Negotiations close, but result still unclear

Updated

Winston Peters has been up and down the Bowen House lift this week during negotiations. Photo: Sam Sachdeva

With the close of negotiations between NZ First, National, Labour and the Greens, we should soon know the shape of our next government. Sam Sachdeva and Shane Cowlishaw report on the recent discussions and what happens next.

When will we have our new government?

It’s the question on everyone’s minds, and we are slowly but surely getting close to an answer.

After five days of negotiations behind closed doors, discussions over who will occupy the Beehive - and NZ First’s role within it - will move beyond the tight-knit negotiating teams to party officials and delegates.

Late on Friday evening, Winston Peters confirmed policy discussions with the major parties had finished, pronouncing himself "very pleased" at the end of talks.

"We’ve got a seriously comprehensive dossier from both sides, and there’s some fiscals to be shared to make sure that we do agree, but the substantive part for the discussion at caucus tomorrow has been done."

The NZ First caucus would have an all-day discussion on Friday to address the policy offerings from both sides, with portfolios and ministerial portfolios yet to be discussed - although Peters said that could take place via text messages and phone calls, rather than further face-to-face meetings with Bill English and Jacinda Ardern.

Peters has said the NZ First board will be presented with “both options” for government and asked to reach a decision that a large majority can support.

He said the meeting would not take place on Friday due to logistical issues, but would be held by Monday at the latest.

"We are doing the best we can in the way we can best organise it ... this country is the same size as Japan. The same size as the UK. We are not a little island nation. It takes people time to organise things, particularly since we are coming up to Friday, Saturday and Sunday.”

Sign-off needed

The other parties will also have to go through their own processes of approval.

The Greens will hold a special meeting of about 150 national delegates, possibly virtually, to approve or reject any deal, while Labour’s 20-member executive council will have to sign off on what Ardern puts before them.

National will have to consult with its caucus and board before making a decision.

What will be on the table: participants in the talks have given little away about any policy or portfolio concessions, while Peters insists there are still nine governance options still in play (they would likely range from full coalition arrangements to abstaining on confidence and supply).

Peters has occasionally divulged topics of discussion, but they have not been surprising: foreign ownership, the price of food, social and economic change.

Returning from his last meeting with National, Peters was asked why the Board were not able to make it to Wellington earlier and to clarify his statements about the possibility some of them may have to attend a funeral.

Slightly flustered, he replied that he had not said that they were attending a funeral, but it might be a reason.

“I can’t know everything, all the time, about everything that’s happening around the country, surely you understand that.”

Soon after, when heading to his final meeting with Labour, Peters’ clarified that it was, in fact, a tangi that one board member was attending that had complicated their travel.

He was also asked whether he wished he had not told Newsroom he would make his decision public by 12 October and whether it had created a sense of false expectation.

“I just couldn’t make it, I’ve got no regrets about that at all.”

Not making the deadline is a minor issue, but Peters has constantly argued that he had made no such commitment until today. However, he made a new commitment at the end of the day - albeit one easier to achieve - when he said we would know the next government by the end of next week - "Now would you write that on the wall please?" he added, chuckling.

Filling in the time

On the lighter side, the wait for the close of negotiations has been a long one for the political journalists tasked with recording Peters’ every word.

With English and Ardern offering little other than platitudes, if that, and Peters oscillating between silence, insults, and the occasional insight, the media have had to find a way to fill the hours between the negotiating teams’ appearances.

Newstalk ZB’s Gia Garrick has catalogued the number of tiles throughout the Parliamentary precinct, while biscuits and other baked goods have taken on outsized importance.

Ardern’s choice of gingernuts, chocolate wheaten biscuits and ginger loaf for the meetings has been scrutinised, with one television journalist brandishing packets of biscuits - a gift from NZ First’s chief of staff David Broome - during a live cross.

But with the discussions moving beyond the Parliamentary precinct - figuratively if not necessarily literally - we will hopefully soon have something of significance to report.