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NZ POLITICS DAILY: Diversity and rejuvenation triumph in the Greens

Diversity and rejuvenation have triumphed in the Greens' new party list, with younger women, especially those from ethnic minorities, being the big winners in the new list rankings.

Wed, 31 May 2017

Diversity politics is working well for the Green Party. Its new party list – which features plenty of younger faces, as well as seven women and three Maori in the top ten – has been very well received in the media.

The Greens' focus on promoting a new look should not be surprising. After all, the Green Party is the one that takes the need for representational diversity most seriously in Parliament. The party agonises about the demographic makeup of its candidates and caucus. The party is keen in this age of heightened concern about diversity in politics to make sure it is not perpetuating the marginalisation of particular citizens – particularly along lines of gender, ethnicity and age. Some call this “identity politics,” others say it’s simply “inclusive democracy.”

The party often speaks of its need to better reflect what modern New Zealand and especially its own voter base, looks like. The Greens’ 2017 party list has sought to change the appearance of the party accordingly.

Co-leader James Shaw was keen to emphasise diversity when announcing the list, saying: “In terms of age, geography, ethnicity and professional background, this list looks a lot like modern New Zealand.” This is all well covered in Sam Sachdeva’s Greens’ fresh faces put sitting MPs at risk.

See also Gia Garrick’s news report, Final Greens list reflects the New Zealand of today – Shaw. She quotes Shaw saying "This list has new leading Te Ao Maori and Pacific voices. It has a human rights lawyer who will also be a first member of Parliament to have started life in New Zealand as a refugee. It has business owners, a farmer and a former diplomat." Garrick (@giaisonline) also tweeted yesterday, “I may have just made history on Parl's black&white tiles asking a white, male politician what it feels like to be a minority re: Greens list”.

Green winners
The main winners in the final list announced yesterday are Chloe Swarbrick, Golriz Ghahraman, and Marama Davidson. These three women have moved up the list since the provisional list was sent out for members to vote on earlier in the year.

Swarbrick and Ghahraman have been shifted to nine and ten, respectively, and this morning the Greens’ two new stars were promoting the new list in the media. You can watch Duncan Garner’s five-minute interview with them here: New Green candidates not keen on National coalition, and listen to Guyon Espiner’s 10-minute interview here: Greens claim the "strongest line-up of female candidates".

Marama Davidson has been promoted to third place on the list, immediately after the co-leaders. At the last election she was ranked at No 15. Davidson is the epitome of diversity politics: female, Maori, and relatively young. She’s also talented and is now the obvious choice to replace co-leader Metiria Turei, who is strongly rumoured to be looking to retire before too long.

When the provisional list came out last month, Richard Harman reported her credentials for the Greens: “Shaw says that Davidson’s promotion was due to her communications skills which saw her with a huge social media following – twice as many as any other Green MP. Davidson also fits the youthful activist profile the party is projecting. She was recently one of 13 women activists who were arrested and held by Israeli authorities after trying to breach Israel's blockade of Gaza on a protest ship” – see: Younger, more diverse, more Auckland - the new look Greens.

TV broadcaster Hayley Holt has also rocketed up the list rankings – she was 29 in the provisional list, but ended up at 17 on the final list. According to Isaac Davison, Holt now believes she’s ready to be an MP: “When the draft list was announced, Holt said she was not ready to be an MP yet and wanted to finish her history and politics degree before entering Parliament … Holt will step down from her presenting role on the sports show The Crowd Goes Wild before the election campaign” – see: Green Party election list backs young talent, with four new MPs likely.

Green renewal and demotions
The rise of a new generation of Green politicians comes at the expense of some of the older incumbents. Emma Hurley and Jenna Lynch point out that “Denise Roche and David Clendon have both been dropped to marginal list spots at 15 and 16 respectively. New Zealand's only deaf MP, Mojo Mathers, has also sacrificed her high list ranking, dropping three spots.” – see: Chloe Swarbrick, Golriz Ghahraman set to become MPs.

Kennedy Graham, who was given a provisional place at No 11, has now been elevated to number 8, although at the last election he was ranked at No 4.

