One Question Quiz

PoliticsJanuary 30, 2024

Who could replace James Shaw as Green Party co-leader?

Assessing the frontrunners – and the outside choices – to join Marama Davidson at the top of parliament’s third-biggest party.

The announcement this morning that James Shaw would be stepping down as Green Party co-leader wasn’t a huge surprise, but it has still triggered what’s set to be a lengthy battle to see who will take up the position alongside Marama Davidson. 

The Green Party constitution dictates that one co-leader must be a woman, while the other can be of any gender. There’s also a requirement that one must be Māori.

Nominees can start publicly coming forward from tomorrow, with a result due on March 10. The process is slightly more complex than for other parties, with party members at local meetings deciding who gets the job. Each branch is entitled to a certain number of votes proportionate to the number of members who live in that electorate.

So far, neither Shaw nor Davidson have been willing to publicly back anyone (despite the best efforts from press gallery reporters to squeeze out an endorsement). “I’m not going to make any announcements on behalf of anybody today – that really is up to them,” Shaw told reporters today. 

“It really is up to anybody who wants to put themselves forward to make those announcements themselves.”

So, while we wait to see who comes forward – and with a high-profile former contender in Golriz Ghahraman now out of parliament – we’ve taken a look over the Green Party caucus (and beyond) to pluck out some possible candidates for the top job. 

Chlӧe Swarbrick

The de facto frontrunner, Auckland Central MP Chlӧe Swarbrick is a political superstar. First entering parliament in 2017, Swarbrick has been an impressive performer in the house, and an even more impressive performer with the public. She’s routinely cropped up in preferred prime minister polling – sure, at just around 1% or 2%, but it’s  a remarkable feat for someone who isn’t even leader of their party.

When Shaw faced a leadership challenge in 2022, Swarbrick took herself out of contention. But with a vacancy now needing to be filled, could the high-flying MP put her name in the ring? It seems very likely, though Swarbrick did not respond to The Spinoff’s request for comment.

Auckland Central MP Chlöe Swarbrick (Photo: Benjamin Brooking)

Julie Anne Genter

A familiar face in politics, Genter had enough support to scoop up the Rongotai electorate from Labour in last year’s election. She’s been in parliament since 2011, making her one of the party’s longest-serving MPs, and has been a visible face in debates over sustainable transport, particularly in and around the capital. 

While the Let’s Get Wellington Moving plan has been scrapped by the new government, that may only make Genter’s role as an opposition MP even more important for the Greens. And with Shaw on his way out of parliament, perhaps the Greens would like to keep a Wellington-based MP as co-leader given the party’s overperformance in the city during last year’s election? Whatever the reason, Genter is most definitely a frontrunner in this co-leadership tussle.

Teanau Tuiono

He’s less of a Green Party celebrity than the two people mentioned above, but Teanau Tuiono can’t be ruled out of contention. For starters, he seriously considered a run for the co-leadership in 2022, which would have pitted him directly against Shaw. With Shaw now out of the race, it paves the way for a clearer path should Tuiono choose to contest.

But beyond that, Tuiono is an up-and-comer in the party. He was recently elected assistant speaker – the first time a Green MP has been offered that role. He was also the party’s first Pasifika MP and has been a strong voice in favour of scrapping a “racist” law dating back to the Muldoon government that denied citizenship to Western Sāmoans. His member’s bill on the matter remains before parliament.

Tuiono also represents a branch of the Greens that Shaw did not, coming from a more activist background. Whether the party want another Shaw-esque leader – or someone more closely aligned with Davidson’s style of politics – remains to be seen.

Green Party list MP Teanau Tuiono (Photo by Lynn Grieveson – Newsroom via Getty Images)

Steve Abel

It’s only been about four months since the election, but new MP Steve Abel is an outside choice for the co-leadership. He’s well known in activist circles, having spent 245 days as part of an occupation protesting the felling of native trees in Avondale. Abel has also been a campaigner for Greenpeace for many years, protesting prominently against mining on conservation land and deep sea drilling – two core issues for the Green Party.

Whether or not he’s personally willing to put himself forward for the co-leadership remains unknown (Abel has not responded to The Spinoff’s request for comment), and he may have less support from the urban, centrist types likely to endorse, say, Swarbrick. But for a Green Party that – at least at the last election – has benefitted highly from disenfranchised Labour backers, Abel is certainly a possible, though leftfield, contender. 

Efeso Collins

Swarbrick isn’t the only former Auckland mayoral hopeful within the Green Party caucus. Efeso Collins lost his bid for the mayoralty to Wayne Brown in 2022. He quickly pivoted into central politics and made it into parliament at last year’s election. It’s only been a few months, so Collins hasn’t had much of a chance to make an impact. But his failed mayoral campaign undoubtedly elevated his status, particularly in Auckland where support for Labour dipped dramatically post-lockdown. If the Greens wanted to capitalise on Labour’s falling support in the super city, Collins could be an option.

Tamatha Paul

It’s probably too early for new Wellington Central MP Tamatha Paul to consider a tilt at the top job, but her future with the Green Party is undoubtedly bright. It’s hard not to compare her to Swarbrick in that she’s incredibly popular and well known among a key Green Party demographic (young urban liberals) and managed to scoop up an electorate seat (Wellington Central, where the Greens also won the party vote)

In a short but sweet statement to The Spinoff, Paul indicated she wouldn’t be putting herself forward. “Nah bo,” is all she said. Still, putting one’s hat in the ring isn’t always a personal choice – there’s always an element of doing what’s “best for the party”. It remains possible, though unlikely, that Paul could be encouraged to run.

James Cockle

Green Party leadership contenders don’t have to be current MPs – which makes 2021 leadership hopeful James Cockle a (very, very slim) possibility. Sure, he lost to James Shaw in that contest by a healthy margin, winning just four delegate votes to Shaw’s 116. But his name is also James which would make things a lot easier for the public. Don’t rule him out.

Keep going!