NZ Greens back Ardern Labour at 2023 poll

·3-min read

New Zealand Greens co-leader James Shaw insists he and his party are stronger for a seven-week leadership scuffle when members forced him to run against an empty chair.

Grassroots Greens removed Mr Shaw from his job at their annual general meeting in July, when 30 per cent of delegates signalled a lack of confidence in his leadership.

After personal and party-wide introspection, the 49-year-old former consultant won dissidents over, returning to the job this week with a 97 per cent vote in a leadership contest with no other candidate.

The result is central to the dynamic of next year's election, and a potential third term for Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.

Labour holds a majority in parliament after a COVID-drenched 2020 election upended New Zealand's norm for coalition governments.

Ms Ardern offered the Greens a co-operation agreement and two ministries outside cabinet - making Mr Shaw climate change minister and co-leader Marama Davidson family violence minister.

The deal has created an uneasy tension within the Greens, with the party supporting Labour on some policies, attacking it on others, and while holding two ministries, having no power in cabinet to force change.

Some old-school activists want the Greens to rip up the deal and campaign in opposition.

Mr Shaw said the leadership debate firmed up their strategy to back Labour in 2023, arguing the Greens can improve Ms Ardern's government.

"There's absolutely no appetite amongst our voters for change of government," he told AAP.

"But they do want a government that pays more attention to climate change, to the biodiversity crisis, and to inequality."

Mr Shaw is taking his return to the co-leadership less as a personal victory, and more as a show of support for his approach to politics.

He said the debate centred on whether activists are better off running for office and yielding power - or staying outside the tent and pressuring those within.

"It comes down to this question of, 'what's your theory of change?'," he told AAP.

"There are (Greens) who are concerned at the compromises associated with being in government ... and that you could, from a place of opposition, be more effective by shifting public opinion and putting pressure on the political system.

"I sit at the other end of the spectrum. And I think the majority of members do. As a political party, our job is to get into government and to make change that way."

The Greens average around 10 per cent support in public polling - up on their 7.9 per cent at the last election and close to their historic high.

Julie Anne Genter - the party's transport spokeswoman and a 2018 leadership aspirant - was one of several MPs that mulled a run for Mr Shaw's position before deciding against.

"If we were polling four per cent and climate change wasn't an issue people were concerned about, I would be like, 'This is not working, we need to walk away from the agreement'," she told podcast 1/200.

"Things are looking pretty good. It's looking like the plan is working.

"It's about getting the electorate comfortable with the idea that actually the Greens are a party they can vote for."

Mr Shaw said he respected the right of other MPs to consider having a tilt.

"Green MPs want to do the right thing for the party," he said.

"I am very grateful for the endorsement of the party and the strength of that endorsement, because it says that what we're doing is working."

The next New Zealand election is expected in spring 2023.