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Green Party co-leader Marama Davidson. Photo: supplied
Green Party co-leader Marama Davidson. Photo: supplied

PoliticsApril 8, 2018

Who is Marama Davidson and what kind of a co-leader will she be?

Green Party co-leader Marama Davidson. Photo: supplied
Green Party co-leader Marama Davidson. Photo: supplied

Eight snackable facts about the new co-leader of the NZ Green Party and the challenges she faces

The Green membership has overwhelmingly backed Marama Davidson to be the party’s co-leader, delivering her a delegate victory of 110-34 over the only other contender, Julie Anne Genter.

Addressing an audience in Auckland late on Sunday morning, Davidson called it “the greatest honour of my life”. She fills a vacancy that opened in the leadup to the last election, when Metiria Turei resigned following a backlash over her admission of historic benefit fraud. She joins James Shaw who for the last eight months has unicycled a bicycle made for two.

What do we know about her?

She’s been an MP for less than three years

Davidson, based in Manurewa, took her seat in parliament late in 2015, following the resignation of male co-leader Russel Norman. She had formerly worked at the Human Rights Commission.

Choice and voice of the members

“I have been inspired by grass-roots leadership all of my life,” Davidson said in her maiden speech. “This is a real leadership which understands that the throbbing heartbeat of a community lies with the collective well-being of our people and our environment.”

With both Shaw and Genter occupying senior ministerial roles in the Labour-led government, a large part of Davidson’s appeal was as a conduit for the rank and file.

The activist leader

Davidson has always been outspoken on issues of social justice, and speaking up for the rights of beneficiaries, the homeless and the working poor. In October 2016 she was detained by Israeli authorities after taking part in the Gaza-bound Women’s Peace Flotilla, an action criticised by then prime minister John Key.

In her speech today, she said: “The community I come from is at the coalface of the most pressing issues we face as a society: rising poverty and inequality, the housing and homelessness crisis, polluted rivers and poor health and education outcomes. I will ensure their voices are heard.”

Staying alive (1)

Combine the activist flame with the membership mouthpiece and there is little doubt that there is potential to create tensions within the Green caucus. Any drift towards centrist pragmatism in the cause of stability alongside Labour and NZ First will face a stern test from Davidson and her backers.

Staying alive (2)

Combine the activist flame with the membership mouthpiece and there is little doubt that the Greens have their best chance of battling the MMP gravity that eviscerates support parties. Davidson made this point explicitly today. “History shows that smaller parties struggle to retain their support in coalition governments. My number one goal as Co-leader is to make sure that doesn’t happen to the Greens,” she said. “Without ministerial responsibilities I can focus on the party and ensure the full delivery of our confidence and supply agreement while maintaining unity.”

The Māori leader sweep

Since parliament returned after the last election, the Greens have been the only party without a Māori leader and/or deputy leader. The election of Davidson, born in Auckland and of Ngāti Porou, Te Rarawa and Ngāpuhi descent, means that of the nine leaders and deputies in the New Zealand parliament, seven are tangata whenua.

Tangata whenua and Green-ness

Davidson believes indigenous rights are part of what binds her party’s commitments to the environment and social equality together. From her maiden speech again: “We have to understand that affirming indigenous rights and supporting our traditional wisdoms is essential to combating climate change AND inequality. Thankfully tangata whenua and non-indigenous people everywhere are melding our wisdoms and our strategies to demand a new way together. Because we can see that the very few protecting the status quo want most of us kept out of their fancy club. Together, we all have a bigger club than theirs.”

The first party leader to have a professional Winston Peters impersonator as a parent

Davidson, herself the parent of six, offered in her victory speech a shout-out to her dad, whose birthday is today. She hadn’t got him a present, but had provided a decent crowd and venue. And: “I also got for your birthday a whole new level of fatherly anxiety.”

Her father, acclaimed NZ actor Rawiri Paratene, could also provide crucial clues to helping Davidson understand the psyche of the deputy prime minister. As part of the 90s TV3 programme More Issues, his responsibilities impersonating Winston Peters.

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