The secret coalition document

The Labour is taking another hit on it’s promise for more transparency in Government after Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has refused to release a coalition document.

Newsroom: Kiwis left in dark over secret document

The Government is refusing to release a secret document with directives for new ministers, despite Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters promising it would be made public.

The existence of the 38-page document was first revealed by Peters the day after Labour and New Zealand First signed a more slender eight-page public coalition agreement.

Speaking to media after the allocation of ministerial portfolios, he described it as “a document of precision on various areas of policy commitment and development”.

“These are directives to ministers with accountability and media strategies to ensure that the coalition works, not in a jealous, envious way, ‘We got this and they got that’, but as a government successively, cohesively working.

“We’ve put a lot of thought into it, in fact day one of our negotiations that was the first subject we raised, how are we going to handle a cohesive coalition arrangement?”

At the time, he said the document was still being finalised, but would cover the appointment process for diplomats.

Peters said then the document would be made public, saying it was “for the province of the Prime Minister to release”.

However, in response to an Official Information Act request from Newsroom seeking the document’s release, Jacinda Ardern’s adviser Heather Simpson claimed “the Prime Minister does not hold any such official information”.

Simpson’s letter referred to Section 2 of the Act, saying official information covered only information held by “a Minister of the Crown in his official capacity”.

The Ombudsman’s OIA guidelines for ministers state that while official information does not include information held by a minister in their role as a member of a political party, “such information may become official information if it is subsequently used for official ministerial purposes”.

Newsroom has appealed the Government’s decision to the Ombudsman.

Not surprisingly National has picked up on this. Bill English: Secret agreement needs to be made public

The Prime Minister needs to release the Government’s secret agreement with NZ First which the Deputy Prime Minister says outlines the way ministers will behave, deal with the media and be held accountable, National Party Leader Bill English says.

“The document, confirmed by Winston Peters, goes to the very heart of the formation of the New Government.

“It is unacceptable for the Prime Minister to claim it’s not public information. It is and the public deserves to know how the new Coalition, and therefore the country, will be run.

“This is not the openness and accountability promised by Jacinda Ardern and Winston Peters and enshrined in the public version of their Coalition agreement.

“It’s certainly not them living up to their promise to ‘strengthen New Zealand’s democracy by increasing public participation, openness, and transparency around official information’.

“This lack of transparency is becoming a habit for this Government. It is also refusing to answer even the most basic questions in Parliament as well as written questions from Opposition MPs and queries from the media.

“It doesn’t seem to understand that part of running a country is being sufficiently organised to be up front and to justify and explain the decisions it is making which affect the lives of New Zealanders.

“When these decisions continue to be so ill-thought through and rushed then that’s of even more concern. They appear to be both disorganised and secretive.

“New Zealanders deserve to know what Labour has promised NZ First and how this agreement affects them,” Mr English says.

Most opinion seems to be that the document should be made public, either legally or on principles of transparency..

But Ardern is adamant that transparency only applies when it suits. Stuff: Government denies there’s an ‘official’ coalition document still to be made public

On Monday at the Prime Minister’s regular post-Cabinet press conference both her and Peters denied there was an “official” document to be released other than the coalition agreement that has already been made available.

“We did release the coalition agreement and we were very clear, both actually on the ways that we would work together, but also on the agenda items that we as two parties have formally committed to – so in our minds we absolutely have made public those things that we’ve made commitments to,” Ardern said.

Both Ardern and Peters said notes were made during negotiations, which included further work that could be done under the coalition agreement but wasn’t yet finalised.

“Yes, of course we made notes during the course of those discussions including further areas that we may undertake some work…some issues will see the light of day and at that point we’ll make sure that people are absolutely clear that that was part of our conversation with NZ First but others may not.

“There are constraints on us as a government, not least the financial constraints we’ve been left by the last government so there’s still a lot of work to be done,” she said.

“There are other areas we may explore together that may be found to be unworkable, that may be found just to be fiscally irresponsible, that may never be progressed.”

This seems to be the way the Ardern led Government intends to operate – they will be transparent in due course.

As acting Prime Minister while Ardern and Peters were overseas Kelvin Davis appeared to flounder in Parliament when he kept answering questions with non answers, like (9 November).

We will make and confirm decisions on appropriate targets in due course.

And like (14 November):

Decisions on interim targets to achieve these housing policies will be made in due course.

Winston Peters also joined the stonewalling yesterday (something he has a long record of hypocrisy on) with some back flipping thrown in:

Peters drew on Moses and the ten commandments to try and make his point, saying, “Moses came down from the mountain and only had ten commandments right? But there’s a lot in the Old Testament as well.”

