A conversation not a contest
By Richard Harman (author)
It was exactly what you might expect the Greens to do.
Gareth Hughes on one bike, Julie-Ann Genter on another and Hughes interviewing Genter and recording the pictures on his iPhone. Another video for the Greens website and Facebook pages, all part of their campaign in the Mt Albert by-election.
It’s only when you see the Greens outside Parliament that you are reminded of how much they refuse to play by the conventional political rules.
Even Genter’s decision to stand raised eyebrows in the Labour Party given that the two parties had just signed a Memorandum of Understanding to work together up till the election.
What this suggests is how much of a handful they might be in any coalition.
For a start, Genter rejects the idea that there’s not much point to her standing in Mt Albert.
Barring a cataclysmic political disaster for Labour, their candidate, Jacinda Ardern will win, and Genter will presumably come second with a relatively small vote.
The Nats are not standing a candidate, and that means they could, of course, play havoc with this scenario by quietly encouraging their supporters to vote for Genter. But so far there’s no evidence of that.
Sitting on a couch that wouldn't look out of place in a student flat with her campaign bike parked up against the wall in the Greens headquarters just off Karangahape Road, Genter .offers a radically different view of what the by-election is about.
“It’s not just a power game,” she says.
“It might be for many people like the National Party who may think there’s nothing much for them to gain by standing a candidate ion this by-election but I don’t think that's what politics should be."
She knows she's unlikely to win, so she is looking to other measures of success.
“We’ve activated a whole lot of volunteers; we’ve gone out and done the door knocking; we’ve done the phone calling; we’ve done a whole lot events.
"I've got my message out through a whole lot of different mediums, and I think all of that is positive for the Green Party."
It’s hard to find much of a difference between the overall direction that the Greens and Labour are campaigning on in the by-election. Both emphasise the housing affordability and transport congestion issues.
Genter is a transport planner and the Greens transport spokesperson who literally puts her pedals where her mouth is on the need for alternative transport as well as being an ardent backer of public transport.
And she is already claiming some victories.
“Many of the projects we (the Greens) have campaigned on have been successful.
“What I have noticed now is that almost everyone, no matter how they vote, supports public transport.
“The National Government released their ten-year transport funding policy today, and it's just more of the same.
“There is virtually no extra money for new public transport.”
She also has picked up an issue which her Labour opponent Jacinda Ardern has noted, and that is a desire within the electorate for quality of urban design to be a factor in new developments within the electorate.
She believes the current planning systems do not allow for long-term planning.
“We have really onerous planning rules which make it very difficult for people to participate but also make it easy for people, if they have enough money, to do whatever they want.
“Private developers tend to want to maximise the profitability of what they are doing on ai individual site but that doesn’t necessarily maximise the benefits to the community in the long-term, and what we need is more integrated master planning for the long term.”
Mt Albert is a particularly well-educated electorate – it ranks as the third highest for the number of Bachelor Degrees and fourth for post graduate and honours degrees.
That may be one of the reasons why it's a receptive electorate for the Green message.
“It's an area where we do well, and our message is well received."
S he’s enjoyed most of the campaign even if the start was a little stressful. And she’s enjoyed campaigning with Ardern.
“I’ve enjoyed the oppurutnitire to go on the road with Jacinda.
“It’s been really lovely.
“This is how politics should be.
“This is how you get young women more interested in politics.
This isn't a fight to the death. It's actually a conversation, and we both have things to offer."
How often do you hear that in politics? Probably only from the Greens.