Perhaps the most notable thing about the Government formation negotiating teams yesterday was who wasn’t there.
The National Party team did not include Deputy Leader, Paula Bennett; NZ First were minus new MP Shane Jones and Winston Peters’ long time lawyer, Brian Henry and Labour was without its only former Minister and key policy wonk, David Parker.
Of that group, only Henry has a real explanation.
He is tied up in a long running civil trial involving the boat building company Sealegs in the Auckland High Court.
Bennett’s absence was more intriguing.
Was it a tacit admission by National that Peters would blame her over the leaking of his superannuation details?
As for Shane Jones who is apparently on Niue, despite being the only other member of the NZ First caucus who has been a Minister, he has been left out of the talks when there was considerable speculation he would be there.
Has he got himself offside with Peters already?
Instead, Ron Mark, the party’s deputy is there, another indication that NZ First’s caucus may be more assertive than is often thought.
And also included is Tracey Martin, the former deputy, who is close to Peters. Martin is also close to the Labour caucus.
The absence of David Parker in the Labour team is probably less of a surprise except that he is a friend of Peters and is one of Labour’s members of the Caucus with ministerial experience.
But he is also the author of the water tax which NZ First opposes.
And then there are some questions about who has been included in the teams.
National’s selection of Gerry Brownlee was highly likely from the start. Brownlee functions as a sort of de facto political manager within National and has a robust relationship with Peters, but though it is punctuated by plenty of insults in the House, each can give as good as they get.
Brownlee will have a good idea of how much the Caucus and the party as a whole will tolerate in terms of concessions to Peters.
Steven Joyce’s selection is a surprise.
Sources within NZ First were claiming Peters would not go into talks if Joyce was there because of suspicions about his role in the leaking of the superannuation details.
But maybe Bennett’s absence is enough.
Joyce will obviously be needed to cost any big policy proposals that National might agree to.
Todd McClay is there because of his personal relationship with Peters which stretches back to his father, Roger, who after he left Parliament as a National Minister in 2004 and later became Senior Advisor to Peters, who he had been close to when Peters was a National MP, and was later embroiled in the row over NZ First’s secretive Spencer Trust.
Wayne Eagleson, Bill English’s outgoing Chief of Staff, has known Peters for nearly 30 years from his days as a private secretary to Jim Bolger in the 1990 – 95 Bolger Government of which Peters was a member until 1993. Eagleson had a front row seat for Peters’ expulsion from the National Caucus and the birth of NZ First.
All parties have appointed Chiefs of Staff to their negotiating teams, so Eagleson’s appearance is not surprising.
Maybe what is surprising is the appearance in the National team of Cameron Burrows.
Burrows joined Bill English’s office from Treasury when English was Minister of Finance and was then recruited by John Key for the Prime Minister’s office.
Sources say he played a leading role in campaign planning principally as a policy advisor, but his appearance raises questions as to whether he may be being groomed to replace Eagleson when he goes.
NZ First’s team includes David Broome, the party’s extroverted Chief of Staff who has previously stood for National in Mangere and who sought the Wellington Central nomination in 2005.
His background within National and as a former Chief of Communications for Federated Farmers explains why he has been a strong advocate within NZ First for the party to focus on the regions and become something of a Country Party.
Also in the team is Paul Carrad, the Cook Islands-based former Wellington PR man and business man who has a wide network of sporting contacts. Carrad is close to Peters and is both discrete and very loyal to him.
Peters prefers people around him with whom he has a high level of personal trust, and Carrad fits that bill.
Labour’s choices were predictable.
Grant Robertson is the custodian of the money in the Labour party but is also highly regarded across the party for his political skills. In some ways, he’s a Labour equivalent to Gerry Brownlee.
Sir Michael Cullen seems to be becoming something of a mentor to the Ardern Labour Party. But he was in Government with Peters, knows him well and knows more than anybody else in Labour how Government works.
Kelvin Davis may be important in the negotiations when it comes time to discuss NZ First’s views on Maori issues. There will be disagreement over some of those.
And Mike Munro was strategic advisor to Ardern during the campaign and who has a wealth of experience as a former journalist, Chief Press secretary to Helen Clark and in Government relations for the Todd Group and now as a consultant in Wellington.
Munro knows politics.
Neale Jones is Labour’s Chief of Staff. Jones has been raising eyebrows with his often highly partisan interventions into social media in his own name. Conventionally Chiefs of Staff don’t say much. Jones was appointed by Andrew Little and like Little had worked for what is now the E Tu union.
It is probable that these will not be the only people involved in the talks as they unfold — other Ministers or spokespeople with particular areas of expertise may be brought in to detail with policy detail.