Peters said the suggestion this was a “secret agreement” was “demonstrably false”.

“I was talking about how we will compartmentalise work of the type that’s just been discussed, send it off to ministers to do some work and see what the result is.”

He said an example of some of that work was how to find a new way to measure unemployment.

“We’ve agreed to work on those things and when we’ve completed the work we’ll tell you what the outcome is.”

This is providing some easy shots from the Opposition:

However, National’s leader Bill English has demanded the government release the agreement, saying it’s “ridiculous for the government to claim either it doesn’t exist or somehow it’s not official information”.

“I think it’s remarkable the prime minister has decided the public should not know about the detailed negotiations between Labour and NZ First because clearly the public agreement is not one they take seriously.

“It was going to be a billion trees, now it’s going to be half a billion trees, they were going to go into Pike River and now they might go into Pike River – we can go through the list of undertakings that they don’t appear to be able to keep,” English said.

This closely follows other examples of a far from open Government – see yesterday’s Government not walking the transparency talk.

Journalists tend to despise information being held from them. Claire Trevett: PM Jacinda Ardern’s hat trick on ‘secret’ document

What Ardern was trying to say was that the coalition agreement was not a full and final settlement – but could be added to. There was, it seemed, a long wish list by NZ First which Labour had not unequivocally said “no” to.

The public might be entitled to presume that what was in the coalition agreement was the cost of NZ First’s support for Labour.

We don’t need to wait for ‘in due course’ to see whether the Government was bullshitting us over promises of increased transparency, it is becoming obvious already they are no better than something that has deteriorated under the past two governments.

It now seemed that may have been only a down payment – but nobody will know what else might be extracted until it is done.

Ardern justified this by saying she did not believe it met the criteria of “official information” that merited release.

This hovered perilously close to former Prime Minister John Key refusing to release information by claiming it happened when he was acting as party leader or a normal human being rather than as Prime Minister.

Labour railed against Key and his many hats, yet here was Ardern merrily leaping to the hat rack herself.

Anyone thinking Ardern may herald a new era of openness should reconsider. She seems to be reverting to opaque and secretive and fobbing off type, like any politicians who think they can get away with it.

I think it’s quite damaging for Ardern’s credibility. She is accruing quite a negative record already.

German coalition talks collapse, EU and the West vulnerable

There were complaints about New Zealand political parties taking several weeks to work out who would be in the new government. The German election was at the same time as ours, but their coalition talks have just collapsed.

The green FDP party walked away from talks, but they are not the only party to blame for the talks collapsing.

Der Spiegel: Everyone Loses in Coalition Collapse

After the collapse of the German coalition talks, the blame game has already begun. Yet all the parties bear responsibility for how the negotiations failed.

The reason for the collapse is clear: The parties involved failed to forge the one thing that is indispensable to keep such an alliance together: trust. And trust, it goes without saying, is the single most important currency in politics. Without trust a coalition cannot work.

No one really expected politicians with such fundamentally different politics and outlooks as Alexander Dobrindt of the CSU and Jürgen Trittin of the Greens to become bosom buddies. But if you want to govern together for four years, you can’t always be assuming that your cabinet colleagues are out to get you at every turn.

This mistrust was due to a number of factors. One, of course, is that such a four-party coalition would have been an unusual constellation, bringing together very different political cultures and ideas. The ongoing tensions between the CDU and CSU over Merkel’s decision to open Germany’s borders to refugees in the autumn of 2015 further complicated matters.

And then there’s the issue of authority: Angela Merkel’s star power in German politics has begun to fade. Her political opponents don’t hold her in the same awe they once did.

NBC News: Angela Merkel’s rule in doubt as German coalition talks collapse

Germany faced an uncertain political future Monday after the collapse of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s talks on forming a new government, raising the prospect of new elections looming.

The Sept. 24 election produced an awkward result that left Merkel’s two-party conservative bloc seeking a coalition with the pro-business Free Democrats and the traditionally left-leaning Greens.

The combination of ideologically disparate parties hadn’t been tried before in a national government, and came to nothing when the Free Democrats walked out of talks Sunday night.

Merkel said her conservatives had left “nothing untried to find a solution.” She said that she “will do everything to ensure that this country is well-led through these difficult weeks.”

CNBC: Merkel’s coalition is in chaos — here’s what happens next

  • Merkel is set to meet with the German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier Monday to decide what to do next
  • There are three options on the table, but any of them is bad news for Merkel
  • Without clear leadership in Germany, Europe seems to be about to enter standby mode

“There are three possible options right now: minority government, another grand coalition or new elections,” Carsten Brzeski, chief economist at ING, told CNBC via email on Monday morning.

