Newsroom Pro's 8 things at 8: It's D-Day for NZ First's board, but a Government may be days away

According to Bill English, Winston Peters has yet to even talk about ministerial positions. Photo by Lynn Grieveson

In today's email we discuss how those hoping for a new Government by the end of the day will be disappointed.

1. Hold your horses

Don't expect a Government announcement today because we learnt this morning that Winston Peters has yet to even discuss ministerial positions or the exact form of any supply and confidence deal with the major parties.

There is a growing possibility that Peters and New Zealand First will choose not to formally be in the Government and instead remain on the cross benches with some form of supply and confidence agreement. That would require issues, other than budgetary ones, to be decided a case by case basis.

There is even the most remote prospect (and least stable prospect) of a supply and confidence abstention agreement, whereby New Zealand First may agree to abstain on votes on a case by case basis.

Regardless of the form of deal agreed by New Zealand First this week, any such deal and arrangements would then have to be signed off by New Zealand First and either the National Party board and caucus, or the Labour and Green boards and caucuses.

A decision or decisions to form a Government by this evening look very remote. Bill English is hopeful it can be done this week and Winston Peters has said it would be completed by this Sunday at the latest. Anywhere in between tonight and Sunday is possible. My hunch is it's later rather than sooner.

Up until this morning, there was a widespread expectation that New Zealand First would effectively be deciding on who would lead the Government and New Zealand First's role in it later today.

But Bill English made clear in interviews this morning that there had not been any discussions on either ministerial arrangements or the exact form of any coalition or supply and confidence agreement.

2. 'No completed agreement to vote on'

English told both Duncan Garner on Newshub's AM show and Susie Ferguson on RNZ's Morning Report that New Zealand First did not have a completed agreement to vote on and there had been further clarifications sought over the weekend over policy. That's despite formal face-to-face discussions finishing on Thursday.

"The fact New Zealand First is having their board meeting doesn't mean there are completed agreements they will be looking at," English told Garner.

"There's still more discussion to be had about the nature of a coalition or other form of confidence and supply agreement - those discussions are yet to be had," he said.

"Negotiations are still ongoing. There are a number of issues related to the formation of Government that you would need to agree on before you actually had an agreement to form a Government.

"The other parties have a process we would need to go through in order to agree to the formation of a Government. For Labour and the Greens, that will be a more complicated process. That's all still ahead of us.

English said policy had been intensively discussed, while other arrangements had not been discussed.

"It's got some time to go yet," he said.

"There's been policy discussion. There's still more discussion to be had about the nature of a coalition or other form of confidence or supply agreement. Those discussions are yet to be had.

"Ultimately, what's required is some form of agreement over confidence and supply. There's different forms of that. Sitting on the cross benches through to full coalition. The point I'm making is discussions that New Zealand First are going to be having today are not going to be focused on completed agreements."

English said discussions after New Zealand First agreeing on a deal would be simpler with National than for a deal with Labour and the Greens.

"The focus of the discussions so far has been purely on policy. Matters such as ministerial positions or the nature of a coalition agreement have yet to be discussed," he said.

"The discussion New Zealand First are having today is another step in the process, but it's by no means the final step in actually agreeing a Government."

Asked about what ministerial roles Peters had asked for, English said:

"Those issues haven't been discussed. They have to be if you're going to form a Government. Before too long. If positions in a Government are what comes out of all this then it would reflect those long term concerns that he's had.

"Ministerial positions haven't been discussed. That's a matter that can probably be resolved relatively quickly when the time comes."

3. Deal expected some time this week

English repeated the comments on Morning Report.

"There's still a number of issues relating to the formation of a government that haven't yet been discussed. While NZ First are having a discussion today, they won't be dealing with completed agreements because there's still outstanding issues.

"There would still need to be discussion of the nature of the Governing arrangement, ministerial positions, the way that parties would interact, so those discussions are still ahead of us.

