In one of the strangest Government announcements ever, the country’s new Prime Minister found out they had the job at the same time as all of New Zealand. Shane Cowlishaw picks out some of the more colourful moments of a hectic night.
In a fitting end to one of the most hectic election campaigns ever, the final moulding of New Zealand’s new Government came together in an extraordinary series of rapid events.
Journalists were spread across Parliament like army ants, while the leaders of the two largest parties watched television to find out, reality-TV style, if they would be chosen.
The evening began with the man who had been watched like a hawk for the past two weeks and upon whose shoulders the ultimate decision was resting.
Winston does live TV right
The entire nation was waiting, but Winston Peters will appear when he wants.
After days of agonising, New Zealand First's leader finally materialised before the nation to announce the party’s decision.
He had debunked the theory he was timing his decision for the 6pm news, heaping misery on poor television journalists attempting to fill dead space and repeatedly crossing live to lift doors only to be deceived. Newshub even cut away early from their gameshow Family Feud in anticipation, only to be left deeply disappointed.
But once he did arrive at the Beehive’s theatrette at about 6.45pm, things began strangely.
He spoke of Germany, and how it would not have a government until December. Poor Germany.
He foreshadowed a great economic downturn that was approaching and hinted a change was needed to prepare.
“We believe capitalism must regain its human face.
“We had a choice for a modified status quo or for change.”
Labour it was to be.
It was clear that the burden of choosing the next government had been weighing heavily on his shoulders.
Throughout his speech he tried to be stately, deferring several questions to the new Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and treating the media with more respect than usual (he still had time for a few jabs, mainly at business journalists).
The press pack did their job, prising a few nuggets of information from the wiley operator.
There was not enough leverage to push for a referendum on the Maori seats, they were safe.
The New Zealand First caucus were not completely behind the decision, there was some dissent.
No names were mentioned, but Shane Jones was pictured looking far from pleased.
OMG I’m Prime Minister
Following Peters’ announcement, rabid journalists were kept waiting until 8pm in the stuffy third-floor opposition headquarters until the Prime Minister-elect made her appearance.
Since taking over the leadership reins from Andrew Little just a few months ago, Ardern has always appeared confident, strong, assured.
But as she took her place behind the lectern and began to talk she appeared slightly shaken.
It’s probably fair enough, considering she had found out less than an hour earlier on live television that she would be in charge of the country.
She confirmed New Zealand First would have significant power in the new Government – four Ministerial positions inside Cabinet and one Cabinet undersecretary. The Deputy Prime Ministership was Peters’ if he wanted it.
After a few more details – net migration cuts will follow Labour’s policy, not New Zealand First’s – she was gone, off to take congratulatory calls from world leaders.
Former leader Andrew Little was not spotted during her speech. He will have a twist in his stomach that it was not him being crowned on the night, but will likely be canonised by the Labour faithful for his decision to step down.
Bill’s time could be up, but National’s is not
Off it was downstairs to hear from the outgoing Prime Minister.
Bill English has now failed to form a Government in both attempts at the helm of National.
But he was incredibly gracious in defeat, refusing to step into the political gutter.
The process had been amicable, he was satisfied his team had done all they could to sway Peters’ in their favour.
It was undoubtedly an emotional moment for English and there were glints of moisture in the corners of his eyes, particularly when thanking his family for their support during the campaign.
His deputy, Paula Bennett, attempted but failed to put on her upbeat persona, clearly shocked at what had happened.
National may be out of Government but they received more votes than any other party and will have a huge presence in opposition.
That means resources for researchers and they will be a formidable foe, full of former MPs and hungry backbenchers.
Shades of what is perhaps to come were revealed when English was asked what type of opposition National would be and Steven Joyce, standing close behind him, released a hyena-like laugh.
“A very large one”.
Greens finally have some power
In the end, it was almost a sideshow to what had come before, but just after 11pm James Shaw announced that party delegates had agreed to the deal.
Earlier Shaw almost bounded up to his press conference, which was held straight after the former Prime Minister’s on the floor above.
Like a puppy with a new toy, he told media that the Greens were in a fantastic position.
It’s true, for the first time the party will have Ministerial power.
There will be three portfolios (Conservation, Climate Change, and perhaps Social Development are likely candidates) and they get a bonus undersecretary role thrown in for free.
But those Ministers will be outside of Cabinet, and therefore away from the real power.
There will be some disappointment in the party that they are locked out of mission control, especially because it was Peters who likely demanded it.
But for them, it is the lesser of two evils, the party not yet ready to consider partnering with National.
For Shaw, and the Greens, it is a remarkable recovery and it showed.
From potential obliteration to finally have the ability to shape policy.
Who can forgive them for smiling?