Te Pāti Māori calls for Greens Party's Climate Minister James Shaw to resign over Government's climate policy purge

By Russell Palmer and Anneke Smith for RNZ

Parties on the left are clashing over the government's climate policy purge, with Te Pāti Māori saying the Greens' climate minister James Shaw should resign.

Shaw says that would leave him with no influence, and the recent extreme weather events show the need to instead double down - but the moves amount to a breach of practice over their co-operation agreement with Labour.

When Prime Minister Chris Hipkins yesterday announced the second round of his reprioritisation of the government's work programme, the policies being scrapped, restricted or delayed had a distinctly Green tinge.

They included the clean car upgrade, social leasing scheme, alcohol reform, a container-return scheme, speed limit reviews, a public transport improvement programme, Auckland light rail and the Vote 16 legislation - most were supported by the Green Party.

Hipkins this morning defended scrapping the climate initiatives, saying they would have made a very small difference to emissions for the cost.

Greens co-leader Shaw said he was "really disappointed" with some of the choices.

"They might individually not have amounted to a great deal of emissions reduction but collectively they do start to add up," he said.

"As a country we've spent 30 years not treading with a great deal of urgency and we are now in I would say quite dire straits.

"I don't think that this government has treated it with the level of urgency that was outlined in the Cabinet paper when we declared that climate emergency."

But - because of the way climate budgets work - the government would still be required to make up the difference elsewhere, he said.

"Any time that you decide to ditch a policy that has an impact on reducing pollution means that you've got to make that up somewhere else."

"What it actually demonstrates to me is that we need to double down, that we need more Green MPs in Parliament, that we need more Green ministers and that we need to be sitting around the Cabinet table - and we'll have a chance to do that this October."

Co-leader Marama Davidson agreed, saying the Greens were the ones who would always prioritise climate change and inequality reduction.

"It is too slow, the rate of change and reducing pollution is too slow, we've always been really clear about that. We're focused on an election where the Green party has the most influence on any government ... if they want to work with us they will have to come to the table with strong climate action and inequality [reduction]."

She said cost of living and climate were not problems to be traded off against one another.

"Especially if we rebalance wealth. We should not have to choose - we have to do both of them."

James Shaw.
James Shaw. Photo credit: Getty Images

Te Pāti Māori urges Shaw to resign

Te Pāti Māori co-leader Debbie Ngarewa-Packer said the changes announced yesterday should prompt Shaw's resignation.

"That's not a policy, that's disgusting. And to be honest the way that they're backtracking, the climate change minister should be ashamed of himself - in fact he should stand down.

"This is a total disrespect to all the work that's being done in this space, to all the rangatahi, to all those that are living through the crisis of a climate change, I think it's a terrible backtrack.

"Labour's decided that ... the climate and our future is not 'bread and butter'. It is - in fact it's extremely important that they do an 'and-and' approach. I think they've backtracked, I think they've reneged on the commitment they've made when they first got in."

She said it was clearly important that the Greens and Labour have another support partner "because they clearly are not able to advance kaupapa that are important to us - addressing poverty and homelessness and making sure that our whānau are resilient enough to handle the climate crisis".

Her co-leader Rawiri Waititi suggested Shaw could not abdicate responsibility for the moves.

"You can't say that you're not part of the government when you're a minister in the government, so this is a stain on that relationship I would say. The other thing that's a head-scratcher for me is he's standing out there protesting against himself.

But Shaw said while walking away might send a strong message - it would not achieve anything.

"Walking away leaves you with no influence at all and actually it's incumbent on all of us that have got the option to double down.

"I think about, every day, the impact that I'm able to have as part of a government and I think every politician should be questioning every day whether or not they would be better utilised elsewhere."

He said he would still be willing to work with Te Pāti Māori.

"I think that when you're in opposition, that's a very luxurious position that you can take. When you're in a position of responsibility it does mean that you are faced with very difficult choices every single day."

Debbie Ngarewa-Packer and Rawiri Waititi.
Debbie Ngarewa-Packer and Rawiri Waititi. Photo credit: Newshub.

Greens say Labour breached co-operation agreement practices

Shaw accused the Labour government of breaching its co-operation agreement with his party.

Hipkins had met with the Green co-leaders before announcing the Cabinet meeting on Monday, which Shaw said was their first formal sit down meeting since Hipkins became prime minister.

It was at this meeting they were first told climate policies would be axed.

"There was some poor process around this set of decisions because we were informed quite late in the piece around policy decisions that related to our co-operation agreement that we weren't consulted on before the decision was made."

"It breaches long standing practice."

Shaw said in the past, the Government had consulted MPs on decisions relating to areas of ministerial responsibility or the co-operation agreement before a cabinet decision was made.

He would not say what Hipkins' response was, saying it was a "private conversation".

"My frustration is that these decisions were made before there was a sense of what were the other options - and there are no easy options left because we as a country have been kicking the can down the road for three decades."

National and ACT weigh in

National Party deputy Nicola Willis - standing in for her Covid-19 afflicted leader - said New Zealand did need to be reducing emissions.

"One area that I point you to is that climate change is going to make global food sources less secure so that actually makes it more important than ever that New Zealand ensure that our carbon-efficient farmers can do their thing, and can be producing food that ends up on Kiwis tables at a more affordable price.

"I think that if we don't handle climate change well, it will exacerbate the cost of living crisis."

ACT leader David Seymour said the climate crisis did need to be weighed against the cost of living crisis. The best solutions were the most efficient ones, and the policies Hipkins had targeted were not.

"If alternative energy was cheaper, people would already be using it - so fundamentally, mitigating climate change goes against the cost of living. However what does help with the cost of living is using the lowest-cost most efficient remedies to reduce emissions.

"The policies were already wildly ineffective, I think what this shows is the Greens will support ineffective policies. You know, the clean car upgrade was admitted to have no effect on climate.

"I would have thought the Greens would want to support the most efficient ways possible of reducing emissions because they say it's a crisis.

Shaw said two of the policies - the clean car upgrade and social leasing scheme - were not primarily designed to reduce emissions.

"They were actually designed to support low-income households to have different transport options which would lower their household living costs."

In terms of climate, cutting them may not make much difference - but he suggested it made little sense to defer the container return programme. While Hipkins said the scheme would cost families, it was not set to take effect for three more years.

"That container deposit scheme has been in the works for nearly five years now - it's basically ready to go, it doesn't even kick in until 2026 so the question has to be why would you not actually just get it up and running."