Given the way the talks now failed, a minority government looks unlikely,” he added. If Merkel were to lead a minority government, passing legislation in the Bundestag would be a political nightmare given the differences between the several parties.

The second possibility — a so-called grand coalition — would mean Merkel’s CDU sharing power with the Socialist Party, something that it did until the elections in September. However, this is also unlikely given that the latter has stated repeatedly that it wants to stay in opposition and rebuild.

“This realistically only leaves one option: new elections,” Brzeski said. However, it’s even uncertain whether the political impasse could be solved with a new vote.

This is not just putting government on hold in Germany, it has a flow on effect of inaction in the European Union.

Reuters: German president presses parties to form coalition for good of Europe after talks collapse

Efforts to form a three-way governing coalition in Germany collapsed on Monday, pitching Europe’s biggest power into political crisis, and its president told parties they owed it to voters and European neighbors to form a government.

The major obstacle to a deal was immigration, according to Chancellor Angela Merkel, who was forced into negotiations after bleeding support in a Sept. 24 election to the far right in a backlash at her 2015 decision to let in over 1 million migrants.

President Walter Steinmeier said Germany was now facing the worst governing crisis in the 68-year history of its post-World War Two democracy. After meeting Merkel, he warned parties not to shirk their democratic duties – remarks seemingly targeted at the FDP and Social Democrats (SPD), who on Monday ruled out renewing their “grand coalition” with the conservatives.

“Inside our country, but also outside, in particular in our European neighborhood, there would be concern and a lack of understanding if politicians in the biggest and economically strongest country (in Europe) did not live up to their responsibilities,” he said in a statement.

With German leadership seen as crucial for a European Union grappling with governance reform and Britain’s impending exit, FDP leader Christian Lindner’s announcement that he was pulling out spooked investors and sent the euro falling in the morning.

The failure of coalition talks is unprecedented in Germany’s post-war history, and was likened by newsmagazine Der Spiegel to the shock election of U.S. President Donald Trump or Britain’s referendum vote to leave the EU – moments when countries cast aside reputations for stability built up over decades.

With the UK government in disarray after a disastrous snap election called by Prime Minister Theresa May, and as they grapple with exiting the EU, governance in Europe is looking very shaky. Alongside the international weakening of the United States under Donald Trump’s presidency the  state of the West is looking the weakest it has been for a long time, and vulnerable.

Der Spiegel: What’s Next for Merkel and Germany?

Now, after a month of talks, German doesn’t know what will happen next. It is an unprecedented moment of uncertainty for a country that prizes stability and predictability above all else. “At the very least,” said Merkel, “it is a day of deep reflection on the path forward for Germany.”

It is difficult to overstate the impact of the collapsed talks. Indeed, for Merkel herself, Sunday night could mark the beginning of the end to her political career after 12 years in the Chancellery. Clearly drained from the exertion of the past several weeks, Merkel said on Sunday night that she would “almost even call it an historical day.” It was the kind of sentence Germany has become used to from Merkel: a bit unpolished and inelegant. But it could end up being true.

German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier now has a key role to play. For the time being, Germany will continue to be governed by the acting coalition pairing Merkel’s conservatives with the center-left Social Democrats. But it is up to Steinmeier, himself a Social Democrat, to navigate the path forward toward new elections – unless Merkel decides to experiment with a minority government.

The third possibility, one being discussed intently on Monday, is a repeat of the current “grand coalition.”


Criminal Cases Review Commission

A surprise inclusion in the Labour-NZ First coalition agreement was under Law and Order:

Establish a Criminal Cases Review Commission

This is very good news. National had refused to do it, saying it wasn’t necessary – as Justice Minister both Judith Collins and Amy Adams refused to consider a review commission.

That was disappointing and perhaps odd given that Review body ‘could save NZ millions’.

Where did this come from? It’s not something NZ First campaigned on as far as I’m aware, and I can’t find it in their policies. But they had issued a media release on it a year ago, in October 2016:

Criminal Cases Review Commission Needed

New Zealand First will establish a Criminal Cases Review Commission as soon as it is in a position to do so, says Justice Spokesperson Denis O’Rourke.

“In too many cases in recent years the safety of convictions for serious crimes have been called into question, and ad hoc associations of supporters of those convicted have sought to find ways of having those cases reviewed.

“This is very difficult and very expensive, and as a result the success of such associations in achieving a review often depends on how much money they raise and how much fuss they can make. That is not the way these matters should be dealt with in a modern and effective justice system.

“The government’s refusal to put a permanent commission in place to review appropriate cases is regrettable and demonstrates a lack of commitment to ensure a just and effective system for review.

Yes, that has been very disappointing.

