Are New Zealand’s Greens worth a socialist vote? Three perspectives

From Fightback‘s upcoming issue on Electoral Politics. To subscribe, please visit

Fightback asked for three perspectives from social justice campaigners over whether they would advise anti-capitalists to vote Green in the New Zealand election this October. Fightback offers these perspectives as part of debate and we neither endorse nor oppose a Green vote in this election.

1. Sharon Bell, on behalf of the GreenLeft Network within the Green Party of Aotearoa/New Zealand

What precisely is the “GreenLeft Network” and what is your relationship to the Green Party of Aotearoa/NZ?

The GreenLeft Network (GLN) is one of a few formal membership networks within the Green Party of Aotearoa New Zealand. Other networks include Rainbow Greens, Inclusive Greens, Young Greens, and a number of other smaller interest-based networks. The GLN was established in 2014 as a response to a shift towards centrism within the Green Party. It initially started as a Facebook-based group but, following the establishment of the Budget Responsibility Rules in 2017, a group of members worked to formalise some of our operating structures and develop our Kaupapa Statement and Rules of Operation that guide how we function.

We aim to provide a home for lefties in the Green Party, as we work within the Party through mechanisms such as remits at the annual AGM to make change. We have over 200 members and members of the GLN also hold Party office roles, and focus on working constructively within Party processes for progressive change.

2. What does “GreenLeft” mean to you, in terms of kaupapa? Would you call yourself anti-capitalist or social-democratic?

Our Kaupapa Statement includes the following:

The GreenLeft Network holds true to the existing Green Party of Aotearoa Charter.

Further, the GreenLeft Network believes that the way to honour these principles is through a strong commitment to intersectional left-wing policies and analysis, with particular regard to an anti-capitalist stance and a critique of power.

We honour Te Tiriti o Waitangi and the tino rangatiratanga of hapū and iwi Māori, recognising that they did not cede their sovereignty… We are opposed to imperialism and militarism.

We recognise that capitalism produces a hierarchical classed society, which privileges profit accumulation at the expense of the many. We acknowledge that the capitalist system we live under is a base from which systems of oppression, hierarchy and division flow. We reject this, the GreenLeft Network aims to defend the rights of the poor and the working class, and fight all forms of marginalisation and oppression that capitalist society produces. We work to promote class analysis within the Green Party, as well as supporting those external groups already carrying out this work.

We reject “sustainable capitalism” as an oxymoron; we do not believe the market will ever be able to provide a genuine solution to climate change, and we indict the inherent violence of capitalism… We believe that our vision, and the Green Party’s vision, for Aotearoa cannot be achieved by pandering, conservatism, incrementalism or arbitrary constraints on the political imaginary. We are in favour of the Green Party campaigning on a bold and radical left-wing platform in electoral contests.

Whilst our members hold a healthy variety of positions and interpretations, all our members have to sign up to our Kaupapa Statement, and this keeps us ideologically unified.

What role GreenLeft has played in debates within the GPA/NZ recently? What struggles have you contributed to, and what (specifically) do you think your impact has been?

GLN members worked outside and inside the Party to drop the Budget Responsibility Rules, which we were successful with. Related to the current election, many top candidates in this year’s Green List are GLN members and we support their campaigns. In 2019, we put forward a remit to make MP tithing [donation of a portion of their salaries] to the Party progressive, which was passed by consensus.

I’d like to remind you of a few things that your party co-leader James Shaw said about you in an interview with Stuff a few months ago.[1] Can you tell us in your own words what the context of your “alternative draft list” was? How would you describe your relationship with GPA/NZ leadership, including James Shaw, Marama Davidson and others?

The GLN list was drafted in the context of the Party list-ranking process where non-incumbent MP candidates don’t fare well once the list is sent to the wider Party membership to vote upon. To overcome that, the GLN Executive underwent a process, including surveying the candidates for their views on issues, to establish a list of candidates that aligned well with the GLN Kaupapa, and communicated it privately to our members. Neither James Shaw nor anybody else in leadership has told us this was inappropriate. We always participate in Party democratic processes in good faith and strive to keep GLN members informed of how they can be involved.

Would you advise people who are explicitly anti-capitalist (members of groups like Fightback or Organise Aotearoa, Labour Party socialists, even anarchists) to vote for the Green Party this election – or even to join the GPA/NZ in order to fight alongside you?

Yes. We have a diverse range of political affiliations and grassroots organisation memberships within the Network. Although parliamentary politics is by no means perfect, the Green Party is the best option, as its membership structure and member-driven policy, principles and values mean you can contribute more directly to creating change. We value the many different ways people contribute to Aotearoa’s politics and voting Green is a worthwhile vote. Even if it’s just one day out of 1094 days of being staunchly committed to other ways of creating change (awesome, please do!), voting Green is one way you can advocate for transformational reforms. And if you agree with our Kaupapa Statement, we’d love to have you on board!

Where do you see yourself in the context of other “GreenLeft” organisations overseas, some of which have achieved parliamentary representation or even government on their own (e.g. Iceland, Netherlands or Denmark)? What do you think you gain by being part of the GPA/NZ?

