Who’s in front? NZ First starts talks with National, Labour

Talks to form the next Government have finished for the day – with NZ First leader Winston Peters saying good progress is being made.

Teams from National and Labour met with NZ First at Parliament today, with each meeting going for over two hours.

Labour’s meeting wrapped up just after 5pm. On his way out, Peters said both meetings today had been very constructive.

“[We] got a lot of work done. We will be back tomorrow morning…all day tomorrow and into the night.”

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Winston Peters on today's meetings:

Winston Peters on today’s meetings: “Got a lot of work done. We will be back tomorrow morning…all day tomorrow and into the night”. Photo / Mark Mitchell

Peters said there was nothing to suggest NZ First’s self-imposed deadline for a decision by Thursday would not be met.

He said negotiations were proceeding “policy by policy”. There had been no discussions about possible ministerial roles.

“Let’s sort out the things that really matter. Policy is everything. Otherwise it’s just about personalities, isn’t it? And that is your guys’ game.”

Exit points and key passageways in the Parliamentary precinct were filled by media, and security was ramped up around the room set aside for talks on the Beehive’s second floor.

Changes were made to swipe cards held by media to keep reporters and cameras further from the negotiating room. A security guard assigned to Peters tried to move reporters away as the veteran politician left for lunch on Lambton Quay.

The final vote announced yesterday evened up the two alternative governments, with National on 56 seats and the Labour-Green bloc on 54 – and both needing the nine votes of NZ First.

Labour and National are avoiding making any detailed comment on the talks, although Jacinda Ardern went further than Bill English in making a short statement after Labour’s meeting.

“I can say that we have had an excellent, productive meeting.

“Negotiations will continue for Labour with the parties that we are looking to form a stable, durable coalition government with. We have nothing further to say though as we undertake these important and sensitive negotiations. Thanks.”

Labour leader Jacinda Ardern makes brief comments to the media after talks with NZ First. Video/Mark Mitchell

Ardern then walked away with her team. Asked how it went, former MP Annette King gave a thumbs up.

English’s sole appearance before the cameras came as he left Parliament and hopped into his ministerial limo. Asked why he was smiling, he said: “Oh, you know, negotiations went fine”.

National leader leaves Parliament after concluding his talks with NZ First. Video/Mark Mitchell

The various negotiating teams were largely unchanged, although National’s deputy leader Paula Bennett was included in the Blue Team after being excluded from the first meeting.

And Annette King subbed in for Sir Michael Cullen, who has continued with a planned trip to the Galápagos Islands.

As well as policy concessions and possible ministerial positions for NZ First members, another factor in the party’s decision-making will be its preferred governing framework.

Possible options open to the party include a full coalition inside Cabinet, a support agreement offering confidence and supply in return for some ministerial posts outside Cabinet, to sitting on the cross benches offering support on case by case basis in return for minimal policy gains.

Peters has previously said his party had identified nine possible permutations, and today said they all remained on the table.

“I can’t answer your question now. I genuinely cannot. I’m not trying to be difficult with anyone in the media. But if you don’t keep your eyes wide open as to all the possibilities, you may have missed a great chance for your country, for the country’s social and economic progress.”

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