Election 2023: Greens send warning shot at Labour at campaign launch

The Green Party has kicked off its 2023 election campaign with a warning shot for Labour and any other party that may want its support after October 14.

Co-leader James Shaw told a crowd of about 150 supporters at its campaign launch in Wellington on Sunday morning that no party should "take our support for granted" after the election and the Greens would use "every inch" of the hand it's dealt to fight for its policies.

"If that means more Green Ministers in Cabinet, or sitting on the cross benches and fighting on every piece of legislation, we will use our power in the most effective way we can to get the change we so desperately need," Shaw said.

Shaw said earlier this month that there was a "very real possibility" of the Greens not entering into a coalition with Labour after Chris Hipkins ruled out a wealth or capital gains tax.

That decision by the Labour leader was met with cries of "shame" from the Greens supporters on Sunday, with Shaw saying he disagreed with Hipkins that now was not the right time for big changes to New Zealand's tax system. Hipkins said that the current economic conditions mean it wouldn't be right to "experiment" with tax changes.

"The Government's own research shows that just 311 families own more wealth than the bottom two and half million New Zealanders, and yet they pay less than half the effective tax of the average New Zealander," Shaw said. 

"New Zealand's tax rules rank near the bottom of the world for their contribution towards reducing inequality. 135 countries have a fairer tax system than ours… Let's be clear: there has never been a better time to shake-up our tax system."

Shaw said, "inequality is not an inevitability"

"It is a political decision and different decisions can be made. Ruling out tax changes that would benefit millions is essentially saying to thousands of people who cannot afford to put food on the table, that's it."

He questioned why political leaders that aren't willing to take "difficult decisions" are "in politics at all". 

"Their personal successes will always shine a little less brightly if they fail to use their position to better the lives of others."

The Greens have an 'Income Guarantee' policy that was plugged several times throughout the campaign launch, that includes a wealth tax to pay for a guarantee that every New Zealander will get at least $385 per week. The policy also includes a tax-free threshold, leading to tax cuts for many Kiwis.

A potential National-ACT Government also came under heavy fire during Shaw's speech, with the Greens co-leader saying the parties were using a fear-based strategy for the election. 

"The fear and anxiety National and ACT have filled our headlines and social media feeds with, over the last 12 months, appalls me," he said.

"They are using fear as a motivator because they have nothing else. No vision. No courage. No moral compass. 

"They know that the knee-jerk, back of an envelope ideas they are putting forward work for nothing other than getting a “tough” looking headline."

The view that the two major parties only pursue power for its own sake, rather than for "collective purpose", was also a theme throughout both Shaw's and his co-leader Marama Davidson's speech.

Davidson listed off several things she believed either Labour or National had got "fundamentally wrong", including aspects of their approach to the climate and to renters.

"I think they have got something fundamentally wrong when instead of saying they will fix the unfair rules which see 1.4 million renters pay more of their income for cold, mouldy houses, Labour ruled out rent controls and National said they would open up young people's retirement savings so they can be raided to push up already unsustainable rental bonds."

She said the Greens' campaign would be about "our shared future". 

"About freeing ourselves from the constraints of a majority government and creating something new, something better. An Aotearoa where everybody has what they need to thrive.""

Earlier this year, Hipkins said smaller political parties should "be careful" with their demands or bottom lines as the "larger parties do need to be able to implement the commitments that they campaign on". 

Labour's finance spokesperson Grant Robertson this month also said that historically, it's the largest party's policies that dominate economic policy.

Asked if Labour was arrogant, Shaw said Labour was just saying "what they need to say during the course of an election campaign". 

"I think, ultimately, as we keep saying, it's up to the voters to decide what the shape of the next government is, and that will determine the agenda of the next Government."

The party has repeatedly said a more progressive government is only possible with more Green MPs, however, the co-leaders said there was no target for how many it wanted to see enter the House post-October 14.

While Labour currently has a majority in the House and doesn't need any other votes, it signed a cooperation agreement with the Greens after the 2020 election to maintain their relationship.

Prior to that, between 2017 and 2020, the Greens supported the Labour-NZ First coalition. 

A similar arrangement appears unlikely given NZ First leader Winston Peters has ruled out working with Labour.

NZ First is also holding its campaign launch on Sunday as it attempts to return to Parliament. It's already announced this weekend a slew of new candidates, including an anti-mandate doctor and spokesperson for the fringe lobby group Hobson's Pledge. 

Asked if the Greens could work with NZ First again, neither co-leader would explicitly rule it out.

"What New Zealand First do is up to them," said Davidson. "We are focused on our campaign and our priorities and that's the message we are giving to voters". 

"Give us the ability to raise up are serious solutions and the next Government and that is up to voters."

Davidson initially said, "we won't get into that" when pushed on whether the Greens would rule out working with Peters' party.

But later said it was "pretty unlikely" the two parties could work together. 

"They would probably stand here and tell you the same thing. They're going in exactly the opposite direction of what the Greens are doing. But all of that stuff has to be talked about and thrashed out once we have the voting results."

Shaw called it a "hypothetical that we have not spent a moment worrying about".

Asked if they would commit to staying for a full term if the Greens don't enter government after October 14. 

"I'm not even contemplating the idea that we won't get into government after October," Shaw replied.

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