has acknowledged that New Zealanders gave her party "a strong mandate" to govern alone without the need for minor party promises. 

Some polls leading to the election showed Labour without a majority, meaning they would have needed the Greens, and some in the farming community have heard of their peers voting for Labour strategically to try and block the Greens from governing.

Labour's clear majority meant Temuka dairy farmer Andy Palmer could breathe a sigh of relief. 

"The result of Labour governing alone is far more preferable than governing with the Greens," he told RNZ. "I think that farmers can probably feel reasonably positive with the outcome."

Why is Labour meeting with the Greens?

Labour risks having the Greens as part of the Opposition in Parliament, where they would be able to criticise Labour's policies without the restraint of being in Government together, which could put their close relationship at risk. 

Ardern described her last meeting with Shaw and Davidson as "very constructive" - but while the Greens have been calling it a 'negotiation', Ardern has called it a 'conversation'. That hasn't concerned Shaw, who says it's simply a "semantic distinction". 

"We've got a really constructive working relationship there," Shaw said. "Labour and the Green Party share a vision for the future of the country and the question is: how can we help achieve that vision?" 

What might the Greens want?

Ardern has ruled out the Greens' wealth tax but there are several other Green Party priorities Labour could help them progress, from action on climate change to transforming the farming and transport sectors to be more sustainable. 

The Greens had some wins thanks to their confidence and supply agreement in 2017, from holding a recreational cannabis referendum to delivering a progressive home ownership scheme and passing the Zero Carbon Act. 

But some promises in Labour's agreement with the Greens were not progressed because NZ First objected, such as light rail. Labour plans to move ahead with light rail now that NZ First is out of the picture, because it's also a Labour policy. 

Green Party co-leaders James Shaw and Marama Davidson hope to be part of the next Government.
Green Party co-leaders James Shaw and Marama Davidson hope to be part of the next Government. Photo credit: Getty

The Greens were also given ministerial positions in 2017 but those ministers were not part of Cabinet. Some say that ministerial experience the Greens have could be their strongest selling point in terms of a post-election deal with Labour. 

"I think the Greens' bargaining power is that they've got some competent people that can fill Labour's skill shortage," ACT leader David Seymour said last week

"If I was the Green Party I would resist the urge to be hugged to death by Labour, but it looks like they're going to fall for it -  that's their problem."

Seymour said there are NZ First MPs such as Ron Mark and Tracey Martin with ministerial experience that will be missed in Government. He said Labour - with 22 new and inexperienced MPs - will need Shaw's experience. 

"I would say that the Greens would be far too nervous to say goodbye to their staff and their ministerial salaries and Labour's skill shortage made worse by the loss of the safe pair of hands in Ron Mark and Tracey Martin will require them to need James Shaw."