James Shaw is the co-leader of the Green Party and is an advocate for the environment, equality and helping those in need. He has been party of the Green Party since 2014 and become co-leader in 2015. Massive Magazine’s Natasha Tziakis had the chance to sit down with the politician ahead of this year’s election.
What is your reaction to the government’s recent budget announcement?
So, I think that it was a really political pre-election budget and their set of announcements, particularly around support for low income families is clearly a sign that they are getting worried about the fact that New Zealanders are increasingly uncomfortable about just how many people we are leaving behind.
Does the Green party have any plans to alter student allowances and living costs? How so?
I’m going to have to get back to you about that. Gareth Hughes is our tertiary advocate. I’m not sure that we have a specific number for that. Because I don’t think we have changed it since the 2014 election. So, I think that is something we would announce later on this year. We want to move back towards free tertiary education, but you have to prioritise these things. And our priority would be on accommodation and living costs, rather than on fees. Because ultimately fees can kind of kick into the future via the line. Whereas you need living costs now. And it’s been very clear that there has been a real deterioration in student hardship.
The Green Party is known for being so environmentally minded, so what are you going to do about the immediate environments that people live in?
Well, we are probably the lead party in parliament on that. So, the Home Insulation Scheme that was set up was a Green Party scheme, that has really been a huge emphasis for us. So, there is a number of things. We are the party that introduced the notion of having a warrant of fitness for property, we are the party that introduced the home insulation scheme and one of our primary concerns when we go around building new houses are that those houses get built to a higher thermal standard than they have been.
Would the Green Party consider enforcing a living wage for Kiwi workers?
Yes. Green Party has an emphasis on low-income families and low-income people. And we have this mind-boggling welfare system in which it can take an unemployed person 40 hours a week to secure their week’s benefit. That is actually a full-time job to just stay on the unemployment benefit. So, our approach is to say that you’ve gotta massively simplify the whole process and make it much more accessible for people. But the reason why you need it is because a lot of people just don’t earn enough to make ends meet. And so, one solution is to say ‘Why are we a low-productivity wage economy?’ and if you try and fix that and lift incomes then you don’t need to spend so much money bailing people out.
So, as a bit of a light question, what was your go to student meal when you were on a tight budget?
Totally baked beans with sausages on toast is pretty standard student fare, um, when I was really poor, it was two minute noodles.
Students traditionally don’t vote. What is the Green Party going to do to engage with students?
They do vote, they just don’t vote at the same rate that older people do. Our party list (which was recently released) includes some really awesome younger people, and it’s exciting, right? We know that social identity is the reason that people vote, for the most part. So, having younger people on the list like Jack McDonald and Chloe [Swarbrick] gives the accessibility for voters to say ‘actually, that’s someone like me’ does make a real difference.
Why does the Green Party believe that cannabis should be legalised and what would the regulations around this be?
Because if you honestly start with the idea of reducing harm, then the current prohibition set up fails to meet this test. And you have a multi-million dollar industry that is controlled entirely by gangs and we are essentially channelling through our legal system into gangs, ending up with a colossal strain on our health and justice systems. Prohibition is not working anymore. Our preference is for a regulated market model which is like, for example, tobacco and cigarettes. Then control the trade, tax it, control the advertising, you can control the price and age. And you would use the revenue from the tax to run healthcare programs to ensure that people know what they are getting into.
What is the Green Party’s stance on raising our refugee quota?
We have already signed up to double the quota and that would be one of the first things we do. We need to see this as humanitarian problem
The Equal Pay Amendments Bill failed when it went through Government this year. Would the Green Party be willing to re-address this issue?
If you don’t manage it, you don’t fix it. It would have made such a difference at such little cost. If we were to get into government, we would introduce a version of this bill as government legislation, rather than a member’s bill.