Being part of the GreenLeft Network, as with any Party network, provides solidarity and space to be ourselves, reflect and develop our vision according to our values and politics. It weaves together grassroots movements and the Party. We also have MPs who are part of the network. Creating another Party is not the aim of the Network, as the Greens are the only Party that can and will push for a Just Transition to a healthier, more equitable world.

It is heartening to see the ascendency of GreenLeft organisations overseas. We see it as the most natural and strategic alliance for an anti-capitalist politics. The Green Party in Aotearoa has radical roots, and by staying true to them we can see similar successes here.

What is your take on the compromises made to the Zero Carbon Act?

We are glad that there is broad consensus in Parliament that climate change is a crisis that cannot be ignored and must be addressed at a governmental level. A lot of us were disappointed with aspects of it, such as having a split target for methane which meant it was weaker than the carbon reduction target and counter to the preferred option based on public consultation, and the omission of citizen litigation for enforcement. But we see the Zero Carbon Act as a starting point to build from, not the end of action.

Sharon invites those who support the GLN Kaupapa to join up online:

2. PETER SYKES is an Anglican minister and a long-time activist based in South Auckland. He is one of the founders and CEO of ME Family Services, a non-government organisation based in Mangere East with an environmental and social justice focus, which offers support to the community with an Early Childhood Education centre, waste minimisation, community gardening, social work and other initiatives. Sykes is standing as a Green Party candidate for the seat of Māngere, currently held by Labour’s Aupito William Sio, the current Minister for Pacific Peoples.

What made you decide to put yourself forward as a Green Party candidate? Do you have a prior involvement with the Greens?

I have been Green at heart most of my life and was involved in the Values Party, an early form of green party, while at university. I have been a passive member for the past few years. The decision to step forward as a candidate was based on the lack of Green presence in Mangere, and a concern that Labour was not voicing the need for collaboration more strongly. I strongly believe in the vision and values of the Green Party … built on a commitment to Te Tiriti o Waitangi, the four pou [pillars] are: building on ecological wisdom (which I believe to be a regenerative understanding to the rhythm of ecosystems around us); social responsibility (a thriving community based on social and economic justice); appropriate decision-making (consensus decision making made directly at the appropriate level by those affected); and a commitment to nonviolence in all levels and contexts. Probably the major reason I have put myself forward as the candidate for Mangere is a belief that the Green Party is the only party which gives shape to my understanding a vision for a thriving, regenerative Mangere now and into the future; and links into a context where we exist. I believe the Greens’ principles challenge us to dig deeper into understanding the earth rhythms where we are … and therefore challenge us to understand indigenous wisdom.

What do you think of the Greens’ current leadership?

The party has leadership at three levels – parliament, party and membership. The party also seeks to have leadership which gives voice to the key values. Both these aspects are vital for me to be active at a local level – I can give voice to the issues and policy for myself and my communities. On a much more specific response – I am excited about the political leadership being shown by Marama Davidson and James Shaw. They are passionate and able voices to the diversity of the Greens. Beyond them those who have been put on the list are people I want to see in leadership – they have been tested by the party and by the members. I am proud to be associated with our list members, even though I choose not to put my name into the pool.

Mangere has traditionally been a strong Labour seat. Do you think the Labour government has been responsive to the needs of the voters in the past, particularly Pacific peoples?

The Labour Party has laid the foundation of an intergenerational wellbeing for our nation, which no other party has. However, because of the nature of politics in NZ, it has had to work hard for a significant middle ground. It has had to work at building an understanding of MMP in a time when aspirations nationally and internationally are in change and when we are facing economic, social and environmental challenges unlike any other age; and on top of that we are weaving (successfully?) through the global disruption of COVID-19.

However, with that strong foundation, I do not believe the voice of Mangere or the Pacific is heard within the Labour Party as a whole. I believe that Aupito, as local MP, is greatly supported by the Greens voice pushing for greater social and environmental justice.

Locally I think more needs to be done around 1] protecting our land and sea and streams – an issue highlighted by the beam of hope – Ihumatao. 2] Creating housing for our people – accessible and appropriate. Not based on economic models which continue to disconnect and isolate people. 3] We need an economic model which celebrates and builds local resilience – especially our networks, our small businesses, and allows local solutions for local people. This means more local control over power, food, water, and decision making.

You are the only non-Pasifika candidate in Mangere. What support do you have in the Pasifika community?

Personally, I am proud to stand in Mangere and believe being Pakeha is, ironically, a strength. It is too stereotypical and simplistic to identify Mangere as ‘a Pasifika Community’. Mangere is in fact a city of many villages and communities. It is not a single spirit or mind. It has enormous resources and diversity that are being shut down because in a national and Auckland context it stands different. And in the midst of that I am one voice. Whether I have support from any of the communities will be up to them to say.

As an Anglican minister, how does Christianity fit with Green policies? Other parties (particularly New Conservatives) claim to represent “Christian” values such as opposition to abortion, LGBTI+ rights, etc. What is your response to them?

