Agreement on the shape of the next government appears to be getting closer.
ACT Leader David Seymour and NZ First Leader Winston Peters met yesterday and will meet again today to determine the areas of agreement they can then take to Prime Minister-elect Christopher Luxon as the basis for forming the next government.
Even so, it is unlikely they will be able to reach an agreement by Sunday when the current government will need to be re-sworn in as the caretaker government.
And that means it is now not impossible but unlikely that Prime Minister-elect Christopher Luxon will represent New Zealand at APEC in San Francisco, where leaders will hold their summit on Thursday.
But to get there the parties would all have to agreed and the Cabinet sworn in, probably by Tuesday so Luxon could make a plane to San Franciso early Wednesday. Even then he would arrive there only hours, or possibly minutes, before the summit began.
The problem back in Wellington is that even though progress is apparently being made in the bilateral talks that have been going on, the three parties have yet to meet all together.
And even then, if they reach an agreement then, both ACT and NZ First will require that to be approved by their caucus and party organisation.
Only then will the Luxon government be able to be sworn in.
The immediate problem is that Ministers’ warrants expire at midnight Saturday.
A spokesperson for the Prime Minister said the government was aware of this possibility and had a contingency plan in place to ensure continuity of executive government, which was currently being worked through with other parties in Parliament.
The first issue is the return of the writ — that is, the Electoral Commission’s final official result of the election. But there are currently three recounts underway, one of which, in Tamaki Makaurau, may be further complicated by allegations of breaches of the Electoral Act.
Those allegations centre on a polling booth being located on the Manurewa Marae where the Te Paati Maori candidate, Takutai Kemp, who currently holds the seat by four votes, is the CEO.
There are also allegations that Te Paati Maori was involved in “treating” voters at the Marae by providing food.
The Prime Minister’s spokesperson said: “Should there be a delay in the return of the writ beyond Friday, 10 November, and if the new government has not yet been appointed, the PM and Mr Luxon are able to advise the Governor-General to reappoint the incumbent administration on Saturday 11 November to operate in caretaker mode until the new government is sworn in.”
“Any legislative amendment will be a matter for the new government in due course,” the spokesperson said.
An attempt was made last October to change the legislation so that the existing government would stay in place until a new government was formed, but it seems that it failed to get agreement from all parties in Parliament.
But in the meantime, the policy talks are going on between the parties.
It seems there have been some tensions in at least one set of talks, with multiple sources in Wellington saying that a session between NZ First deputy leader Shane Jones and Naitonal’s Finance spokesperson, Nicola Willis, on Wednesday got “tense and loud”.
But, in contrast, talks between Jones and National’s resource management spokesperson, Chris Bishop, seem to have been amicable and constructive.
Bishop confirmed to POLITIK yesterday that his party was in favour of retaining the fast-track consenting process for major projects introduced by Labour during Covid.
That was inserted into the Natural and Built Environments Act, which National wants to repeal, but Bishop said yesterday that as a stopgap, National could reinstate the original Covid legislation, which provided for the fast track process “but with a wider ambit.”
That sounds like a concession to New Zealand First, who want to see all infrastructure able to be consented by the fast track process.
But on Whakaata Maori’s Tapatahi yesterday, Jones offered some more insights into New Zealand First’s demands.
Asked about ACT’s proposal for a referendum on the principles of the Treaty, he simply said that was not a policy NZ First had campaigned on.
But though that sounded like a rejection of a referendum, Jones had concerns about the way the Treaty was currently being interpreted.
“We feel that the Waitangi Tribunal’s writ has spread too far,” he said.
“We also feel that the way in which the Treaty is being dragged into various crevices through Parliament and through the courts needs to be corrected.”
And Jones made it clear New Zealand First wants the chair of the Climate Change Commission, Rodd Carr, replaced.
“The current chairman of the Climate Change Commission, he’s like Thomas a Becket, and there’s a famous line out of English literature who will rid me of this meddlesome priest,” Jones said.
“So climate change has got to have some great greater balance.”
And in what might have been a comment directed at his own leader who is being picked to be the next Minister of Foreign Affairs, Jones emphasised the need for an independent foreign policy.
Jones is close to Naitonal’s former Foreign Minister, Murray McCully, who carefully straddled the line between Washington and Beijing.
“We want to make sure that New Zealand’s credibility is protected both in a forceful and robust way in international affairs so that our independence is respected because there are some big looming issues,” he said.
“But New Zealand as a country is totally entitled to adopt and enjoy an independent position.”
That, however, may have to wait until after APEC until we have a new government.