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Green MP quits, light rail scrapped, electoral changes rejected

ANALYSIS: Golriz Ghahraman now faces prosecution but has already suffered serious consequences over shoplifting allegations.

WATCH: NBR political editor Brent Edwards speaks with Grant Walker.

Brent Edwards Fri, 19 Jan 2024

A year ago, former Labour Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced her resignation.

It started the 2023 political year with a bang, with Labour quickly replacing her with Chris Hipkins but that did little to arrest the party’s slide in the polls and Labour was soundly beaten in last October’s election.

This year has started off in a somewhat similar fashion – although it is not a party leader resigning – with Green MP Golriz Ghaharaman quitting politics after facing allegations of shoplifting. Later on the day she announced her resignation, she was charged with two counts of shoplifting.

Ghahraman said in explanation she was suffering from mental health issues but made it clear that was no excuse for her actions.

On social media, there appears to be equal support for and vilification of her, with many commenters – most notably on the opposite side of politics – rubbishing her mental health struggles as some sort of excuse for shoplifting. 

The Green Party has also been criticised for the way it handled the matter, given it said little publicly when the issue first came to light. It did, however, remove her portfolio responsibilities while the matter was being investigated and while it waited for her to return from an overseas trip. Once she was back, things happened quickly, and she resigned.

While Ghahraman now faces prosecution, it is likely she has already suffered the most serious consequences through the loss of her job and through the highly public nature of the coverage of her misdemeanours.

Outgoing Green MP Golriz Ghahraman.

Social media pressure

It has also drawn attention to the pressure MPs, particularly women, face – especially on social media.

At the same time, it has drawn attention to shoplifting, with retailers complaining that the crime is an increasing blight on their businesses.

Golf Warehouse chair Eric Faesenkloet wrote to NBR citing a case in which a staff member who stole more than $100,000 from a previous business escaped conviction after pleading mental stress.

“She has fallen on her sword because she has been exposed and now may just use mental illness as an excuse to escape any conviction. This only makes the problem worse for retailers because this will potentially be an excuse that all shoplifters will use,” Faesenkloet says.

And he says shoplifting has become an epidemic in New Zealand, mainly because those who commit the crime face no consequences.

NBR presenter Grant Walker says no matter how you look at Ghahraman’s fall from grace, it is a big loss for the Green Party.

He is right. It is hardly the way any political party would want to begin the year and has caused the party problems it could do without.

The Greens will be hoping though that, once Ghahraman is replaced in Parliament by former Wellington mayor and longstanding Green Party member Celia Wade-Brown, the focus on her will start to diminish.

Retailers complain shoplifting is an increasing blight on their businesses.

End of light rail

Meanwhile, the Government started the week with the formal announcement that work on the Auckland light rail project had formally come to an end. It was another announcement as part of its 100-day plan.

Just what will now happen in Auckland is less clear, with Transport Minister Simeon Brown saying work was now under way rewriting the Government Policy Statement on land transport, which will focus on building a rapid transit network in Auckland, including completing the City Rail Link and starting work on a Northwest Rapid Transit corridor.

Brown points out the Auckland light rail project would have cost $15 billion, with advice showing that could have blown out to $29.2b.

“After six years and over $228 million spent on the project, not a single metre of track has been delivered and congestion has only worsened in the city,” he says.

The light rail project has joined a long list of Labour initiatives – such as its reform of Three Waters, vocational education, and Let’s Get Wellington Moving – which have now been put on the scrapheap.

Justice Minister Paul Goldsmith was also quick to rule out several recommendations from the Independent Electoral Review, which was set up by the previous government. This Government will not lower the voting age to 16 or allow all prisoners the right to vote, as proposed by the electoral review panel. But it will deliver on its coalition agreement with Act and hold a referendum on increasing the parliamentary term from three to four years.

Walker asks whether Act leader David Seymour is right when he says that, if implemented, the review panel’s recommendations would set New Zealand on course for a permanent left-wing government.

Seymour is particularly opposed to lowering the voting age and giving all prisoners the vote – which have already been ruled out – providing more state funding for parties, and giving special protection to Māori interests. 

“All of that will have the Greens and the Māori Party rubbing their hands with delight,” he says.

The Auckland light rail project was officially cancelled this week.

The political agenda

While the Cabinet has not met this week, ministers have been spotted around Parliament and, at the end of the week, National MPs have been in Christchurch for their annual caucus retreat.

Tomorrow the Māori King, Kiingi Tuuheitia, holds a national hui at Tūrangawaewae Marae in Ngāruawāhia over fears about the coalition Government’s plans for Māori.

Prime Minister Christopher Luxon will not be there – National will be represented by Māori Development Minister Tama Potaka and MP Dan Bidois – but has already met with Kiingi Tuuheitia this week and was also meeting Ngāi Tahu representatives before National’s caucus retreat in Christchurch.

What follows are the Rātana celebrations next week, followed by events in Waitangi up to and including on Waitangi Day, February 6. There will likely be plenty of debate – and probably protests too – about the Government’s approach to Māori issues.

Next week the Cabinet is expected to meet for the first time this year and, in the week between Rātana and Waitangi Day – beginning January 30, Parliament sits for three days before a one-week recess and then comes back for a four-week sitting session beginning on February 13.

Prime Minister Christopher Luxon.

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Green MP quits, light rail scrapped, electoral changes rejected
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