By Frank Noakes
AUCKLAND — "We are the only party that is actually offering a comprehensive strategy to deal with unemployment. And yet, we're still so low in the polls that nobody's taking it seriously.
"We have a health strategy that is radically different from the other two parties, which returns to a publicly funded health system, to democratically elected health administration. All of this the public say they want, and yet that doesn't seem to be coming through either as the public perception of us", says Jeanette Fitzsimons, co-deputy leader of the Alliance and a leading member of the Greens.
Fitzsimons describes the policy formation process as being very democratic, including grassroots participation and policy working groups having input from many people. As a consequence, the Alliance platform is "quite robust, it stands up in debate". The platform "is strong enough that if we were to become the government we would feel ready to go and know what we were going to do".
The Alliance is not just flying on principles and ideas; the hard work has been done, according to Fitzsimons. "We know it can work, it's all costed, budgeted for, spelt out."
But there's a perception that the public is caught in the old two party system, that it has to be one or the other. One year ago, the feeling was that the five parties of the Alliance, collectively, were strong enough to be equal with National and Labour. At that time the Alliance was registering over 30% in opinion polls. Fitzsimons thinks that people are not looking at which party has what policy, but saying "Do we want National or Labour; which is going to be least bad?"
Winston Peters, an MP who split from the Nationals and formed New Zealand First, is one factor in the decline of the Alliance's support. Peters opposes many of the same government policies the Alliance does, but from a populist, right-wing perspective. Opinion polls suggest he has taken support from the Alliance, but hardly dented Labour or National.
In the run-up to the November 6 election, the parties have been outbidding each other for growth targets to finance their promises: Labour began with 3%, to which the Nationals responded with 3.5%-5% and then New Zealand First, with no detailed spending program, topped that with a bid of 6%. Fitzsimons argues that "GDP growth is not a useful measure of anything".
"We won't set unsustainable growth targets. We will measure our economic success by how much we reduce unemployment, homelessness, poor health, poverty and crime; by how we improve education, transport and community spirit; and by how we protect the resources we will hand on to our children."
The Alliance is the only party costing its proposals on the basis of increasing the taxes on those who can afford to pay.
"What happens after the election, obviously the crucial question will be the MMP [Multi Member Proportional electoral system] referendum." Many people in the Alliance believe that ultimately the referendum outcome is more important than who forms the next government.
Fitzsimons believes the biggest contribution to the referendum debate has been the visible proof the Alliance offers that coalitions can work harmoniously. Under a proportional voting system, a future government would likely be a coalition of parties.
"Whatever happens to the Alliance in a formal sense, we've forged links, we've broken down barriers between the minor parties. We've brought together different perspectives, which have been enormously enriching for all of us. I see that very positively."