“The Bain and Teina Pora cases have been the most prominent in recent years, and in April 2015 Brian Rudman in the NZ Herald called for a Commission of Inquiry into the conviction of Peter Ellis in the notorious Christchurch Creche affair. This was also rejected by the government. Currently there are other cases where a review may be justified.

“New Zealand should establish a Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC) along the lines of the UK one set up in their Criminal Appeal Act 1995. The twelfth report to the House of Commons on that Commission for the year 2014-15, concluded that “the CCRC is performing reasonably well, with areas for improvement identified” and “the Commission needs to be given the resources and the powers it requires to do perform its job effectively”.

“The report recorded that the CCRC had achieved a 70% success rate of its referrals and recommended additional powers concerning access to official documents and other material and to information held by private bodies, which could assist in investigations. The report also made a major recommendation “that the CCRC take advantage of its unique position and develop a formal system for feeding back into the criminal justice system on the causes of miscarriages of justice”.

“It is therefore obvious that New Zealand could and should use the UK legislation and experience to inform similar legislation for a Criminal Cases Review Commission here. Such a Commission should have the power to investigate cases on its own initiative, or when referred to it by the Attorney-General or by resolution of parliament in response to a petition.

“The Commission would be empowered to refer cases for reconsideration to the Court of Appeal, the grounds for doing so being the same as in section 13 of the UK Act, where the Commission “considers that there is a real possibility that the conviction, verdict, finding or sentence would not be upheld were the reference to be made”.

I posted about it in June last year: Criminal Cases Review Commission

From the New Zealand Police Conduct Association: Criminal Cases Review Commission

Jacinda Ardern supported one as Labour’s Justice Spokesperson in June 2015: Pora case a case to learn from

Conformation that Teina Pora will receive $2.5million from the Crown for more than 20 years of wrongful imprisonment does not fix the flaws in our system that led to this miscarriage of justice, Labour’s Justice spokesperson Jacinda Ardern says.

“The result today, and the decision by the Privy Council last year to quash Teina Pora’s convictions, came about only after a legal team volunteered thousands of hours to his case.

“Minister Amy Adams claims the end result proves the system worked. That is incorrect. Justice must be timely.

“This case is further proof that we need an Independent Criminal Case Review Commission – a mechanism to look at cases like this, and refer them back to the Appeal Court.

Back in 2013 before he became leader Andrew Little also called for a review commission: Labour calls for body to investigate miscarriages of justice

The Labour Party is calling for an independent review commission to be set up, as further information comes to light suggesting a possible miscarriage of justice in the Teina Pora case.

Labour’s justice spokesperson Andrew Little says information revealed in a TV3 investigation shows police officers had doubts about Pora’s responsibility for the crime.

He says in such cases further investigations need to be carried out by an impartial body.

Mr Little says this country needs a standing commission independent of the police, judiciary or Ministry of Justice to look at instances of miscarriage of justice, along the lines of the United Kingdom’s criminal cases review commision.

He says work looking into setting up a such a body by the previous Labour-led government needs to be continued to ensure public confidence in the justice system.

So the last Labour Government had done preliminary work on setting one up.

It’s curious how this ended up in the Labour-NZ First coalition agreement given that it isn’t listed as an NZ First policy and I can not remember and can find no sign of Winston Peters or NZ First or Labour campaigning on it, but regardless of how it got there it is a welcome inclusion.


Labour-NZ First coalition deal

The coalition deal between Labour and NZ First was signed today by incoming Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and incoming deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters.

From Stuff Live:

Key points from the NZ First deal:

  • $1b per annum Regional Development Fund
  • Re-establish the New Zealand Forestry Service
  • Review and reform of the Reserve Bank Act
  • Progressively increase the Minimum Wage to $20 per hour by 2020
  • A comprehensive register of foreign-owned land and housing
  • Free doctors’ visits for all under 14s
  • Free driver training for all secondary students
  • A new generation SuperGold smartcard containing entitlements and concessions
  • A royalty on exports of bottled water
  • Commit to re-enter Pike River
  • A full-scale review into retail power pricing
  • MPs allowed to vote on a potential referendum on euthanasia

Most of that looks fine generally.

Regions have been neglected and allowed to run down for the last three decades so could do with more help. However it will be a challenge to help regions help themselves rather that heap them with subsidies.

While increasing the minimum wage will help many low income earners it’s a risk, as it could backfire and result in a significant number of job losses, meaning some get more but some get less.

NZ First portfolios:

  • Foreign Affairs
  • Infrastructure
  • Regional Economic Development
  • Internal Affairs
  • Seniors
  • Defence
  • Veterans’ Affairs
  • Children
  • Forestry
  • State Owned Enterprises
  • Racing
  • Associate Finance
  • Associate Education
  • Under-Secretary for Foreign Affairs and Regional Economic Development

That’s a good haul of portfolios for a 7% party, with some big wins.

