NZ First is looking to spook National into making early concessions before special votes have been counted but National leader Christoper Luxon has signalled he might be ready to call the party’s bluff and wait for the final results on November 3.
The incoming Prime Minister yesterday welcomed 23 new National MPs to Parliament following Saturday’s landslide victory.
And as work to stitch together a coalition deal begins, he batted away suggestions he could be prepared to offer Winston Peters the Speaker’s role in return for NZ First support.
Meanwhile, the Labour caucus will meet today to farewell a raft of outgoing MPs, discuss its disastrous election result and the future of its leader Chris Hipkins.
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National leader Christopher Luxon and deputy leader Nicola Willis during a photo opportunity with their 23 new MPs at Parliament on October 16. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Parliament’s forecourt was busy with traffic on Monday as a crop of new MPs showed up for their induction.
The Parliament precinct, largely deserted since the last sitting day of the last Parliament in August, felt like a university orientation week as new MPs got themselves used to the building, its responsibilities and perks.
Parliament’s Grand Hall was lined with tables where staff taught MPs how to use their new technology, set a strong password, and book parliamentary travel. Later on in the induction, MPs will even get to play at mock question time.
Negotiations to form the new Government are still at an early stage.
New Zealand First is looking to spook National into making early concessions, playing on the party’s fear they will have to come crawling back to the negotiating table after special votes are tallied and the final vote announced on November 3. Currently National and Act have a one-seat majority but the party expects to lose at least one seat once specials are counted.
National leader Christopher Luxon is saying little apart from repeating he’s “not going to be negotiating... through the media”.
That said, National appears to be downplaying the notion that NZ First could force the party to a deal, with Luxon restating National’s campaign position that it would prefer a two-party arrangement with Act.
“That’s what we’ve said is our preference, we said that during the campaign we would prefer to work in a simple two-party arrangement,” Luxon said.
Luxon also publicly mused that the special votes, when counted, might not erode National’s majority as they historically tend to do - a signal to NZ First that National may be ready to call the party’s bluff.
“I think there’s a number of dynamics at play. I think, when I’ve spoken with overseas voters in particular, there’s an immense frustration around MIQ and that may have changed the way that people would historically vote,” Luxon said.
NZ First's Shane Jones on election night. Photo / Michael Cunningham
“Normally, we see a huge proportion of renters that are out of electorates and typically they might vote green, or, or left, but this time it might be slightly different.”
One theory going around the National Party relates to this. The thinking is that the students, renters and other left-wing voters who tend to cast special votes might have not bothered to vote at all this election, mirroring an overall decline in turnout.
If that is the case, National could find itself wondering whether it can survive with a narrow one-seat majority.
Luxon said he wanted to build relationships respectfully with the other side, and to try to build good “chemistry and good relationships at the core of this Government”.
He revealed that an emissary from National’s team had been sent to NZ First to sound things out.
That emissary was Todd McClay, who was directed to Winston Peters and former MP Darroch Ball, who has been the party’s campaign director.
One possible formulation is a repeat of the 2005 deal struck with the Helen Clark Government, which saw Peters become a minister outside of the Government. National would keep NZ First in the tent, allowing it to call on its votes, but it would remain distant from the Government. Whether this would satisfy Act is another question.
NZ First’s number two, Shane Jones, arriving at Wellington Airport, said NZ First’s caucus would need to meet before the party began formal negotiations.
Jones noted that while himself, Peters, Mark Patterson and Jenny Marcroft have parliamentary experience, the caucus has four first-term MPs. As yet, the party has no Wellington base or staffing. Peters was not yet in Wellington himself, unlike the leaders of the two other negotiating parties, National and Act.
Jones would not discuss negotiations but said it was “a little like making a hangi. Get the stones red-hot before you cook the tucker”.
He also urged patience, and to wait for special votes to be counted.
“We need to understand what’s the full nature of the special votes,” Jones said.
Some policy positions are appearing to firm up. National appears not to be keen on giving in to Act’s request for a referendum to define the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi in statute.
“We spoke about that on the campaign,” Luxon said. “We just don’t think the referendum is constructive. It is divisive for New Zealand, that’s our position.”
Meanwhile NZ First’s Jones restated his party’s position that the age of eligibility for superannuation stay at 65.
“I’d encourage everyone to look at our manifesto, obviously, those issues have been very important to the party since its inception, but these matters will all be teased through when the caucus speaks,” Jones said.
The caretaker Cabinet met yesterday. Luxon said the incoming and outgoing chiefs of staff were in contact, keeping the new Government abreast of Cabinet decisions as per the caretaker convention.
Luxon said that one thing he had been briefed on was the deteriorating situation in the Middle East with one million Palestinians being forced to evacuate northern parts of the Gaza Strip, ahead of a likely Israeli ground invasion.
Decisions relating to this and the humanitarian crisis unfolding in the region would be taken by the caretaker Government in consultation with him, Luxon said.
“The Labour Government is in power at the moment. I’m consulted.”
Meanwhile, Labour’s caucus will meet today to farewell outgoing MPs and discuss how to go forward.
Outgoing Prime Minister Chris Hipkins will make some remarks ahead of caucus, his first since Saturday night. Hipkins will then do a round of media on Wednesday morning where he will discuss anything that emerged from Tuesday’s caucus meeting.
Thomas Coughlan is Deputy Political Editor and covers politics from Parliament. He has worked for the Herald since 2021 and has worked in the press gallery since 2018.
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