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Government exploits the Greens

NZ Newswire logoNZ Newswire 1/06/2017 Peter Wilson, Political Writer

The Greens should have seen it coming, and maybe they did.

It was a brave decision to vote in favour of the legislation that implements the government's family support package, and now they're paying the price.

Dozens of times, in the debating chamber and outside it, government ministers and MPs have talked about "the Greens' support for the budget".

They've made a point of thanking the Greens, and contrasted their position with Labour's decision to vote against the package.

Prime Minister Bill English was one of them. When it was pointed out to him the Greens in fact had supported budget legislation, not the budget itself, he replied they could call it what they liked but the family package was "the core of the budget".

It's certainly the part that gained the most media traction, partly because nearly everything else had been announced in advance - the ploy worked.

Greens' co-leader James Shaw explained that he couldn't vote against a budget measure that would lift thousands of children out of poverty.

But there's no way the Greens support spending billions over the next few years building highways, which is also in the budget.

NZ First is in exactly the same position as the Greens, but it got away with it because the party never aligns itself with any other.

Labour and the Greens, on the other hand, have an agreement not to fundamentally disagree with each other and campaign together.

The vote on the budget is still to come, probably next week at the end of the debate.

It's the most important vote the government faces each year.

If it lost that vote it would have to resign. It won't lose it, because its partner parties ACT, United Future and the Maori Party are locked into voting with National on confidence issues through their support agreements.

It's also the opposition's best chance to denounce the government for what it sees as its abject failures.

Straight after Finance Minister Steven Joyce's budget speech, Labour leader Andrew Little moved a no confidence motion:

"This House has no confidence in a government that has had nine years to build a better New Zealand, and yet we have a housing crisis, we have mental health services on the verge of collapse, we have education that is becoming more and more expensive, and we have infrastructure that is unable to cope with the demands of a surging population, and it is time for fresh thinking and real solutions."

The Greens would agree with all of that, they won't have a problem voting no confidence in the government.

It will be interesting to see whether government MPs have the cheek to accuse them of a U-turn.

The Greens' position on the family package didn't help Labour, whose response to it hasn't been too flash.

By trying to pick the family package apart to find examples it could use to show that not everyone is going to be better off, and some will be worse off, Labour became so confused and confusing it's doubtful the tactic has had much impact.

United Future leader Peter Dunne, an interested observer of these developments, put it this way: "Labour was the only party to oppose outright the tax and benefit changes in the budget.

"Other parties certainly expressed their misgivings and offered alternative ways by which families could be uplifted, but at the same time supported the budget legislation because they recognised the incongruity of opposing outright a set of measures from which many New Zealand families will benefit.

"By its blanket opposition, Labour simply revealed its sourness and churlishness, and the fact that under its current leadership it has lost the capacity to appreciate that other parties can have good ideas too."

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