MPs who will take the portfolios will be announced tomorrow.

Stuff:   Labour and New Zealand First Coalition Agreement

Kermadec sanctuary deal smack in Green face

It is being reported that the Kermadec Ocean Sanctuary, long championed by the Green Party and progressed by the National Government last term, has been put on the back burner in a deal between NZ First and Labour.

James Shaw will probably put on a brave face but this is a smack in Green faces.

Shaw had expressed confidence that Labour would represent Green interests in their negotiations with NZ First.

No party should underestimate Jacinda Ardern’s ability to be ruthless.

Stuff: Kermadec Ocean Sanctuary put on ice by NZ First, catching Greens unaware

The 620,000 sq km Kermadec Ocean Sanctuary, announced by John Key at the United Nations in 2015, was hailed around the world and passed its first reading in Parliament unopposed.

But fishing companies and iwi bodies filed legal action opposing it, saying the sanctuary would deny them fishing rights agreed in Treaty settlements.

NZ First, whose senior MPs are close to the fishing industry and whose campaign was partly bankrolled by players in the fishing industry, demanded Labour stop the sanctuary.

And it is understood Jacinda Ardern agreed a Labour-NZ First government would not progress legislation to establish the sanctuary in this three-year Parliamentary term. That will disappoint some of her MPs and supporters, but will win favour among her Maori MPs who argued it undermined iwi commercial fishing rights.

The Kermadec sanctuary was one of the dealbreakers that swung negotiations in Labour’s favour.

Had Greens known about this would they have been so willing to rubber stamp the Labour-NZ First coalition deal without knowing what was traded?

UPDATE: James Shaw responds on Q+A:

JAMES Yes, well, it’s certainly still on the table. Obviously, there’s still a lot of issues to work through. It is a complicated issue, but we are still committed to doing our best effort to making sure that it happens.

GREG This has obviously come out – Winston Peters’ relationship with the fisheries industry – is it in jeopardy? Let’s put it another way.

JAMES Is the relationship with the-?

GREG No, is the sanctuary in jeopardy?

JAMES No, I don’t think so. It is a complicated issue. We absolutely need to work alongside Maori in order to make sure that it happens, but I think that we are all committed to making sure that it does.

That really doesn’t say much apart from expressing a determination to make it happen, eventually.

Greens in an awkward position

Meetings are going going at full steam between NZ First and National, and between NZ First and Labour.  And Labour are also having meetings with the Greens, who appear to have been largely sidelined.

Yesterday Bill English highlighted this – Newshub: Greens don’t understand their position – Bill English

Bill English has praised Winston Peters’ “tough” approach to negotiations, saying the Greens could learn a thing or two from the veteran MP.

“Mr Peters, as you would expect, is using the weight of the position he has to make gains,” the National Party leader told The AM Show on Monday.

“The Green Party don’t appear to understand the position they’re in or could have been in,” said Mr English.

“[Mr Peters is] playing his hand with a great deal more assertion than the Greens… He’s a tough negotiator and he understands the position he’s in.”

Peters is an experienced negotiator, but he seems to have been allowed to call most of the shots by both National and Labour.

And he seems to have no inclination to deal with the Greens. Instead Labour has allowed itself to be a go-between, switching from meetings with NZ first and the Greens.

James Shaw has said he is confident of there being a Labour-NZ First-Green ‘progressive government’, and has talked up their key policies of climate change and poverty, but he doesn’t look confident. He looks like he and the greens have been largely left out in the cold.

Jacinda Ardern has just been interviewed on RNZ: VIDEO: Jacinda Ardern on coalition talks

In that she waffled around the question of why Greens seem to be shunned by Winston Peters, saying that ‘absolutely’ Greens shoukd be a part of the decision making but it was just the way the meetings were arranged.

In other words Peters has arranged to deal with Labour with Labour being left to try to keep the Greens informed and involved from the sidelines.

This is an odd way to negotiate, and raises questions about how a Labour-NZ First-Green could operate.

Shaw and the Greens look largely impotent. They are no match for Winston’s experience and forcefulness.

Ardern on coalition forming

Jacinda Ardern has been interviewed on RNZ and has given some indication of her thoughts on forming a coalition.

She suggested she won’t get to form a government unless Labour+NZ First+Greens get more than the current bare majority.

It is generally expected this improves in special votes.

“Both parties are looking at slim majorities, whichever way you cut it”.