Parliamentary staffer Jack McDonald has dropped from ninth down to 13th. He’ll probably still make it into Parliament, but he’s on the cusp. And this is still a significant promotion from number 20 at the last election.

Debates about the Greens’ diversity
In emphasising diversity in the creation and marketing of their party list, naturally the Greens invite scrutiny about how well they are achieving this goal.

Some have pointed to the fact that there are only three men in the top ten and asked if this is a problem for the Greens’ gender rules. For example, although David Farrar is very complimentary about the list – saying it's “pretty good renewal” and “a pretty strong party list which will appeal to their target voters” – he also adds: “the Greens seem to have ignored their rule that men should make up at least 40% of the list at each rank after the first three” – see: Final 2017 Green Party List.

Last month, when the provisional party list was announced, Simon Wilson also noted the gender rule being broken: “The list has a notable quirk in that it ignores the party’s own rule about gender: there should be at least two men and two women in each group of five, but James Shaw is the only man in the top five. The quotas don’t become binding until the final list, though, and it’s not a biggie anyway because there are four men in the top 10” – see: The Green Party’s listing ranking is out. Here’s what they got right. And what they got wrong.

The geographical diversity of the Greens candidates has been challenged. For example, today the Otago Daily Times reports “Only one of the top 20 candidates, those most likely to get elected from the list vote, comes from any further south than Rangitata” – see Dene Mackenzie’s Green list loaded with northerners. Co-leader Metiria Turei’s decision to stand this year for the Maori seat of Te Tai Tonga, of which Dunedin is only a fraction of the electorate, leaves Dunedin’s sole Green voices “ranked 36 and 37 respectively.” Furthermore, “Only another two of the top 20 candidates are from the South Island and they are both MPs. Eugenie Sage (Port Hills) is four, Mojo Mathers (Rangitata) is 11.”

There has also been some criticism – mainly on social media – that the Greens are now focusing too much on youth, at the expense of experience and older representation. For a good discussion of some of these issues, you can listen to Jesse Mulligan’s 11-minute interview with University of Auckland political scientist Jennifer Curtin – see: Gender, Youth and Politics.

Curtin is impressed with the new list, and defends the shift in age: “Certainly youth is a good thing. Some people have read it as ‘inexperience’, but the Greens have always been more progressive than perhaps most in this way. And in their constitution they have a minimum of 10% of people have to be under 35. And actually they’ve revamped because they used to have an average age that was older than most parties.”

She also answers the challenge of whether this focus on age is an attempt to glamorise Green politicians, as exemplified with last month’s North & South magazine cover focusing on the young women stars – see: North & South: The Greens as you have never seen them before. Curtin explains that small parties simply need to do such photo shoots, and that it’s not so much “playing the gender card” but showing the party is “sufficiently diverse, mainstream and serious now”.

The youth-focus of the new list is, however, questioned by blogger and NZ First supporter Curwen Ares Rolinson, who says the “youthful – and more especially youthful female – candidates appear to have been elevated at the direct expense of several other axes of diversity” – see: “And not a reason to be missed – if you’re on their little list”: Thoughts on the Green Party’s 2017 list.

According to Rolinson, the “diversity Olympics” in the Greens means that some minority factors miss out. He makes the case that Maori candidates have been demoted on the new list: “It's somewhat sad to see long-time Green activist and principled chap Jack McDonald lose four placings, winding up in the mid-teens; presently-sitting MP Denise Roche also find herself wending downwards toward number 15; fellow presently-sitting MP David Clendon relegated to number 16; and Teanau Tuiono also dropping to number 19”.

He also suggests that “the demotion of sitting MP Mojo Mathers (by three places) and candidate John Hart (to number 14) would appear to suggest, at best, that a reasonable swathe of the Greens’ membership effectively prioritizes the shininess of some of its newfound youth/female candidates over the ‘diversity’ represented by disability… and by, I suppose, some combination of not being an ‘urban-liberal’… and being able to reach out to farmers by virtue of being one.”

Finally, for an insight into the two new women in the top ten of the Greens list, see James Borrowdale’s The Making of Chloe Swarbrick, and Isobel Ewing and Emma Hurley’s Ten things you need to know about Golriz Ghahraman.

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NZ POLITICS DAILY: Diversity and rejuvenation triumph in the Greens