More voters eye Greens as viable option

CASSANDRA POKONEY
Last updated 05:00 03/09/2014
Green Party Invercargill candidate David Kennedy
ROBYN EDIE

NO HIPPY: Green Party Invercargill candidate David Kennedy in his backyard.

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Green Party candidate David Kennedy's backyard looks pretty much like any other family home in Invercargill.

There's plenty of grass, a few trees and a tyre swing.

There is no hippy paraphernalia, no hemp products.

There is a chicken coop, complete with a rescued hen and a rainwater collection system, but that's about as alternative as it gets. Which is fairly representative of the party itself.

The party's move into Parliament has been somewhat bumpy.

The party formed in 1990 but it wasn't until 1996 that the first Green MPs entered Parliament. By 1999, that figure had grown to seven, and 14 at the 2011 election.

Closer to home, information held by elections.org.nz shows the party has clawed its way into the minds of southern voters fairly steadily since 2002.

In that election, the party secured just 3.4 per cent of the party vote in the Clutha-Southland electorate and a slightly higher 4.3 per cent in Invercargill.

It fared slightly better in the now-disestablished Otago electorate, taking 8.1 per cent, while its popularity was more marked in Te Tai Tonga, with 12.7 per cent.

Numbers fell in all southern electorates in 2005 but by the 2008 election the party had turned its fortunes, taking 5.1 per cent of the party vote in Clutha-Southland, 4.2 per cent in Invercargill, 7 per cent in Waitaki and 7.1 per cent in Te Tai Tonga.

The numbers climbed again in 2011 - to 8.6 per cent in Clutha-Southland, 8.3 per cent in Invercargill, 11.8 per cent in Waitaki and 15.6 per cent in Te Tai Tonga.

Kennedy is hoping to secure at least 15 per cent of the party vote in Invercargill this election.

While the success of his campaign remains to be seen, there is no question the party has enjoyed a rise through the political ranks.

Kennedy puts that down to a change in public perception.

Initially viewed by some as a group of hippies, the party had worked hard to shed its reputation for "out there" policies and had instead refined the messages it was putting to the public.

Its leaders and MPs were largely free of political controversy, and the messages they were putting out were consistent, Kennedy said.

Over time, people simply started to listen and, by the 2008 election, many voters were indicating they were thinking of voting green, he said. "I think people were beginning to realise that a lot of the things were were standing for . . . made sense," he said.

People were seeing evidence of what the party was proclaiming - degrading river quality was a biggie, particularly in the south, and other political parties were seeing the importance of the environmental message.

The party also took on leadership roles in a series of nationwide campaigns, the anti-asset sales campaign, fighting against the Government's plan to sell some state-owned assets, among the more notable.

Securing seats in Parliament also helped. "People are seeing us in leadership roles, which probably creates a better image."

The shift in perception has been marked in north Invercargill, typically the city's more affluent suburbs, he said.

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In the 2011 election, the greatest swing of voters to the Greens came from those suburbs, he said.

"There's been a shift in those people, that maybe the Greens are worth looking at."

However, despite recent successes, the party knows there is still plenty of work to be done, he said.

In the south, that work is done by a growing group of volunteers and party faithful. While membership numbers are only a fraction of those in larger parties such as National and Labour - he estimates there are about 50 Green Party members in the Invercargill electorate - they are a largely active and dedicated group, dropping 30,000 campaign leaflets into mailboxes around Invercargill early in the election buildup.

The party also had a "lot" of young members keen to do things, he said.

- The Southland Times

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