My understanding of Christianity has always placed me outside the institutional church in the borderlands, and sometimes ‘wasteland’. I have always stood for social justice and inclusion of the vulnerable. The Christian faith is as diverse as any other faith or belief system, and it is not exclusive. My belief as a Christian encourages me to, “act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” [Micah 6:8] Conservative beliefs seek to hold onto whatever truth they gather around. But it is not the only way of being a believer. My belief is based on walking with the lost, lonely and wounded and showing a vision of hope and future. [eg. Isaiah 65:17-26]

The Greens’ principles allow for me to be me, and walk with my faith…. and recognise both social responsibility and appropriate decision making. When applied to the ‘issues’ of abortion, LGBTI+ and the referendums on creating a framework for cannabis and ‘euthanasia’ my stand in support of these is based on a belief that 1] I will not block other people’s wellbeing, particularly if it does not personally impact on me; 2] I ensure that law is used for social justice not social control; and 3] I will ensure that those most vulnerable have a voice.

What is your vision for future Aotearoa New Zealand?

My vision of Aotearoa NZ is that of thriving, regenerative communities working together with people and planet to ensure the ongoing embracing of future generations. In placing that vision, I believe we need to make significant changes to our political and economic structures to enable this to become reality. The seeds of these changes are embedded in the living standards framework of the Labour Party and given voice in the vision and principles of the Green Party. Therefore, a party vote for Greens is an essential next step to move things along.

3. SUE BRADFORD, former Green Party MP and long-time ecosocialist, wrote an article in 2019 saying that she could not vote for the Green Party under the Shaw/Davidson leadership.

I am still not sure how I will vote in the Sept 2020 election. The step towards wealth taxes and a minimum income for some people was progressive, and may influence a decision on my part to vote Green.

But at the same time, the level at which they set the income was too low for survival and didn’t go as far as the Basic Income which I support (in a progressive form). Also, I don’t know what else may emerge (or not emerge) from the Greens between now and Sept 20. I know in the past things have come out at the last minute that have reshaped my voting decision.

I regret deeply that the Greens have become so firmly a party whose scope remains within a framework of what I’d call ‘greening capitalism’ rather than firmly exposing and moving – at least to some extent – beyond the confines of neoliberal capitalism. The party’s position in earlier years was more ambiguous, especially during the period when Rod Donald was co-leader.

At the same time, I agree with you that often enough it is important to support a party and/or candidate whose position is not what I’d call ‘radical left’, and in fact my whole twelve years as an active Green Party member, candidate and then MP were an example of my own willingness to compromise sufficiently to take part in parliamentary politics, because I thought it was important to try and shift the Greens – and the public discourse – to the left, on social, economic, Tiriti and ecological issues.

I believe it was worth the effort, in part because of the three private member’s bills I got through, but also because I was able to use the MP platform to amplify advocacy for the causes I most strongly advocate for, and for people whose interests are usually not strongly represented in Parliament.

The Green Party of that period (1998–2009) welcomed me as a member and – for the most part – supported me as candidate and MP, with the most significant internal support coming from Rod Donald and of course quite a few others within the party. Losing the co-leadership contest to Metiria Turei in 2009 revealed clearly how much support I, and the left wing of the party, had lost since Rod’s death at the end of 2005 – and how much the party had shifted to wanting to be a safe, non-radical, more centrist and even blue-leaning party on both social and environmental issues. Despite a staunch fight back in recent times from some great left people inside the party that shift to the ‘safe’ centre has just kept going since then, accentuated by James Shaw’s co-leadership.

While I know some people would see me as reformist for this, I continue to believe it is important to vote and to engage in other ways with parliamentary politics. If we want to build for transformational constitutional change alongside Māori, we need to build strength on the Pākehā/tauiwi side of politics to become partners with the strength inside and outside Parliament to achieve that change. The big problem I have at present is that there is no party in whose kaupapa I have enough belief to go out and say to others ‘vote for ‘x’ or ‘join ‘y’. At this stage I do not feel able to do that for the Greens or Labour much less anyone else, which is not to say I won’t vote – just that at this stage my voting decision remains uncertain, and may stay that way until the last moment.


“Lawmakers, not lawbreakers”: Jacindamania as a bastion of the Third Way

by ANI WHITE. From Fightback‘s upcoming issue on Electoral Politics. To subscribe, please visit
Swearing in of Jacinda Ardern | Wikimedia Commons

For progressives around the world, Jacinda Ardern’s Sixth Labour government is seen as a bastion. However, this perceived beacon of light is in large part an index of the darkness that has taken hold internationally. In a world where a man like Donald Trump can hold the presidency, the bar is low enough for a minimally competent leader and government to appear exceptional.

It’s also obviously the case that Ardern’s Labour is preferable to the opposition National Party, especially with Judith Collins taking over leadership from the right of the party. To quote Marxist Hal Draper’s classic text on lesser evilism:

What the classic case [Hitler vs von Hindenburg in the 1932 German presidential election] teaches is not that the Lesser Evil is the same as the Greater Evil – this is just as nonsensical as the liberals argue it to be but rather this: that you can’t fight the victory of the rightmost forces by sacrificing your own independent strength to support elements just the next step away from them.[1]

Ardern’s personality is undoubtedly a factor in her appeal, as indicated by the term ‘Jacindamania.’ Yet politically, Ardern represents a form of centrist politics that has failed to address the challenges of our time. Early in her political career, Ardern worked for Tony Blair’s Cabinet Office, and this set the tone for her career. Ardern names her favourite election as the 2005 re-election of the Fifth Labour government, while also naming the 2008 election of Obama as a highlight.[2] Her government echoes the Third Way philosophy that predominated 20 years ago, but has gone into decline with the rise of right-wing populism. Although Third Way politics may be preferable to Trumpism, this is a low bar – it remains grossly inadequate to address contemporary challenges such as climate change and inequality.

