Greens have job ahead in changing climate

Bill English.
Bill English.

Bill English was having a right old time in the House last week, laughing at the Greens.

"The Greens have been measuring the doors on the Beehive to see if they can get the money-printing photocopier through the doorway," he roared.

He can afford himself a chuckle at their expense. A year on from a stonking election result (which gave them an extra four MPs) the latest Fairfax Media/Ipsos poll shows the Greens have dropped from 11.9 per cent to 10.5 per cent.

Disappointing, for sure. But what should worry them more are shifting attitudes to the environment. Just 5 per cent rated the environment or climate change as the number one issue facing the country. Even among Green supporters, the economy and rising jobless rates are more important above saving the planet.

Just 16 per cent of those who vote Green talked to our pollsters about the environment. Mining figured even less - just 2 per cent brought it up - and only one person raised fracking. Even more telling is that more than half (55.8 per cent) of our respondents agreed with the statement: "For the sake of the economy, we should focus less on climate change - we're too small to make much difference anyway."

National's recent push for more deep-sea drilling has barely raised an eyebrow among voters. As households are squeezed, it appears the trade-off is the environment: jobs or trees.

Co-leader Russel Norman recognises this. He's fought hard to establish himself as a credible, alternative voice on economic policies. He argues National haven't created jobs: the oil and gas industry employs only around 4000 and Green policies can deliver 100,000 jobs.

His party has spent the past few years carefully trying to shed that Morris-dancing, bush-hugging image. Alongside pointy-headed Norman, they've heaped on the gravitas with super-serious Kennedy Graham, and Kevin Hague, champion of ACC claimants and everyone's favourite MP.

But that image has taken a serious battering with Norman's plan for the Reserve Bank to print billions of dollars to buy earthquake bonds from the Government.

David Shearer also slapped down Norman's chances of becoming finance minister in any future Labour-Greens coalition. The Greens would never admit their quantitative easing call was a mistake, but privately they concede they took a hit.

Alongside Labour, the Greens' strategy for 2013 is to turn up the heat on job creation. They'll start it with a cross-party manufacturing inquiry in the new year and a focus on monetary policy which will play to concern about the high dollar.

Our numbers reveal they have an uphill battle. But Norman is still confident he'll be the one laughing in 2014.

Sunday Star Times