The Green Party is still some time away from announcing a new communications chief and if this week is anything to go by, it should double its efforts
It’s no secret that Government is hard on minor parties — many don’t live to govern another day. But the Greens are finding themselves the victim of their own success in a way they might not have expected: the Government poaching their staff.
The Greens have been without a full communications team since chief press secretary Claire Rorke departed in April to join Phil Goff’s mayoral staff. The situation worsened a little over a month later when Andrew Campbell, the party’s chief strategist, departed to become the Prime Minister’s chief press secretary.
He is now working alongside Leah Haines, senior press secretary to the Prime Minister, who was the Greens' chief press secretary from 2015 to 2016.
Sources inside the party concede the timing is not ideal.
Recruiting replacements has taken longer than it perhaps should have. Both roles have been reformulated and after Campbell’s resignation, the party decided to slow the recruitment so that the two openings could be recruited simultaneously in an attempt to ensure the successful candidates have complementary skills.
Ads for the both roles have recently expired and it is understood interviews will begin next week.
The lack of clear communications strategy has been exposed by a difficult week for the Greens.
First, Land Information Minister Eugenie Sage was forced to announce her in-principle approval of the purchase of land by a Chinese firm to expand a Bay of Plenty water bottling plant.
The party had campaigned hard on issuing no further bottling consents and the respect of Te Tiriti [Treaty] rights around water, but Sage told party members via a blog post that under the Overseas Investment Act she did have license to consider Te Tiriti rights when making her decision.
Party membership was not happy. Stuff.co.nz reported some members had threatened to quit.
"What the f... is the point of us being in government and having this portfolio if we throw our Te Tiriti obligations in the bin," wrote Young Green co-leader Max Tweedie on an internal Facebook group.
The situation worsened when co-leader Marama Davidson was perceived as going soft on the issue. In her campaign for the role of co-leader, Davidson emphasised her ability to be a critical voice as she does not have a Cabinet post and is thus not a member of the Government.
Davidson told media that the decision did not sit with Green Party kaupapa or the long standing Green party position.
“We don’t like it,” she said.
But Davidson came under further criticism for not using more time in the house to press the Government on the issue. Davidson had a question in the house that day, but it was on housing, not bottled water.
Instead she asked two supplementary questions following National’s David Bennett who pressed Sage on the issue.
It’s understood Davidson had thought to ask a question in her own right on the issue, but that was decided against as having two questions on the decision in a single session risked putting too much spotlight on the subject. The supplementary questions were used as a way of signifying Davidson’s opposition, whilst moving the topic along quickly. Sage’s responses to Davidson were a mere 77 words.
A party in transition
The two open communications roles with the Greens are currently occupied by other staffers on a temporary basis, although one works in the role only part of the time. Once new staff are recruited, they will both become full-time positions again.
Aside from the party communications team, there are four press secretaries attached to the three Green Ministers. One press secretary attached to Jan Logie, who is a parliamentary under-secretary and another is attached to co-leader Marama Davidson.
Gareth Hughes was appointed caucus strategist in May, a role that has seen him fulfil some of Campbell’s functions while the party recruits a replacement. Hughes coordinates the party’s strategy in Parliament as well as other organisational strategy.
People close to the party concede it is still finding its feet in the way it positions itself as both a part of the current government whilst allowing non-Government MPs to criticise the Government’s position.
The two recruits will work together to formulate strategy and communications for the party. This week’s failure to unify just Green party members, let alone members of the voting public, only goes to show how much a more consistent communications strategy is needed.