This article will focus on how the coalition government has handled four key issues: climate change (with the Zero Carbon Act), indigenous sovereignty (particularly the Ihumātao struggle), welfare, and the March 15th Christchurch terrorist attack. You can find analysis of the government’s handling of COVID here.

Zero Carbon Act

In November 2019, the Climate Change Response (Zero Carbon) Amendment Act, or simply Zero Carbon Act passed with near-unanimous support. This established a new Climate Change Commission, a quasi-independent advisory body. Although hailed as a ‘historic achievement’, the Act was fundamentally compromised.

The coalition government could have passed this bill alone, yet decided to seek bipartisan consensus. The opposition National Party successfully demanded many changes to the bill. This was reminiscent of the Obama government seeking a bipartisan consensus on healthcare, despite having a majority at the time.

The resulting Act was as compromised as you’d expect from a process that actively sought the input of forces hostile to meaningful change. Methane targets were unchanged, binding legal deterrents were not imposed, the date for the emissions target stayed the same, no explicit commitment was made to divest from oil and gas, and key industries were exempted.[3] The apparently positive changes – tighter regulation of carbon offsetting, and of offshore mitigation – embedded the ‘emissions trading’ approach to climate policy, which has created a new market and had little-to-no impact on emissions. Additionally, the new commission is entirely an advisory body, without teeth. Nothing is binding.

Ultimately, the Zero Carbon Act was a symbolic commitment, by a government unwilling to pursue the kind of confrontation with extractive capital which is necessary to prevent the impending climate catastrophe.


The struggle over Ihumātao is a perfect example of Jacinda Ardern’s fence-sitting on contentious issues. Ihumātao is a site of historic significance for Māori, which was confiscated in 1863, and purchased by Fletcher Building to construct private housing in 2014. Fletcher Building’s purchasing of the land set off a struggle by local Māori to reclaim Ihumātao, which escalated into a mass struggle in mid-2019, as protestors clashed with police.

The government has been slow to intervene, initially taking the stance that the matter should be privately resolved, then moving to compensate Fletchers after significant public pressure. Rumours indicate that Fletchers will be compensated at a greater rate than they purchased the land for, allowing them to still profit from attempting to expropriate Māori land. Ardern refused to comment on reports of a potential loan of around $40 million for Auckland Council to purchase the land.[4]

Ihumātao activists made the moderate demand that Ardern simply visit the site. In August 2019, around 300 people participated in a hikoi (march) to Ardern’s office to deliver a petition with 26,000 signatures demanding Ardern visit the site. Despite advance notice, Ardern was not present to receive the petition.[5]

Ardern’s statements on the topic have been fuzzy and ill-defined. In August 2019, she commented: “On issues like Ihumātao, the difficult issues, the hard issues, we will be there, we are there in those conversations.” This fairly empty phrase came after months of refusing to take any explicit position on the issue. Iwi leader Che Wilson criticised Ardern’s lack of action or political commitment: “You asked us to keep you to account at Waitangi this year. But every big issue with regard to Māori, it appears that you hide away.”[6]

Ardern has said she will not visit Ihumātao until the struggle has reached a resolution.[7] Negotiations are ongoing.


In the 2017 General Election, Green co-leader Metiria Turei admitted that as a single mother on a benefit, she had lied to Work and Income New Zealand (WINZ) to get additional money to cover expenses. This set off a vicious right-wing smear campaign that resulted in Turei stepping down. Ardern’s response reinforced the smear campaign: “When you’re lawmakers, you can’t condone lawbreaking.”[8] This set the tone for her government’s welfare policies.

In a press release in response to the Ardern government’s 2020 budget, welfare advocacy group Auckland Action Against Poverty said the following:

The Government’s 2020 well-being budget continues to fail low-income people, families and communities with the lack of investment in support for people receiving benefits. It contains no additional increases to core benefits outside of the indexation changes and we keep condemning hundreds of thousands of people to live below the poverty line.

People should not have to rely on charities or food grants to survive. The $25 increase to benefit levels earlier this year has not reduced the need for food grants from Work and Income. The increased pressure on Work and Income staff because of rising unemployment due to Covid-19 will make it more difficult for people to access hardship assistance.

The Ministry of Social Development is preparing for up to an extra 300,000 people to apply for a benefit in the coming months which means a huge proportion of our population will be living in poverty. The Government could alleviate the pressure on low-income communities as well as Work and Income by lifting benefits to liveable levels and let Work and Income staff focus on pastoral support, instead of processing food grants.

We are living in unprecedented times, which we know requires a response which is unprecedented. Too many families have been living in poverty for decades, and this budget further ignores the systemic changes required to change that for communities.