“I’ve certainly had relayed to me… That [Greens’] expectation is still a focus on changing govt,” Ardern says of Nat-Greens idea.

How hard should Ardern try for govt this time? “The idea I would simply preserve my or Labour’s political position for expediency is wrong.”


Greens dirty on dealing with the devil

Green MPs and Green party members have made it clear they are dirty on any deal with National. They would rather spend another three years in opposition than do any sort of deal with National. They would rather risk an NZ First dominated agenda than offer an alternative.

Greens are not just dirty on any National deal. Some of them are filthy at the suggestion. They threaten to destroy their party if it attempts to deal with the devil, and they attack and abuse people if they suggest a National-Green government could be worth trying. Some Green activists are amongst the most abusive and least tolerant social media warriors around.

Green supporters are now even claiming that any suggestion of a deal with national is a National plot, some have even claimed finance by National.

Sure there may be some mischief making and stirring things up.

But I think there are many people who genuinely think that it would be at least worth trying a National-Green coalition.

I did a small Twitter poll on 25 September (107 responses):

  • National+NZ First 50%
  • Labour+NZ First+Greens 20%
  • National+Greens 25%
  • National+Labour 5%

In early September Colmar Brunton did a similar poll – “given the choice, would you prefer to see New Zealand First support a Labour or National-led government?”

  • 46% said they would prefer to see New Zealand First support a Labour-led government
  • 33% said they would prefer New Zealand First supported a National-led government
  • 7% spontaneously said they do not want to see New Zealand First in government, or do not wish to see it support either party
  • 14% don’t know which party New Zealand First should support

A representative sample of 1007 eligible voters were surveyed, with interviewing taking place from Saturday 2 September – Wednesday 6 September 2017. The maximum sampling error for the main question is approximately ±3.1%-points at the 95% confidence level.

That was before we knew that it was a choice between National+NZ First or Labour+NZ First+Greens (or potentially but impossibly National+Greens).

There are far more people than a few National activists saying they would be happy with a National+Green alliance.

I think many of those in support are likely to be floating centre-ish voters who would genuinely like Greens to push National into dealing better with environmental issues in particular, but also social issues.

But this is all moot. I don’t think there is any way Green MPs or activists would accept even talking to National over a potential deal.

This leaves the Greens with some risky possible outcomes.

  • If a Labour+NZ First+Green government the Greens are in a weak negotiating position and may end up with little more than whatever policy crumbs they are offered.
  • If a National+NZ First government the Greens are left right out.

Some think that if the Greens worked with National it would suck the life out of the party, if there was any life remaining after mass desertion, but for some reasons they don’t have the same fears of working with Labour-NZ First. A poor deal there may also damage their future prospects.

And it could be near future prospects. If both Labour and National decide that a NZ First coalition is untenable, and Greens continue to refuse to support a National government in any way, then we will have to have another election.

Greens were close to being dumped in the election that we have just had. They may be at even greater risk of missing the threshold cut if we have to go to the polls again.

Sticking to their principles (such as they are) is a high risk strategy for the Greens.

And the displays of abusiveness and lack of tolerance of different political policies and views are not helping save Greens’ support either.

I think that Greens have been flattered by support levels in the 2011 and 2014 elections. This was as much to do with Labour’s unpopularity as it was Green popularity.

In July polls went as high as 14% for the Greens, and dropped as low as 4.3% in August, before recovering to about 6% in the election last week.

This suggests that the core support for the Greens is less than the 5% threshold.

If NZ First and Greens are unable to enable the formation of a government and we have to have another election then they are both at risk of being dumped on by voters.

I was rubbished for pointing this out on Twitter, I was accused of putting blame on the Greens if a government proves impossible to put together. They would be just one of the parties responsible – but the point is that they are the party at greatest risk of missing the threshold.

Green activists seem to hate it even when the unpalatable obvious is pointed out to them.

The Green Party is looking shaky and their core supporters are dirty under pressure. rather than discuss possibilities some of them go as far as resorting to filthy behaviour.

See Time for a Green alternative Eco-Eco party?

Why should smaller parties bother, especially the Greens?

In arguing against even considering a National-Green government one of the most frequent arguments (apart from the threat of internal revolt by green party members) is that any small party risks oblivion if working with a large party in government.

The Alliance, United Future and Maori Parties have all now gone, and ACT is barely surviving. And new small parties have tried and failed to make it into government –  Mana is gone, and the Conservatives, the Internet Party and TOP all never made it.

The notable exception is NZ First, who have had two stints in government, neither of which ended well for them, they were dumped from Parliament altogether in 2008, but they made it back in 2011 and are now in a strong deciding position.

The Greens could be in a strong deciding position right now, but they choose not to, instead leaving the big policy prizes to NZ First.

