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Green Party co-leader James Shaw will leave parliament (Image: Tina Tiller)
Green Party co-leader James Shaw will leave parliament (Image: Tina Tiller)

PoliticsJanuary 30, 2024

‘Privilege of my lifetime’: James Shaw announces resignation as Greens co-leader

Green Party co-leader James Shaw will leave parliament (Image: Tina Tiller)
Green Party co-leader James Shaw will leave parliament (Image: Tina Tiller)

The Green Party co-leader will stay in parliament ‘for the time being’, with a replacement to be announced on March 10. Stewart Sowman-Lund reports. 

James Shaw has announced his resignation as co-leader of the Green Party, prompting a contest to determine who will join Marama Davidson to head parliament’s third-biggest party.

Shaw will remain in parliament “for the time being” to support a Green-backed amendment to the Bill of Rights, but challengers for the co-leadership can start putting themselves forward from tomorrow.

In 2022, the Greens’ co-leader constitution changed from requiring one male and one female co-leader to instead requiring one woman and one person of any gender, plus a requirement that one must be Māori.

“It has been the privilege of my lifetime to serve as New Zealand’s climate change minister for the last six years and as Green Party co-leader for nearly nine,” Shaw said in a statement. 

First entering parliament in 2014, Shaw surged to the top of the Green Party list in May of the following year. He became co-leader alongside Metiria Turei, who resigned in 2017, and remained in the role alongside Marama Davidson.

James Shaw and Metiria Turei

In his statement, Shaw paid tribute to the two co-leaders he had served alongside, and the “extraordinary caucus of Green MPs, staff, party officials and volunteers”. 

Alongside his role as climate change minister, Shaw held a number of other senior roles within the Labour-led government, including statistics, associate finance and associate environment. He faced criticism from former Green MPs from the more activist wing of the party, with Sue Bradford accusing Shaw of turning the Greens into “Labour light”.

In 2022, he faced a leadership contest after Green delegates did not reconfirm Shaw as co-leader. He ultimately retained the role comfortably after defeating his sole competitor, James Cockle.

“I’m very proud of what the Green Party has achieved over the last eight years,” Shaw said today. “I would like to thank Green Party members and supporters for their incredible hard work and support over that time.”

He continued: “In 2017, the Greens became a party of government, with ministers, for the first time. We also made political history by increasing our support at the end of each of our two terms – a feat no other government support partner had achieved.”

Nominations for the co-leadership will open tomorrow and close on Wednesday, February 14. A new co-leader is expected to be announced on March 10. Shaw said he would not be endorsing any nominee for the co-leadership, but admitted there had been “private conversations”. 

While a blow to the Greens, the departure of Shaw from politics was sign-posted ahead of last year’s election after he decided against running for an electorate seat. While never holding an electorate during his time in parliament, he had routinely contested the Wellington Central electorate. With Labour incumbent Grant Robertson deciding not to contest the seat in 2023, Shaw was considered a strong contender. But he stepped aside to let up-and-comer Tamatha Paul run in Wellington Central, and she won.

Shaw denied that stepping aside in Wellington Central was a sign of an impending departure from politics, telling Newshub that he didn’t run because he could not give that job his all while being the best climate minister possible.

At the time, Shaw said it was “open-ended” how long he would stay in his position. “When I first ran for the Green Party co-leadership in 2015 I said my commitment was to take us into government for the first time and then safely out the other side,” he said.

“So it’s open-ended in the sense that we are not yet done. In fact, I would argue that we are only just getting going, there is so much more that we need to do.”

Ultimately, while the Greens’ election result delivered its largest ever caucus – and a historic three electorate seats – the party was not returned to government at last year’s election.

“In government, we passed the landmark Zero Carbon Act with unanimous support across parliament, becoming one of the first countries in the world to place the Paris Agreement’s 1.5’C target in national legislation,” Shaw continued.

“It is especially gratifying to see the Zero Carbon Act survive its first change of government. New Zealand can be proud that it has an enduring climate change framework, with long-term targets and institutions that will guide us over several decades and changes of government.” 

Shaw said the Greens’ success in last year’s election “ushered in a new era” for the party. “Now is the time for a new co-leader to work alongside Marama to take this new caucus into the future,” he said.

“The Green Party will continue to lead the fight to stop the climate crisis, restore and protect our wildernesses and wildlife, eliminate poverty, and honour Te Tiriti.”

The Green Party has been rocked in recent months by the departures of MPs Elizabeth Kerekere and Golriz Gharahman, the former after allegations of bullying and the latter following claims of shoplifting. This week will also mark the arrival of Gharahman’s replacement Celia Wade-Brown joining the Green caucus.

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