While people’s employment status shouldn’t determine their right to a life with dignity, we are worried that there are no guarantees by Government to ensure jobs created as part of this budget provide a living wage and decent working conditions. People should not be forced into employment that does not allow them to make ends meet.

We welcome the investment into Māori housing initiatives such as He Kūkū Ki Te Kāinga and He Taupua, but the bulk of the funding pales in comparison to community housing and transitional housing initiatives. We are calling on the Government to direct more funding into hapu and iwi led housing initiatives and return confiscated Crown land.

Despite the additional funding in public housing, the Government is accepting it will not be able to house all of the people on the social housing waiting list over the next few years. The additional funding for state homes won’t cover the burgeoning state housing waiting list, meaning families will still be homeless or struggling to make ends meet in private rentals.

We are disappointed no changes have been made to our tax system. This was an opportunity to introduce taxes on wealth and speculative transactions so that the wealthy few pay their fair share and the tax burden does not fall on low-income communities in the form of regressive taxes.

The Government has the resources to ensure that everybody has enough food on the table, access to housing, and public services. Given the circumstances of Covid-19 and against the backdrop of the climate crisis, this was an opportunity for us to be courageous and truly transformative as a way forward for all of us.[9]

The government’s decision to increase the benefits of the newly unemployed, while keeping those on existing benefits below the poverty line, was also condemned by AAAP as creating a two-tier welfare system.[10]

March 15th 2019 Christchurch terror attack

Jacinda Ardern was praised internationally for her response to the Christchurch terror attack, in which a far right gunman killed 50 people at two mosques. Prior to that point, New Zealand governments were complacent about the far right. In the wake of 9/11, the Fifth Labour government oversaw an expansion of ‘anti-terrorist’ powers that surveilled everyone but the far right – particularly Māori, leftists, Muslims, animal rights groups, and environmentalists.[11]

In the wake of the attack, many praised Ardern’s compassion, and images of her wearing a headscarf at the funeral for the victims became internationally iconic. Yet this is another sign of how low the bar is internationally for political leaders – simply respecting customs at a funeral is now worthy of praise. It’s also indicative of the way praise for Ardern has often centred on personality rather than policy.

Ardern’s government passed gun control legislation in the wake of the massacre – but also armed the police. Immediately after the attack, armed police became routinely visible.[12] The government then launched an official trial of armed police from October 2019 to April 2020. Māori and criminal justice advocates criticised this: even prior to the trial, two thirds of those shot by police were Māori and Pacific peoples, and Māori were not consulted.[13] Police shootings quickly became a regular occurrence, and three officers were charged with homicide.[14] The trial ended as a result of public pressure,[15] which amplified as the US Black Lives Matter movement triggered thousands to march against racism and police violence in Aotearoa/New Zealand.[16]

The fact that the government’s initial response to the attack involved increasing police powers indicates their ultimate class allegiance.


Ardern’s Labour Government is a competent manager of capitalism. Yet on policy issues, the government is defined by half-measures and empty symbolic commitments. For better or worse, Aotearoa/New Zealand is a bastion of centrist stability in a polarising world.

[1]              Hal Draper, “Who’s going to be the lesser-evil in 1968?”, January 1967, Marxists Internet Archive:

[2]              Adam Dudding, “Jacinda Ardern: I didn’t want to work for Tony Blair”, 27 August 2017, Stuff:

[3]              Josie Adams, “How much did they listen? Here’s what just happened to the Zero Carbon Bill”, 24 October 2019, The Spinoff:

[4]              Michael Neilson, “Ihumātao: Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern refuses to discuss speculation of Government loan”, 28 January 2020, NZ Herald:

[5]              Murphy, “Recap: Hīkoi from Ihumātao to PM’s office”, 22 August 2019, Radio New Zealand:

[6]              Scott Palmer, “We will be there: Jacinda Ardern speaks out at Ihumātao”, 20 August 2019, Newshub:

[7]              Radio New Zealand, “Jacinda Ardern ‘will visit Ihumātao … it’s just a matter of timing’”, 23 August 2019, Radio New Zealand:

[8]              Dan Satherly, “‘You can’t condone lawbreaking’ – Jacinda Ardern to Metiria Turei”, 28 July 2017, Newshub:

[9]              AAAP, “The Government’s 2020 Well-being Budget Continues To Fail Our Unemployed”, 14 May 2020, Scoop:

[10]             AAAP, “Govt Income Relief Payment Creating Two-tiers Of Unemployed”, 25 May 2020, Scoop:

[11]             Eleanor Ainge Roy and Michael McGowan, “New Zealand asks: how was the threat from the far right missed?” 20 March 2019, The Guardian:

[12]             Lana Hart, “There’s no justification for police having guns after March 15”, 24 February 2020, Stuff:

[13]             Michael Neilson, Armed Response Teams trial: Police warned not consulting Māori could have ‘severe’ consequence, 29 May 2020, NZ Herald:

[14]             People Against Prisons Aotearoa, “Police Homicide Confirms Fears Of Armed Police Patrols”, 2 June 2020, Scoop:

[15]             Phil Taylor, “New Zealand drops armed police trial after public concern”, 9 June 2020, The Guardian:

[16]             Radio New Zealand, “Thousands of Nzers march for Black Lives Matter”, 14 June 2020, Radio New Zealand:

An uncomfortable conversation: Greens still wrong about immigration


‘Justice for Migrant Workers’ protest.

