Those expecting any sort of deal to form a Government today should hold their horses, Bernard Hickey writes. Winston Peters hasn't even started talking with Bill English about ministerial positions or governing arrangements. And the New Zealand First board (and National or Labour) would then have to sign off on those too.
The New Zealand public will have to wait at least one more night to find out who will form the next government.
Having spent the entire day deep in discussions, the New Zealand First board will continue talks into the night and reconvene at 9am tomorrow morning. There will be no public statement tonight.
Any substantive movement was already looking unlikely after 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.
Winston Peters ducked questions from media on the way to Parliament first thing in the morning, and hasn't surfaced since, with his MPs and board members keeping a similarly low profile.
However, Peters released a statement shortly before 4.30pm, saying that discussions with the board and caucus were continuing and it was "expected the meeting will go on for several more hours".
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 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.
'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."
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."
Article updated: 6.17pm.