Gerry Brownlee in a kaftan! Can this be for real?

Judith Collins wasn’t at the National party’s Bluegreens conference on Saturday. So she was saved from being upstaged by stalwart Bluegreen MP Nicky Wagner’s line: “Everything that kills stuff is good.”

Wagner hurriedly added: “…humanely”. And she was talking about killing possums, stoats and rats, which, the conference was told, kill 15 million birds a year, putting New Zealand in the top class for endangering indigenous bird species close to, or to, extinction.

Collins can do infectious charm but does dominatrix better. That got her into trouble when Grant Robertson ran a tenuous line about “conflict of interest” in her connections with a firm operating in China.

Instead of conceding she might have gone a bit close to the edge and promising not to do it again, she swatted Robertson as a political subspecies. She “didn’t go into politics to eat lunch”, she famously told a television questioner when asked about leadership ambitions.

Oops. Robertson, with his trademark deceptive good humour that got under John Key’s skin last year over the spy shambles, produced a bit more evidence. Collins ate not lunch but humble-ish pie. The Prime Minister was not amused. The crusher queen’s leadership chances dropped a notch.

This incident was of no great consequence until Collins gratuitously puffed it up and then coincidentally the New Zealand Herald reported a donation to the National party from immigrant Donghua Liu, who got citizenship by grace of ministerial intervention. (We got Dotcom by the same “investment” route.)

Collins and Wagner demonstrate the contrast deep inside politics between the destructive instincts which competitive politics brings out in all but a few and the pursuit of constructive outcomes for part or all of the electorate, which is exemplified by the Bluegreens, mostly grey or greying conservation-minded conservatives (two words with the same root).

The Bluegreens are unofficially billed as a ginger group and claim 18 MP members, though only six were there on Saturday, including founding MP and now Conservation Minister Nick Smith.

These days the Bluegreens are more a group than ginger. GDP growth is the cabinet’s dominant priority, which doesn’t allow a lot of room for touchy-feely side-ventures.

Still, two items at this conference point to a degree of Bluegreen influence, which might grow as National edges towards a third term in which, GDP willing, it might find more room for touchy-feely pitches to middling conservationist types not to slip across the border to a Labour-Greens combination.

First, Key joined the Bluegreens on the Sunday to announce partial protection for whales and seals from concussive sound by oil explorers off Kaikoura plus five customary fishing areas and amateur fishing regulations. Smith also announced with Australian Conservation Minister Greg Hunt, who was at the conference for a second time, a joint project to get an international agreement on managing the oceans outside areas under national jurisdiction.

Second, blunt-speaking, GDP-focused Gerry Brownlee turned up for a couple of hours on Saturday (exclamation mark). He asked Smith in advance whether he should wear a kaftan and sandals but, disappointingly, turned up in blazer and slacks. (Smith presented him with a kaftan on the day.)

Another exclamation mark is due for what Brownlee said. He glowingly detailed the green elements, including energy efficiency, in the Christchurch CBD rebuild and highlighted Canterbury’s need for better water management. He then said a “positive focus on environmental outcomes” would be the “genesis” of future economic outcomes.

It’s not exactly Russel Norman’s “smart green economy” but it might be a small step towards recognising that a lot more green economic activity is going on in other countries than in this Key-alleged 100 per cent pure, clean-green jurisdiction.

Brownlee’s comment also contrasts with Labour leader David Cunliffe’s failure to mention green initiatives in his “vision” for the economy on Friday.

One explanation: Cunliffe was tailoring his speech to right-wing New Zealand Initiative types (Cunliffe does a bit of that sort of tailoring, which generates inconsistencies). A second explanation: he and Norman have yet to build coalition foundations.

A third explanation: Cunliffe hasn’t got on top of the decision-making needed to turn policy position papers from last year into policy statements (forestry this week will be an exception). More on all that next week.

Meanwhile, Key has edged across the environmental line. But not too far, Green MP Kennedy Graham pointed out last week: Key’s election date choice of September 20 eliminates his attendance shortly before at a climate summit of government, business, finance and civil society heads called by United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

The G20 is the biggie for Key. Yes, to being nice to whales. But a bigger yes to GDP growth. Bluegreens’ ginger mustn’t have too much spice.