Article by Ben Peterson, originally published on

The Greens new interpretation of their immigration policy has generated a lot of discussion on the left, both on this blog and elsewhere. James Shaw’s comments committing the Greens to halve immigration numbers have been controversial. In response, immigration spokesperson Denise Roche has offered a defense of Shaw’s comments saying that “The Green kaupapa on immigration is focused on people.”

I respect the work that the Greens have done to support international students and exploited foreign workers. And I respect the Greens when they say “we need to be able to talk about political issues that people care about, even when they make us uncomfortable.” Bring on the uncomfortable conversations!

Unfortunately, the discomfort isn’t leftists sticking to abstract principles. The reaction is caused by Greens new policy discussion being based on untruths.

“Issues people care about”

Roche’s article says that “We need to talk about immigration because failing to do so means that we let that conversation be dominated by fear, intolerance and misinformation.”

True. Progressives should be entering this debate, but lets not overstate its importance. Immigration is not the chief concern of Kiwis. Many times more people are primarily concerned by housing, wages and inequality than immigration. By dipping into immigration debates so publicly the greens have already failed to keep focused on the primary concerns of ordinary people and are turning to a small minority.

This is problematic in itself, but the issues go deeper. Rather than challenging the fear, intolerance and misinformation the Greens are reinforcing it. Instead of challenging xenophobic myths, Roche’s article accepts them.

“It is obvious that there are not enough houses in Auckland.”

Actually that’s not true. There are tens of thousands of empty homes in Auckland. The problem isn’t necessarily that there’s no options, its’ that investors are pricing many out of the homes that do exist.

“We need to build up houses, public transport, schools and hospitals to a level where they are a good fit for the population. After eight years of National’s dismal under-investment, there is a lot of catching up to do.”

I agree. Why are we talking about these problems and immigration in the same sentence? The selloff of public housing, and the degradation of public infrastructure go back to the neoliberal reforms of the 80’s. The trend of falling homeownership and rising housing costs likewise go back decades. When you know these are decades long trends, and only 5 years ago there was a net migration loss, why on earth would migration and infrastructure be part of the same conversation.

Put simply- It is an untruth to put the blame for these long term trends onto migrants.

The Greens are should know better than this- and trying to say they’ll cut immigration because of housing, but also saying housing is the governments fault, confuses the conversation.

Greens message makes no sense.

So Roche rightfully says “Immigration is – categorically – not to blame for these issues…
Bad Government planning is to blame.”

If immigration isn’t a social problem, why the new announcements saying the Greens are for a dramatic reduction? If immigration is going to be dramatically reduced, how do the Greens honour their commitment to raise the refugee quota, raise the family reunion quota and open up pathways for work visa holders to gain residency?

If immigrants don’t drive the housing crisis, why are the Greens bringing it up as a justification for dramatic immigration cuts?

Instead of providing a clear progressive alternative, the Greens position seems confused. A series of contradictory angles doesn’t challenge xenophobia, it fails to provide a coherent alternative..

A progressive alternative

Building a progressive political alternative is critically important and there has never been a better time to do so. The issues of most concerns to Kiwi’s is inequality, and the political mainstream has no answers on how to address this issue.

A progressive alternative has to provide clear answers on housing, infrastructure and inequality. A progressive alternative on immigration has to be clear and unequivocal- immigrants are not the drivers of the housing crisis or the reduction in work conditions.

This conversation on immigration should be uncomfortable. But this ‘uncomfortable’ conversation is not that we need to confront the gap between realpolitik and progressive principles. The uncomfortable fact is that some of our friends are suggesting that we accept and accommodate popular myths that are untrue.

That’s unacceptable, and we should expect more from the Greens.

Comments welcome below.

Leftwin seeks to host a discussion on building a new left politics in Aotearoa/New Zealand.
Be part of that disscussion here 

Green Vomit and statistical nonsense: the lies you hear about immigration and the Auckland housing crisis


Uncomfortable bedfellows: NZ Greens’ James Shaw joins Pauline Hanson (Australia), Michael Gove (UK) and Donald Trump (US) in an international trend of xenophobic scapegoating.


Article by Tim Leadbeater. Reprinted from the International Socialist Organisation (Aotearoa/NZ).

A few days ago the Labour party announced a new policy of increasing police numbers by 1000. I groaned at this news but it didn’t really surprise me. Then yesterday I heard of the new Greens policy on immigration, with James Shaw calling for a drastic reduction in numbers. Is New Zealand First calling the shots here, aided and encouraged by a compliant and uncritical media happy to jump on the anti-immigrant bandwagon? The Greens and Labour will almost certainly need the support of NZF to form a government next year, and Winston really just hates those hippy-dippy lentil munching do gooders. James Shaw knows this, yet needs to send a very clear signal to Peters that the Greens are willing to compromise. Immigration is a hot topic, and Shaw can easily frame the issue in terms of “sustainablitity” and “infrastructure”. No need for racist dog-whistles or Chinese sounding surnames, this is Sensible and Practical Greens policy, easily digested by sensitive liberals turned off by the crude nationalistic appeals of NZF.

