How to solve a problem like Russel?

23:15, Jul 27 2013
Russel Norman
PROBLEM SOLVER: Green Party co-leader Russel Norman.

Over the last 18 months, Russel Norman has delivered a flawless performance as the left's most shrewd economic spokesman.

He faltered on quantitative easing, but has since abandoned that key policy plank, in the face of needling from the Right.

It should, in theory, be plain sailing towards the election. Rationally argued ideas (innovative and green export industries, living wage, affordable housing, equality in access to education and health), calmly and oft-repeated should, at the least, pique the interest of middle New Zealand. However, Norman's Achilles heel, is his relationship with the corporate world and the enduring perception that the Greens are anti-business.

Recently, the Business and Parliament Trust hosted a bit of a do for politicians and big hitters. The charity is aimed at helping MPs and the business world understand each other better. The seminar was held under Chatham House rules but some tantalising observations leaked out from participants.

Prime Minister John Key spoke, and was well received, followed by Labour leader David Shearer.  Norman, according to reports, was hostile and aggressive.

So much so, that some in the audience were reluctant to ask questions, for fear of being attacked.
Judging from chatter around Wellington, the antagonism was not an isolated episode.


A representative from an oil company tells the story of how Norman turned on his heel and walked off without a word, after they attempted to introduce themselves.

He has recently been making attempts to get around businesses, but to mixed reaction.

Within the agricultural community, there is genuine apprehension the Greens will be part of any future coalition. Industry players say that outside of environmental concerns, there has been little attempt by  the party to understand its issues.

There is frustration that the Greens overlook, or are unaware, about the sector's innovative strides. Ideological stubbornness is standing in the way of any constructive relationship with those that earn the country a living, they say.

The anti-growth line is one that jobs tsar Steven Joyce peddles with relish. Even Labour's regional development spokesman Shane Jones jumped on the bandwagon. Visiting New Zealand's own Texas - Taranaki - last week, he again moved to distance himself the party from the Green's opposition to extraction industries.

But the view that Norman and his party are hostile to business, is a shaping up to be a bit of a conundrum for Labour. Should they be in a position to form a government next year, they must find a role to satisfy both his acumen and ambition. That he would become finance minister is quixotic, and there would be noses out of joint (including Jones') if he was handed the economic development portfolio. Giving him energy would be an interesting move - but would likely end in a ugly clash with oil and gas companies.

As a niche party, the Greens need to suck up to big business as much as ACT needs to get cosy with the unions.

Yodelling from the sidelines at the capitalists works for the Green movement - but it makes selling a Labour-led coalition to the business world a harder mountain to climb.