Once upon a Green party conference

ANDREA VANCE
Last updated 09:38 01/06/2014
Russel Norman
KENT BLECHYNDEN/Fairfax NZ
GREEN PARTY CO-LEADER: Russel Norman

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Once upon a time, Green party conferences provided plenty of quirky material for journalists.

OPINION: Famously, there was the morris-dancing. There were always weird beards. Occasionally, sandals.

Last year, the entire venue was fragrance-free.

Now the Green machine is so slick, so corporate, the best I could come up with was an animal print-mohair waistcoat. And, to be fair, it was bitterly cold out in the Hutt Valley yesterday.

Really, the only thing out of place was guest speaker Australian Senator Scott Ludlam's hair - so luxuriant it has its own Twitter account.

Parliament's third largest party is so mainstream that yesterday, its keynote announcement was an extension of a recently signalled National party policy.

If the Greens make into government, they want to roll out free GP visits and prescriptions to 13-17 year olds. In last month's Budget, National extended the scheme from six to 13-year-olds.

While National want a ''brighter future,'' the Greens are promising ''healthy futures.''

It's a family-friendly, centrist package - in line with a raft of policies announced by National and Labour this year. Surprisingly, it's universal, not just targeted at low-income families.

The conference marks the fifth anniversary of the co-leadership of Metiria Turei and Russel Norman.

They've worked hard to project an image of stability.

Compared to the two-headed Internet Mana hybrid, the devilbeast of John Key's imaginings suddenly looks tame.

With a $3m down payment from panjandrum Kim Dotcom, Hone Harawira is no longer a noisy one-man band, but a serious (and organised) competitor for votes on the left.

The Greens leadership team, Metiria Turei and Russel Norman, claim not to be worried.

But they've set an ambitious target of 15 per cent (an extra six MPs) for September's election.

Current polling puts them at around 12 per cent (just one extra seat).

With National holding steady up around 50 per cent, Labour and Greens are already cannibalising each other's support.

Kim Dotcom's new hire Laila Harre also holds all the data on the soft vote, and the unregistered, from her various roles with the Council of Trade Unions, Labour and the Greens.

Where else is there left to look, but the centre?

Of course, the Greens will be careful not to disappoint the loyal core of supporters.

At a closed-door session yesterday, members were expected to vote for a stance that means a post-election coalition with National is ''highly, highly unlikely.'' (That's one more ''highly'' than last year.)

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And, although he's not confirming it, Norman will unveil climate change policy, likely to be centred on scrapping the current carbon pricing system in favour of a tax.

A move that is sure to be loathed by business and loved by environmentalists.

- Fairfax Media

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