Asked if he expected a Government would be formed this week, he said: "I would expect so. We're not putting deadlines on it. The public are expecting the formation of a Government pretty shortly."

4. 'StuffMe's last gasp'

The other big event happening across the road from Parliament and Bowen House today is the hearing starting in the High Court on the merger bid by NZME and Fairfax NZ (now called Stuff).

They were turned down unanimously by members of the Commerce Commission in May and the court hearing is the culmination of a process that started 17 months ago.

The companies said the financial crisis in the media industry caused by people and advertisers moving away from print and traditional media to digital products, social media and their own direct channels meant the pair needed to merge to cut costs and help keep NZ journalism alive.

They say global giants Facebook and Google are hoovering up most of the digital advertising spend here and across the world and Stuff and NZME need a relaxed view taken of competition law to give them 'runway' to change their business models sufficiently to survive.

After the Commerce Commission said the detriments of the merger would outweigh any economic benefits, the two companies said it was wrong, had put too much weight on social concerns such as diversity of media and plurality of voices and not enough on what would happen in the industry if a merger was not approved.

Newsroom's Tim Murphy reports in this preview of the hearing that the Commission decision was thorough, took care to anticipate any legal challenge, and was definitive that the outcome under a merger would be worse for media consumers than if the two businesses had to continue operating separately.

See Tim's full preview here.

5. 156,000 readers for Newsroom

For readers wondering how Newsroom is doing in this tumultuous media environment, Tim Murphy reports on our latest Nielsen Net Ratings figures for the month of September.

It turns out the election was a busy time for both reporters and readers on Newsroom.

Newsroom's audience rose 60 percent to 156,000 unique readers in September from August. It is expected to fall back in October, given the lack of an election, but the audience growth since we launched in March has exceeded our expectations.

"The big audience gain takes Newsroom temporarily past our full year target of 100,000 unique monthly readers, an anniversary which is still six months away in March 2018," Tim Murphy writes on Newsroom.

6. While you were sleeping

The tensions around America's approach to the nuclear ambitions of North Korea and Iran continued over the weekend.

This interview that New York Times writer Dexter Filkins gave to NPR's Terry Gross gives some great insights into the situation, particularly in North Korea.

It is sobering and I'd recommend reading the transcript or listening to it in full. Filkins has reported intensively on what is happening with Rex Tillerson and Donald Trump's decisions on military and diplomatic funding.

America plans to cut spending on the State Department by a third or US$15 billion, while increasing spending through the Pentagon by $50 billion.

"If all you have is a hammer, you're going to use a hammer," Filkins said in summary.

"In this administration, which is to say President Trump and the people around him, there's not a lot of evidence that they really value the art of diplomacy. But they certainly understand what the military does. That they got."

This piece by Nicholas Kristof
from the New York Times after a visit to North Korea is also worth a click and is just as sobering.

"I have a sinking feeling in my gut, just as I had on the eve of the Iraq war, that our president may be careening blindly toward war," Kristof writes.

7. Coming up...

Statistics New Zealand is scheduled to report September quarter Consumer Price Index inflation figures on Tuesday at 10.45 pm.

Economists are forecasting quarterly inflation of around 0.4 percent and annual inflation of around 1.8 percent. That's above the Reserve Bank's forecast in its August Monetary Policy Statement of 0.2 percent for the quarter and 1.6 percent for the year.

However, most economists expect the Reserve Bank, which is being run by an interim Governor until March, to keep the Official Cash Rate on hold until late next year because inflation remains subdued and well within the 1-3 percent target band.

8. One fun thing

If you think our negotiations are dragging on, spare a thought for the Dutch. Prime Minister Mark Rutte finally managed to hammer out a deal with four parties early last week after nearly seven months of talks.

This picture and tweet below gives you a sense of the difference in the talks...

Lennart Nout: "Dutch PM locking his ministerial vehicle outside the king's office to talk about forming a new government. #Rutte

I love that he stuck to his routine of locking the bike as he left it outside the palace.