John Armstrong's opinion: Just as Greens start to shed 'loony left' rep, Golriz Ghahraman sets them back

It has largely gone unnoticed, but the Greens have managed to achieve something of special importance during their first stint as a partner in Government.

Golriz Ghahraman. Source: 1 NEWS

The party has got shot of the “loony left” label which its foes and, not infrequently, its supposed friends successfully pinned on the party during its long years in Opposition.

Getting the rank-and-file membership to accept the cold, hard fact that the party would achieve nothing unless it was prepared to swim in the mainstream of politics is the priceless legacy of Russel Norman’s co-leadership of the party.

The pre-2017 election downfall and departure of Metiria Turei, Norman’s fellow co-leader, swung the balance in favour of a more pragmatic modus operandi if only for the reason that the Greens’ very survival was suddenly at stake.

What might be termed as a new era of realism helped condition the party to the compromises and concessions that its hierarchy accepted would be the necessary price to be paid in becoming a junior partner in what initially looked to be an unstable governing arrangement with Labour and New Zealand First.

The Greens’ motto since then has been simple. The party can live with trade-offs. But it is not going to be a push-over.

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More than a billion will go towards replacing the nation’s ageing Hercules fleet. Source: 1 NEWS

That determination is personified by Eugenie Sage’s tough-minded and down-to-earth management of her Conservation portfolio.

No doubt some people in Labour and New Zealand First have their own words to describe Sage — not all of them complementary.

But “whacky” would not be one of them.

No longer do you hear the likes of James Shaw or Julie Anne Genter being tagged as “fruit-loops”.

There is one significant policy area where the Greens’ high-minded ideals are far from being bisected by that new realism.

That has been acutely evident this week in the substandard performance of Golriz Ghahraman, the lowest-ranking member of the caucus.

She may lay claim to being the first refugee to be elected to the New Zealand Parliament.

She may have extensive experience of matters of international law. But she made an absolute hash of her responsibilities as her party’s spokesperson on foreign affairs and defence matters.

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There are currently 95 non-combat troops on the ground at Camp Taji. Source: 1 NEWS

She raised eyebrows in claiming Monday’s announcement that New Zealand would be pulling its contingent of military personnel out of Iraq rather than them continuing their role of training that country’s troops amounted to a “win” for the Greens.

That decision was a Cabinet decision. The three Green ministers do not have seats at the Cabinet table.

Such decisions are always the result of an assessment of a number of factors, none of which would have included what stance the Greens might or might not take on the matter.

The clue as to the major determinant in the decision was the following day’s unveiling by Ron Mark of a $20 billion Defence Capability Plan outlining scores of "essential" purchases for the Army, Navy and Air Force over the next decade and beyond.

The timing of the Defence Minister’s release of the plan was very deliberate. It was scheduled to send a message to New Zealand’s sole ally, Australia, and friends, most notably the Americans.

That message was that while this country was pulling out of Iraq, it would continue to pull its weight when it came to contributing to such multilateral military interventions, regardless of whether they are United Nations-led or — much to the Greens’ distaste — initiated by the United States and run out of some bunker in Washington.

Thanks to muddled and seemingly contradictory statements from Ghahraman, the Greens’ view of the Capability Plan is not entirely clear. She was quoted on the influential Politic blog as praising Mark’s handling of the procurement programme, which includes the spending of more than $1 billion on replacing the old 1960s Hercules military transport fleet with a modern version of that aircraft — dubbed a "Super Herc”.

Ghahraman subsequently told RNZ National that country should not be spending that much money on those aircraft. Her preference was the purchase of smaller planes. That makes no sense both operationally or politically.

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"This happened here, and it began with hate speech, allowed to spread here online," the Green MP said. Source: 1 NEWS

The air force’s current Hercules have a long and proud history of being the first call in providing disaster relief in News Zealand’s cyclone-prone near neighbourhood.

Why would anyone opt to purchase smaller aircraft which would carry much reduced payloads than the current planes — and even less when contrasted with the capacity of the Super Hercs?

Moreover, any downgrading in the size of the new planes would be interpreted as New Zealand wishing to downgrade its relations with South Pacific nations at a time when China’s increasing influence in the region demands an upgrade.

Ghahraman also made noises about the requisite aircraft to be purchased “without the war-making capability that we're renewing". It is unclear what she meant by “war-making”.

If she is referring to armaments, it is true the Super Hercs can be fitted with missiles.

That would be something new for New Zealand’s air force. But it would not be renewing something. The current Hercules are unarmed and always have been.

There are other gaping holes in the MP’s sketchy analysis of the pending mega-spend-up on military equipment, most notably the intention to boost the number of soldiers in the army by more than 1000.

It fits the Greens’ omnipresent suspicions of the motives of the Defence Force to discern something sinister in such a boost in frontline troops.

The real rationale is likely more mundane.

The Defence Force has long had problems in having sufficient personnel on hand such that they can replace staff on overseas deployments in proper rotation rather than cutting back the time they spend back home.

None of this is news to any party spokesperson making the effort to become aware of the detail of their portfolio responsibilities.

But Ghahraman simply appears to be out of her depth.

Her party’s difficulty is that the consensus and optimism of the post-Cold War world has given way to rampant nationalism and pessimism.

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Q+A talks to former human rights lawyer and refugee Golriz Ghahraman and former women's refuge manager Angie Warren-Clark. Source: Q+A

The United Nations has become ineffectual.

Governments are re-arming, not disarming.

New Zealand is never going to be under threat of invasion. Its exclusive economic zone and those of its South Pacific neighbours are at massive risk of being plundered.

Labour, National and New Zealand First are hugely cognisant of that.

They are in de facto agreement that the money must be found for the big-ticket defence items needed to counter that threat. And try are pretty much in agreement when it comes to deciding what items should get priority.

The Greens are asleep to all that. And Ghahraman does not look like being the one who is going to wake up her colleagues.
In short, her portfolio responsibilities should be in the domain of the party’s co-leaders —not a first-term backbencher.