By Callia Drinkwater
Since the 2017 election, six new parties have registered to be included on the 2020 ballot. Among these are a variety of Christian value parties, centerism parties, and a conspiracism party. A familiar face can be found in the Sustainable New Zealand Party, led by former Green Party MP, Vernon Tava. The party was created in August of 2019, and has received a mix of support and pushback from both sides of the benches. The question for those involved in the 2020 general election is whose votes are at stake to the new arrival – if any?
In 2017, the incumbent party outcome was placed in the hands of the New Zealand First, a minority party with only 7.2% of the votes. Among negotiations, the Green Party made it abundantly clear that a Green-National coalition was not going to take place, and in 2020 they continue to take that stance. This position was contested and a petition with over 2,000 signatures declared that people were in favour of a National-Green coalition. This gave birth to the concept of a ‘Green-Blue’ Party – or in the case of Sustainable NZ, a party which claims to be open to a coalition with either National or Labour – to fill this space. The idea is to have the environment represented in any coalition Parliament creates, not only attached to other left-wing policies.
Vernon Tava agrees with this sentiment, saying that in ruling out a National-Green coalition, the Green Party has lost its negotiating powers in Parliament, leaving the Labour Party to take them for granted in elections.
In light of the lack of left-wing social ideology, and as an opposition for the Green Party, the media has been predominantly framing the Sustainable NZ party as a ‘blue-green’ party and seeking out a National coalition. Tava argues this is not the case, and that the party would work with either side of the benches. Earlier in 2020, a flurry of members resigning and accusations of fraud shrouded the party in scandal, however, they have since been registered to the Electoral Commission and accusations subsided.
In this party, Tava is aiming to strip the social issues out of an environmental party to focus solely on the environment, with an interest in research for environmentally friendly technology. In light of this the three top priorities for the Sustainable NZ Party are:
- Healthy water that sustains life
- Save native species from extinction
- Sustainable economic growth
These goals are outlined in more detail with their Innovation plan which involves investing in start up businesses, research and development, and access to markets. The Conservation Policy covers the first two goals of the party, with specific policy around the preservation of native animals and reinstating natural ecosystems in New Zealand.
Who are they appealing to?
Green Party Voters
Vernon Tava argues that within those who vote for the Green Party, many are more conservative, but still environmentally conscious, and would have preferred a National-Green coalition. This suggests that they are hoping to convert many of those who would have typically voted for the Green party, bringing a new avenue to support the environment.
2017 statistics suggest that this is an unlikely switch to make, in the 2017 New Zealand Election Study a survey of 256 Green voters found that 84.42% favoured a Labour-led Government, compared to the 8.47% who would have preferred National to lead. This aligns with the 74.63% of Green voters who placed themselves left of centre politically.
Even though the 2017 election left the Green Party relatively vulnerable to the 5% threshold with only 6.27% of the votes, leader James Shaw has openly expressed his lack of concern for the Sustainable NZ Party and wished Tava luck.
Former Green MP Catherine Delahunty expressed that this concept was disingenuous to the feat of defending the environment, describing it as ‘greening capitalism’, and suggesting that this was targeted at the upper and middle classes only. 
National Party has publicly supported the Sustainable NZ Party, although others have expressed concern that by supporting the Sustainable NZ Party, the National Party would be more likely to “cannibalise its own support”. This is seen as a substantial issue as if the party receives National votes, yet still remains under the 5% threshold it will be wasted votes for the National Party. In November 2019 National deputy leader Paula Bennet (no longer a National MP) maintained that she believed the party had a chance and that the National party offered something substantially different.
The Opportunities Party Voters
Some have compared the Sustainable NZ Party to the Opportunities Party (TOP) as a centrist party with a focus on environmental issues. Polling at 2.4% in the 2017 election, the TOP party has reason to be concerned about this rival party. Due to its longer existence, TOP arguably has the upper hand, but this cannot be taken for granted.
Where to from here?
This leaves us with the same question – where does the Sustainable NZ Party fit into the 2020 election? Like Kim Dot Com’s Internet Party, will this fade into non-existence by the 2023 general election – or start as the Opportunities Party did with 2.4% in their first election.
Despite varying opinions on this new venture, in light of all that has changed since the 2017 election, from COVID-19, relations with China, and leadership changes within the National Party it cannot be underestimated how much the political context has changed since the 2017 election. Chief Executive of Forest and Bird – an independent conservation organisation – argues that despite his reservations about the party’s approach, anything broadening the debate around environmental impact is a good thing, “…anything that achieves better environmental policy has got to be a good thing.”
- Jack Vowles – https://www.stuff.co.nz/national/politics/110207099/teal-vote-within-green-party-minuscule-data-suggests