A fringe political party is hoping for better returns in 2020 after adding a high profile independent lawyer as co-leader. Alex Braae reports.
A courtroom champion of stopping 1080 drops and promoting medicinal cannabis rights is turning her attention to parliament.
Independent lawyer Sue Grey gained national profile through cases like the Brook Valley brodifacoum drop, acting on behalf of the Renton family in their bid to access medicinal cannabis for their son Alex, and the Saxmere case against the Wool Board. In that time she has been no stranger to controversy.
Now Grey has been elected as the co-leader of The Outdoors Party, a group formed in 2015 with positions on issues around hunting, fishing and land use matters. She brings with her additional profile to a party which was only able to field four candidates in the 2017 election, gathering up a mere 1,620 party votes.
Alternative views on major environmental issues will be at the forefront of The Outdoors Party’s push to win seats in the 2020 election. That includes opposition to the pest control poison 1080, which has been a major flashpoint for wider concerns and conspiracies around ecological health and government decision making.
Many conservationists, including those at the Department of Conservation, heavily back the use of 1080, saying that it is the safest and most effective way to protect native bird populations from being wiped out by pests. At times, the tactics of anti-1080 activists have turned nasty, including threats being made against DOC staff.
Grey characterises her party’s views on 1080 as “balanced”, saying they’re based on science, environmental management, and animal cruelty concerns.
“We’ve actually been walking the walk on these issues, and we really have an in-depth understanding, from the perspective of hunters and fishers who have been in the outdoors for decades.”
“I wouldn’t say skeptical, I’d say we’re looking for better solutions.”
It’s a more moderate position (but on the same continuum of views) to that of the previously registered Ban 1080 Party, which contested the 2014 and 2017 elections and received several thousand votes in each. Grey confirmed that since that party deregistered, many former members had moved to join The Outdoors Party instead. She also said there had been a “really diverse range” of people joining from other established parties.
Grey did not disclose exact membership numbers, as is standard for most political parties. However, she said The Outdoors Party has comfortably the required 500 members needed to stand for the party vote, adding that “our membership has doubled over the last six months or so, and it’s all been growing since the start of the party.”
The Outdoors Party is currently working on its strategy for the 2020 election, but Grey confirmed that it will involve targeted campaigns at electorate seats. She will be standing in Nelson, where she is based, and says she’s confident of giving incumbent National MP Nick Smith a run for his money.
“He’s done a good job for Nelson over the last 20 years, or however long he’s been there, but the time has definitely come for a change. If we can win one electorate, we’re on the same footing as ACT, and we’ve got other very good contenders around New Zealand.”
Grey has previously tussled with Smith in court, in the defence of Rose Renton, who was found guilty of offensive behaviour after rubbing rat poison on Nick Smith at a protest.
There are plenty of fertile issues for The Outdoors Party to campaign on in 2020, including tapping into anger among gun owners at the buyback programme. They will be competing for space there with many other parties, including ACT, New Conservative, and National.
Party co-leader Alan Simmons went as far as to accuse the government of “tyranny” in how the new laws were being implemented. He also alleged that a parliamentary Select Committee had suppressed his testimony to them on the matter.
The party has also pushed a range of other issues, ranging from a call for fisheries management to be rebalanced so that it is less focused on commercial operations, to concerns around cellphone towers and the 5G network, another position which sits uneasily with a claim to scientific credibility.
Grey says “people power” is the underlying idea that connects the issues relevant to The Outdoors Party, arguing that too many decisions are taken in Wellington without regard for local views.
“We’ve had a whole cycle of nationalisation of decision making, which has disempowered our communities. I see the brunt of that with my legal work, and people are extremely frustrated.”
Whether Grey gets the chance to take that message to Wellington as an MP will depend on extremely difficult hurdles being overcome. The Outdoors Party are yet to register in nationwide polling, and it is incredibly rare for minor parties to win electorate seats.
Correction: The story originally incorrectly stated that the Brook Valley poison drop was 1080 – it was in fact brodifacoum.