The government formation talks appear to be stuck, bogged down in detail as the parties go through their respective manifestos line by line.
Prime Minister-elect Christopher Luxon yesterday said there were three “big” issues that all three parties had yet to resolve.
He also confirmed that the parties have yet to begin negotiations over Ministerial posts, and that will be likely to include who should be deputy Prime Minister.
That may also be a tricky negotiation.
Nicola Willis will be mindful of the way Bill English was able to use the status and day-to-day information flows of being deputy Prime Minister to reinforce his role as Finance Minister.
In a three-party coalition where her position will be precarious enough, she must surely want to be deputy Prime Minister.
Some sources say she is determined to get the role.
But logically, in a coalition government, David Seymour, as the leader of the second highest polling party, would expect to be deputy Prime Minister.
That would then leave Winston Peters out in the cold.
Peters is experienced enough to know that being deputy Prime Minister would give him extra clout and the ability to ride shotgun across all government decisions.
POLITIK understands that he wants to be Attorney General and wants to use that position to start appointing a different type of judge.
Speaking at his party’s annual conference last year, Peters unveiled his party’s policy on gangs, which included a proposal to ban gang patches, which was picked up by National during this year’s election campaign.
But Peters was critical of the way the courts dealt with gang members.
“The softer the courts are on crime, the more brazen these thugs become,” he said.
Putting a political slant on judicial appointments is not novel. The previous Attorney General, David Parker, emphasised his belief that the courts should reflect the makeup of the communities they served and emphasised diversity in the selection of judges.
New Zealand First is also believed to want the Transport, Energy Resources and Infrastructure portfolios.
Its transport policy is unlikely to find much favour with National and ACT.
It is opposed to ACT’s key roading policy of part-funding public-private partnership roads through tolls, and it wants a Crown company to take over Auckland and Whangarei ports with a view to shifting the Auckland port to Whangarei.
Both National and ACT would surely oppose that.
In energy it wants to break up the gentailers.
The Commerce Commission is currently investigating complaints from independent electricity retailers that the big four gentailers, Contact, Genesis, Meridian and Mercury are abusing their semi-monopoly powers and over pricing electricity.
Ironically, Luxon’s Chief of Staff, Cameron Burrows, is the former CEO of the Electricity Retailers Association, which is supporting the complaints.
New Zealand First would also abolish Transpower and replace it with a Ministry of Energy.
ACT take a different tack on energy policy; they emphasise making it easier to get consents for new energy projects, particularly windfarms, so that increase supply would help drive down prices.
There is little doubt that all three parties, ACT, NZ First and National, want to liberalise the resource consenting process.
New Zealand First has the most radical proposal, which would involve a return to what would essentially be a rejig of the Muldoon government’s National Development Act, where the Minister would approve the consent personally for major projects.
There are some policy areas where there are differences; NZ First wants another $1.2 billion for Pharmac, while ACT just wants an independent review.
Overall, there is considerable convergence between the three parties’ economic policies.
But New Zealand First, with its greater experience in government, knows that real power lies with those who are close to the Prime Minister.
It may be significant that Peters has given as one of the reasons that he could no longer trust Labour was because they weren’t frank with him over policy proposals like He Puapua.
Therefore, even if the parties can resolve the three outstanding issues quickly, the next phase of the negotiations, centring on Ministerial posts, may not be easily sorted out.
The negotiations so far have kept pace with previous years in terms of time taken.
In 1996, the first MMP Parliament had its first meeting 60 days after the election.
In 2017, the Ardern Government had its Parliament meet 45 days after the election.
Today will be the 36th day since the election. The negotiations would need to go for another three weeks to be longer than for the 1996 government. That was when NZ First MPs memorably went fishing part way through the negotiations.
Former Prime Minister Helen Clark told an Electoral Commission webinar in 2021 that she learned an important lesson from the 1996 negotiations, which formed a government that did not last the full distance to the 1999 election.
That was not to follow New Zealand First’s example and have a complex coalition document drawn up by a lawyer.
Instead, in 1999, Labour and the Alliance agreed to form a government on the basis of a brief document stating overall objectives and the principles which would govern day-to-day operations rather than the detailed contract-like document that had been drawn up in 1996.
Luxon has persistently refused to answer questions about whether he is trying to draw up a complex document or one more like that Clark drew up in 1999.
But yesterday, he hinted that he was leaning more in the direction of a complex document.
“If you think about every line item in every party’s manifesto that we’ve now worked our way through, the issues that we’re left with, and there are less than three of them, they are difficult. They are tough. They are complex,” he said.
“We have differences of opinion between the parties.
“There are trade-offs needed between all of us.
“That’s where we’re at, and that’s what we’ve got to keep working and keep trying to resolve.”