Do the Greens think they are less capable of surviving a stint in Government than NZ First? They seem held back by fear of failure.

So why should they bother trying?

The Greens really don’t seem to understand how MMP works.

As we wait for Winston Peters to see the final election results there has been a lot of questions asked about Could a National-Greens coalition work?

In short the answer is no, because the Greens don’t want it to work. They don’t want to work with a party they have strongly opposed, they don’t think key policies would move far enough in their preferred direction, and they fear being punished by voters for trying, risking their future in Parliament.

How realistic is a National-Greens scenario? How viable?

At least one RNZ Morning Report listener was in favour this week, texting in “We all win – good fiscal management and therefore the ability to afford better treatment of our environment”.

But for minor party supporters, there is reason to worry for the survival of that party’s voice if such a coalition was to become a reality.

The ‘don’t try in case you fail’ cop out.

When Greens MP Julie-Anne Genter was asked about the possibility of a National-Greens coalition on RNZ’s The Morning After on Sunday, she responded, “I don’t think you understand how anti-environmental this last government has been with its policies.”

So they choose to let that continue if NZ First sides with National.

As press secretary for the Treaty Negotiations Minister from 2009-2014, Ben Thomas had a close view of the Māori Party’s experience inside government.

“It is a loss that those seven seats will disappear from sight if Labour is in opposition for another three years,” he said.

Commentator Finlay Macdonald agrees that recent history shows small parties join coalitions at their peril. The Māori Party and New Zealand First have both suffered terribly because they coalesced with major parties who held scant interest in their central beliefs.

In the case of the Greens and National, Macdonald believes it is unlikely the parties have enough in common to make comfortable compromise.

He says the centre of the political scale in New Zealand has shifted to the right, likely because of neoliberalism.

That’s highly debatable. National has retained big spending policies introduced by the centre-left Labour government led by Helen Clark, and have shifted further centre-left themselves.

National’s focus on having a strong economy prevents them from having any interest in what is fundamental to the Greens, which is sustainability and fairness.

That’s nonsense. National have made it clear that they have listened to what ‘the people’ are asking for and need to do more for the environment and addressing inequality.

Every government wants to be ‘fair’, but there are different approaches to getting that balance right – it may seem fair to give poor people more money, everyone accepts that it’s fair enough to take more money of people with more to finance that, but governments need to be fair to the better off as well.

Taking so much money off some to equalise incomes will be seen as unfair to many who earn money.

And it’s highly arguable that a fully equalised socialist society is far from sustainable – no such modern country has proven sustainable under socialism.

The challenge in forming this kind of coalition is that there would have to be a shift in the essence of their being.

National have moved and show signs of being willing to move more. Perhaps the Greens have to shift the essence of their being, from fairly futile idealism to a more pragmatic realism – democracies only work with compromise.

Victoria Woodman, of The University of Auckland’s Politics department, recognises that the nature of any agreement between parties relates to the view of voters, and party elected figures.

“The Green Party’s hard support would likely oppose [any such arrangement] and this could yield the risk of future voter punishment. Especially given that the Greens’ leadership gave voters the clear signal that they wouldn’t be working with National in any major way.”

Perhaps we are failing to understand the fundamentals of our MMP system. As Macdonald sees it, MMP acknowledges that we don’t always agree on things as a society, so we try to represent voices as best we can and, sometimes, nobody wins.

He argues we are still immature in our approach to MMP.

The Greens certainly are. A 6% party seems to expect 100% adoption of their ideals. They could achieve 12% with National, proportional to their relative support, but prefer to risk 0% and will struggle to get more than policy crumbs from the alternative of going with Labour and NZ First.

And the greens are being very inconsistent by refusing to try to deal with National due to their differences, but being willing to hand all the power to NZ First despite their differences.

Ex-co-leader Metiria Turei called Peters a racist, National have possibly done more for Maori than past Labour governments, but the Greens are supporting NZ First. That just doesn’t make sense.

Looking through a First-Past-the-Post lens means minor parties have to make great compromises to support, or govern with, a major party.

The large parties also have to make compromises. That’s the reality of governing, and winning support in elections.

Our approach to MMP has to reach a point where minor parties can be pragmatic, and make compromises to form coalitions with major parties without having to give away the core things they stand for.

Mature democracies, particularly in Europe, are doing this, so what are we missing?

We are missing a fearless Green Party that’s willing to fight for whatever policy gains it can get, from any large party.

Some people support a fiscal-environmental coalition between National and the Greens because it “helps us all win”. But the relationship already exists, yet National falls short on its environmental focus.

There is virtually no Green-National relationship, and the Greens want to continue with that.

