Hard News by Russell Brown

Anger Management

There are some angry Greens over on Frogblog. In the heat of the moment, some of them seem inclined to turn on their leaders and go hostile on the Left: to do an Alliance, in other words. I don't think that would be too smart.

On the face of it - and according to all the news reports - the Greens don't get a lot in hard terms. But they didn't ask for a lot. They made a virtue of going into negotiation without an array of bottom lines, and the agreement they now have, for no promise of support on confidence and supply (just a promise not to vote against the government), is the same one they had already negotiated in return for their active support of a Labour-led government.

Their agreement actually allows Rod Donald and Jeanette Fitzsimons to front some Green policies as government policies without agreeing to support the government, as well as guaranteed ministerial access, some ringfenced funding in the next three budgets, regular Prime Ministerial meetings and a "no surprises" undertaking on major policy announcements.

What's missing is ministerial positions, and they were subject to a silly and hypocritical veto from both Winston Peters and Peter Dunne. Things might well have been different had the Greens washed up with an extra 1246 votes, earning them an extra seat at National's expense. Had that been the case, Labour-Progressive-Greens would have had a majority had New Zealand First agreed only to abstain. And that would have been different.

Did the Greens shed votes to Labour as a result of voters' anxiety about the prospect of a National win? Of course. There will be recriminations about that. But imagine what would be being said now if the Greens had hauled in, say, 7.5% of the vote, leaving National a hair's breadth ahead of Labour - and cheerily forming a nightmare government with United Future and New Zealand First.

But it's hardly Labour's fault that some voters made that decision, and perhaps if the Greens had more seriously entered some electorate campaigns they'd have hauled in 1246 people who didn't end up voting at all.

The Greens could have spurned their agreement yesterday and gone into full Opposition, voting against the government alongside National and Act (it appears that even the Maori Party will back Labour on the first confidence vote), which might have been good for pride but would have achieved precisely nothing in practical terms.

As No Right Turn points out, the Greens still get to be the Greens; Labour's conscience, and to some extent the conscience of the whole damn Parliament. They might be getting tired of that role after nine years, but self-destructing from underneath would be disastrous.

New Zealand First, in recognition of its crucial bargaining power, got more than anyone else: more money for the elderly, more cops, possibly meaningless "reviews" of the carbon tax and the security (but, apparently, not the general policy setting) of immigration laws. It will also get introduction (but no guarantees of passage) of the Electoral Integrity Act (why?) and a proposal to lower the age of criminal responsibility to 12. That last one will be interesting: it would be opposed on a vote by Labour and the Greens and would be defeated if it was also opposed by the Maori Party - it could turn out to be a highly revealing test of the social instincts of that party.

On the other hand, two of New Zealand First's policy wins also feature in the Greens' agreement: a "buy New Zealand made" campaign and a gradual increase in the minimum wage. The commitments on free healthcare for children won't exactly upset the Greens either.

The embrace of United Future leaves a nastier taste for me: they get their pissy little vetoes on cannabis law reform and a "hate speech" law (which wasn't going to happen anyway). I think they're in the tent for two reasons: one, the obvious one, is that if UF hadn't been it would have spent the next three years developing a relationship with National. The other - directly relevant to Dunne's appointment as Revenue minister - is that it allows the government to work towards a cut in the business tax rate (this also features in NZF's policy agreement) without Michael Cullen having to back down of his own accord. Intriguingly, UF has also negotiated two Green-friendly undertakings of its own: work towards enhanced public access on private land around lakes and rivers, and on curbing agricultural run-off. So it's not quite as simple as a lurch to the right.

As I said before the election, I really think the Greens deserved a shot at government. The depiction of them by the political right as flakes and crazies was meritless (face it: no Green MP has ever been remotely as odd as, say, Paul Adams or Muriel Newman). But it hasn't worked out that way.

The strangest and most potentially damaging facet of the new government is the appointment of Peters as Minister of Foreign Affairs; both because it's a post outside Cabinet, and because it's Winston Peters. We now have to wait and see how that works out.

And onto yesterday's other big announcement: Rosita is the new New Zealand Idol. It wasn't too much of a surprise: the woman has a hell of a voice. The problem is that the Idol format demands that she now has about a week and a half to make a debut album. Her advantage here is that she comes into it with 10 times the natural talent of Ben Lummis, and the potential to make something a bit better than a manufactured pop quickie for your mum and your kid sister. If I was her new management, I'd be on the phone to Dawn Raid this morning. And I'd also be looking to cut a barnstormer of a house diva track, even if it doesn't appear on the album itself (Ellis: you're gay - go with that.)

And Nik? I didn't like him at all at first, but I've come around. I think he's a highly talented young man, albeit in genres you'd normally have to pay me to listen to. He should be put to work on an album that is a great, steaming slab of cheese. I'm thinking a Bread cover would work, whilst reserving the right to withdraw confidence and supply if they go anywhere near 'The Pina Colada Song'.

In general, the irony of Idol's failure to match last season's ratings is that the talent on offer was vastly better than that in the first series. Steve the Christian lasted a lot longer than he had a right to, but Teresa should go and find a band and get on with her thing. So yes, I like Idol, not because it's a global franchise (I have never watched an episode of either American or Australian Idol and I wouldn't wish to), but because it's a matter of motivated young New Zealanders arising from the cauldron. Tears and triumph. A bit like the rugby, really.