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Wellington’s Green team: Tamatha Paul, Tory Whanau and Julie Anne Genter.
Wellington’s Green team: Tamatha Paul, Tory Whanau and Julie Anne Genter.

WellingtonDecember 18, 2023

The big tests for Wellington’s Greens in 2024

Wellington’s Green team: Tamatha Paul, Tory Whanau and Julie Anne Genter.
Wellington’s Green team: Tamatha Paul, Tory Whanau and Julie Anne Genter.

Winston’s return and Act’s ascent dominated the political landscape of 2023, but the Green Party’s sweep of Wellington may prove to be the most consequential shift of the year.

No longer just an idealistic fringe party tugging at the coattails of Labour, the Greens now stand as the dominant force within Te-Whanganui-a-Tara. The party has elected a couple of mayors and electorate MPs before, but it’s never had this level of political power in any rohe. 

The shift began in 2022, when Tory Whanau decisively won the mayoral race and the city council formed what was effectively a Green-Labour coalition. Then the 2023 general election proved Wellington is Green territory through and through. Tamatha Paul and Julie Anne Genter secured victories in Wellington Central and Rongotai respectively – the first time the party has won multiple electorate seats in a single election, let alone in the same city.  

Wellington City councillor-turned-MP Tamatha Paul (Photo: Supplied)

The Greens won the combined party vote across the three electorates (including Māori roll votes) that roughly make up the Wellington city council boundaries. The final tally was Green 30%, Labour 26.2%, National 25.3%. The new year will begin with a council byelection to fill Tamatha Paul’s seat in the Lambton ward. Green candidate Geordie Rogers will test if the party’s influence will hold outside of election years. 

A big factor in the Green sweep was disaffected Labour voters, who either stayed home or switched allegiances. But it’s also the result of a long-fought ground game at both city and regional council level which helped to develop candidates and grow a volunteer base. 

Now that they’re running the city, the Greens face both the privilege and burden of full responsibility. Anything that goes wrong in Wellington will be squarely blamed on them. And frankly, there’s a lot wrong with Wellington. The city is grappling with leaking pipes, stretched budgets, housing shortages, and impending public sector layoffs.

However, the Greens have spent six years complaining about Labour doing nothing with its political capital. Safe, middle-of-the-road governance will be seen as a betrayal by voters who agreed with them all that time. Whanau needs some big wins to satisfy the left. 

That’s going to be a massive challenge. The 10-year budget drafted by Whanau is a dud. The council’s books are in dire shape, eliminating any hope of big upgrades in transport, housing, or, well, anything. The council was forced to make cuts across the board and will still probably end up with an uncomfortably high rates hike. 

Tory Whanau’s 10-year budget contained little to celebrate. (Design: Archi Banal)

Whanau’s one big win from the process was a plan to upgrade the Courtenay Place nightlife areas, which is an awkward policy to champion after admitting to problem drinking

Now that Let’s Get Wellington Moving has been dissolved, the Golden Mile project has become a Wellington city council project. Transport minister Simeon Brown’s threats to pull government funding turned out to be saber rattling – Waka Kotahi will still pay its share. There’s frustration that the whole ordeal has taken this long, so Whanau’s council will need to get shovels in the ground and show tangible results. 

The biggest opportunity for a win next year is on housing. Up for debate is the council’s new district plan, a once-in-a-generation opportunity for the city to upzone with more townhouses and apartments, while removing character protections that prevent development. It’s gearing up to be a big fight between young residents hoping to own a home someday and wealthy residents’ associations clinging onto the status quo. If Whanau can pull together the votes she needs to enable real housing growth, it could be her defining legacy. 

As the calendar ticks over to 2024, the Greens find themselves at a crossroads. The year ahead will be their opportunity to cement Wellington as a political stronghold. If they fail to capitalise on their current commanding position, expect to see Labour reclaim its former safe seats. 

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