As Greens leader James Shaw said, he is reluctant to discuss the possibility of a coalition with the National Party. He says what they campaigned on is “incongruous to what the National Party policy programme is”.

That’s an extreme and inaccurate stance.

One of National’s primary campaign policies, their Families Package that included tax relief for all workers, was voted for by the Greens just a few months ago.

The parties have different interests, just like National and the Māori Party did. National would likely use the Greens as a footstool, which would only hurt them.

It is the Greens lack of strong leadership, their fear of failure and their unwillingness to play the field, that makes themselves potential footstools of National but ridiculously, even bigger footstools of Labour and NZ First.

Greens should remember Labour and NZ First putting their feet up on them in 2005, and are choosing a similar side-lining as their only probably only option this time.

No-one wants to be a footstool, no-one deserves to be a footstool, and voters sure don’t want their core beliefs to be used as a footstool.

So why then Greens have put themselves in a position where at best they will be little more than footstools? And quite possibly the comfy Green cushion will be left without political legs in a corner painted in by their lack of courage.

Voters almost dumped the Greens out of Parliament this election – they came close to never making a mark in Government. Can they survive another term of sideline sitting? That could put them at as much risk as dealing with the devil.

National-Green government?

There has been a lot of suggestions that National and Greens should at least consider a governing arrangement.

This would provide an alternative to NZ First calling all the shots, but it won’t happen because too many Greens supporters would rather not do anything about the climate, the rivers or inequality rather than try to achieve something with National. So they are left hoping for to pick up crumbs from a Labour-NZ First arrangement, or get nothing.

Talk of Greens working with National seems to have touched a few raw nerves, because their is a lot of defensiveness and angst expressed when it comes up.

This hastn’t stoped it being talked about.

Stuff Editorial: Grand opportunity for Greens to grow

…would the Greens be happy to remain hidden in the dense, verdant bush of the foothills or should they instead push on to the rarefied air of the government benches?

There are reasons why they might not: political militancy operates like muscle memory within the party and green and blue do not appear to mix as well as green and red.

But there are also good reasons why National and the Greens getting together makes sense – for both parties.

The latter only just survived this election, but their brand was damaged, not helped by their continual denial of Turei’s role in their near-downfall.

They have three years to rebuild. Those three years might be spent in relative obscurity on the opposition benches waiting for the tide to turn red in 2020. Or they could be three years on the front foot, implementing an agenda that has so far been kept at a safe political distance by others.

A Green Party with the environment portfolio and a few runs on the board might not only survive but thrive ahead of the next election, picking up the people who deserted them in the previous cycle, and potentially others who have toyed with support in the past but ultimately been turned off by their lack of pragmatism and inability to compromise.

Lance Wiggs:  John – the real issue here is results, not dance partners

John Hart has written a series of tweets about why a Blue Green coalition wold not work.

That saddens me. It’s the politics of can’t, or lack of hope. A smart party would be working all sides of a deal to find the bet path forward for their policies.

Eric Crampton (Offsetting Behaviour): For a teal coalition

So. All of Left-Twitter figures that anyone wanting a blue-green coalition are either shills for National who want to destroy the Greens, because coalition would destroy the Greens, or useful idiots for those shills.

Count me as one of the idiots then, because some of the objections just aren’t making sense to me – or if they are right, they perhaps don’t work in the way that’s being suggested.

Received Wisdom from Twitter-Left is that if James Shaw were to bring a substantive environmental policy offer to his party’s members for approval, the act of doing so would destroy the Greens by bringing to the fore an internal schism between the Greens’ social and economic left, and the Greens’ environmentalists.

Count me as one of the honest idiots in this mess. It’s all wheels within wheels, and the whole thing has a bit of a tar-baby feel to it: “No, National, please don’t make us a very sound policy offer with lots of environmental concessions in it. That’s the last thing we’d want! It would destroy us if you did it. Please don’t do it!” And where Shaw has spent the last few years developing an immunity to Iocane powder, who knows what level anybody’s playing this game at.

If an offer to the Greens skews things against a coalition with Winston, that makes things more complicated – though I don’t know why he should be the only one able to play both sides. Leaving that to one side, I still think National should offer a sincere strong environmental policy bundle to the Greens.

And for what it’s worth, this is not the first time such a coalition has here been proposed:

And here’s an old TVHE post arguing for the same thing.

It’s an idea that has long been suggested, and devoutly ruled out by the Greens who are too afraid of failing to try something with National.

They would rather have a 100% of bugger all rather than trying for 10-15% of Government.

A petition has been started: Show your support for the idea of a National/Green govt.

That current has 3,752 supporters (one of whom is me).