“We think that the country needs a more sustainable immigration policy, so what we’d do is set a variable approvals target based on a percentage of the overall population. That would be at about 1 percent of the population, which is historically how fast New Zealand’s population has grown.”

Mr Shaw says the policy would even out peaks and troughs in annual migration numbers.

“You’ve also got to cater for changes in infrastructure, and because our population has historically grown at about 1 percent the country is set up to absorb that,” he says.

“Suddenly double that number, and you’ve got a problem like we’ve got at the moment, where you actually can’t meet the demand.”

Hmmmm. Sounds sensible enough. It’s not that we are racist or anything mean and horrible like that, it is just that we have looked at it very carefully and the numbers just don’t add up. One percent is all that the infrastructure can handle – just look at the housing crisis for proof, even if we wanted to we just couldn’t build enough new houses that fast. The government isn’t switched on like we are, they are letting in huge numbers and now people are sleeping in their cars! Etc, etc.

Curious about this one percent growth claim, I searched for the population data on Statistics New Zealand and came up with this graph:


It is sort of true that the New Zealand population has grown at around 1% per year, as you can see for the period from the 1990s up to 2015, the line fluctuates above and below 1%. If you were a statistician paid by Winston Peters you could cut the time period to 1980 and onwards, and very easily draw a steadily increasing trendline through the periodic peaks and troughs. Look! The line is going up, we don’t have enough houses! The line must be flat, we must flatten the line! One percent is an absolute maximum!

The really strange and scary thing is to consider just how New Zealand survived throughout those extreme and rabbit-warren like years after the second world war. Those baby boomers were just popping them out without any consideration for New Zealand’s fragile infrastructure, pushing 3% for a couple of years and then a period of about 20 years with that line well in the red zone (and it was so sudden! How did they cope?). Then there was that period in the late 60s and early 70s when the line went into the 2% Danger Zone for about 3 years. Those damn hippies, what were they thinking?

Cheering for the Greens new anti-immigrant stance, Martyn Bradbury from the Daily Blog conjures conjures up some even more gratuitously false statistics to make the case:

Here is the grim truth about our current immigration settings. It’s not the 70,000-90,000 who become permanent residents that we need to be concerned about and it’s not their families joining them that we need to be worried with either, the real problem is our scam work/study visa scheme that sees 250 000 desperate students coming to NZ for bullshit ‘education’ programs that end up as bonded servitude with exploitative employers who hold onto their passports.

These 250 000 work hard jobs, many on less than minimum wage and pay tens of thousands for education schemes that are glorified english courses all for the promise of becoming permanent  residents.

A quarter of a million students paying tens of thousands of dollars to learn English, and getting exploited at the same time by ruthless bosses! And all of them putting massive stress on our infrastructure! They’ll never ever go back to where they came from because their bosses have stolen their passports!! We’ll be doing the country a favour as well as fighting for worker’s rights if we just stop them staying here! A double whammy:

We need to stop exploiting these people and stop promising them permanent residence via education. If they wish to come here for education, fine, that’;s their decision, but putting in place the pathway from education or employment to residency is exploitative and creating huge pressures on an infrastructure that can’t take anymore.

When I first read this blog I was struck by the twisted moral “logic” of Bradbury’s anti-immigrant stance. Like James Shaw, he wants to save the ‘infrastructure’ from the hordes of foreigners swamping our fair land. But he wants to present this as simultaneously saving the immigrants from exploitative bosses. If only they knew how exploitative and nasty kiwi bosses were, they would never have come in the first place. (Working conditions in places like India, of course, being obviously superior). I started pondering the strange and only barely coherent motivations for this ‘argument’, then my head started to hurt so I gave up. What then struck me was Bradbury’s figures. Where on earth did he get that figure of 250,000 ‘desperate students’?

He links to another blog by Mike Treen, which states that “250,000 people are granted student or temporary work visas each year.”. There are no sources given for any of these numbers, so I dug around the Statistics New Zealand and MBIE sites for up to date data. Treen’s figure of 250,000 is most likely based on data for the 2014/2015 year, in which 84,856 international students were approved for New Zealand courses, and 170,814 people were granted a work visa.

Let’s start with the temporary work visas. It is difficult to know exactly how many of these people are or were international students. There are several categories of temporary visa, and a set of complex rules and regulations surrounding each category. I didn’t spend enough time on this problem to come up with an exact number, but I did take note of the clearly spelt out fact that the biggest single source country of those gaining temporary work visas was the UK. And the fact that the biggest visa category (61,404 people) was ‘Working Holiday Schemes’ (think backpackers). How many people were granted visas in the ‘Work to Study’ category? Exactly 13,688. There are other categories international students might have applied under, but this is the most obvious candidate.

How about those 84,856 international students? Again I didn’t dig long enough in the data to work out how many of these students worked, or intended to work after studying. Fairly obviously the 18% of them who were under 16 will not be working, which leaves us with 69,582 who might get part time work alongside their studies. There is no denying that for a significant chunk of these international students (and ex-students), exploitative and often illegal work practices are a major problem. But the numbers involved are nowhere near the idiotically false figure of 250,000 which Bradbury confidently puts forward without any reservations.

Are these just careless mistakes made a by blogger who thrives on the hot air of passing controversies, or is there something else going on here? I’m aware that Bradbury operates a blog rather than an academic journal, but the brazen sloppiness regarding statistics is surely a big issue. The internet allows you to check numbers very quickly and easily, so why not back up your statistics with actual sources?

There are definitely some impressive numbers out there which at first glance appear to back up the argument for cutting immigration. According to Statistics New Zealand, surely a source far more credible than Bradbury’s blog or Green Party press releases, Auckland’s population grew by a massive 2.9% in the 2014 – 2015 year. This growth accounted for over half of the population growth for the entire country. Alongside these facts it would not be a difficult task to present a series of familiar and undeniable truths about the problems with Auckland’s infrastructure: the housing crisis, inadequate public transport, congested roads and so on. Shortly after the release of this data in July 2015, there was a Stuff article with the headline “NZ migration boom nears 60,000 a year, as Indians and returning Kiwis flood in”. Like many other similarly hysterical media reports, immigration is presented as a major causal factor of the housing crisis. With almost no attention given in the mainstream media to alternative points of view which question this received wisdom, the truth of the claim ‘immigrants cause housing crisis’ has apparently become established through constant repetition. In this environment, it is possible to make outlandishly false statistical claims about immigration without stirring any controversy.

The most insightful piece I have read about this issue is Peter Nunns’ transport blog article ‘Why is Auckland Growing?’. Nunns points out that net migration is extremely volatile, being dependent on both the numbers of Aucklanders leaving for places such as Australia and the numbers of people coming in from overseas. Much more constant and statistically significant is the natural population increase due to Aucklanders having babies. If we can get past the hysteria of the 2015 figures and look at the past 24 years for a broader and more robust view of the situation, the statistics tell a different story: in 18 of those 24 years, natural increase was a bigger contributor to growth than net migration. The significance of this is that even if regulations on immigration were tightened considerably, overall long term population growth would be roughly the same as if the status quo rules remained. Nunns demonstrates this with a simulation comparing a projected Auckland population growth with a 50% reduction of net migration to one without such a reduction. His prediction is that by the year 2043, the 50% reduction version of Auckland would have a population of about 2.1 million, whereas the status quo Auckland would have a population of about 2.2 million. The conclusion he draws is that Auckland faces some major tasks around preparing its infrastructure for population growth, so it needs to do things like build more houses. Cutting immigration is simply not a solution.

I can’t resist another conclusion: none of this pedantic analysing of facts and figures really matters all that much. What does matter is all those times you get on board an Auckland train in the morning and there are no seats left, and you are surrounded by lots of Indian and Asian young people. When you get on the bus and have to listen to all those conversations in Chinese. Then you get off on Dominion Road and basically every sign is written in Chinese, and they don’t even bother translating them into English. All those bright and hard working Asian students who get most of the academic prizes in the secondary schools. These very pertinent experiences and anecdotes build on each other, so when you read the outlandish and ridiculous sentence “the real problem is our scam work/study visa scheme that sees 250 000 desperate students coming to NZ for bullshit ‘education’ programs that end up as bonded servitude with exploitative employers who hold onto their passportsyou don’t even blink, it just sounds about right.

As a socialist I am for internationalism, solidarity and a world without borders. In this article however I have restrained myself from using any of the perspectives, values or arguments which inform these positions. The mainstream left in New Zealand appears to be lacking in both statistical literacy and the spirit of the famous phrase ‘Workers of the World, Unite!’. If we can’t communicate to them the spirit of solidarity, the least we can do is point out their mathematical failure.

Open letter to Keith Locke MP

Hi Keith

I read this in the Herald, attributed to you:

“We are proud of the good peacekeeping and reconstruction work that our Provincial Reconstruction Team has done in Bamian Province, and we mourn the loss of one of its members.”

If those words are not misquoted, then I’m really angry at your misrepresentation.

What’s going on here?

You’ve read all the books and been constantly active in the anti imperialist movement for literally half a century. You must be much more acutely aware than most people that the so called Provincial Reconstruction Team that the New Zealand state sent to Afghanistan is not about peacekeeping, or reconstruction , or is, in any way, “ours”.

You must similarly know that unless someone belongs to or chooses to identify with the New Zealand ruling classes, or is a bought hack journalist, or has not had access to the most rudimentary understanding of class politics, that: “our Provincial Reconstruction Team” is not based in Afghanistan for peacekeeping, good or otherwise.

Death in war is an understandable trigger for human emotions. So lets get the whole picture here. How many Afghanistan people have been killed by New Zealand invaders of their country?  When do we mourn and how do we begin to try and make amends?

People die every day in the course of their calling. The NZ army officer killed by Afghanistan people trying to evict invaders from their land is the first invading New Zealand trooper to die there since 2003. How many industrial deaths have there been in New Zealand since that time? How many flags were lowered, how many media voices theatrically quavered and how many Prime ministers broke routine for those working class victims of the class war?

Let the ruling classes do their barbarous inhuman dirty work alone and unaided.

Our little time on this earth has more urgent and honorable calls on it; to revive the antimperialist antiwar movement in this country.

Don Franks