Finlayson: negotiations ‘essentially a fraud’

Chris Finlayson, who was Attorney General  in the last government and is now Shadow Attorney General, was scathing of Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters and the coalition negotiations in his Address in Reply speech in Parliament yesterday.

He says that “the negotiations after the general election were essentially a fraud”, and that National has “dodged a bullet”.

From draft Hansard:

I do want to comment a little bit on the campaign. I normally stand up and say here that it’s great to be back, but it’s kind of good to be back.

I would much rather be on the other side than where I am here, but I have to say I’m in that category in the National Party that said we dodged a bullet, because while I have some regard for some of my New Zealand First parliamentary colleagues, I have absolutely no regard for the Rt Hon Winston Peters, and I have had no regard for him from the time I acted for the National Party caucus in the early 1990s, when he was removed from the caucus for disloyalty.

Old habits don’t change very quickly. He has made absolutely no contribution to New Zealand, in my view, and it is becoming abundantly clear, as Judith Collins said recently, that the negotiations after the general election were essentially a fraud.

So I believe we’ve dodged a bullet, and I’m very happy that the National Party conducted itself with propriety and dignity.

Last week from Newshub: Winston Peters ‘not genuine’ in coalition talks – Judith Collins

Judith Collins says the post-election negotiations between her party and Winston Peters appear to have been a fraud.

It was revealed on Thursday the New Zealand First leader’s legal action against journalists, the head of the Ministry of Social Development, a number of National MPs and their staff was filed the day before the General Election, which was held on September 23.

Ms Collins told The AM Show on Friday morning it now appears Mr Peters was playing the National Party, and never intended to sign a coalition agreement with them.

“At the time, we were very much convinced on our side there were genuine negotiations going on. But I’ve got to say, it’s not looking like it was quite so genuine anymore.”

“I think Winston Peters should really explain himself to the public because there were a lot of voters who were disappointed in his decision,” said Ms Collins.

“I think New Zealanders are owed an explanation. Was he being genuine, or was it just a play?”

I think voters are owed an explanation, but I doubt that Peters will give a straight answer.

The first call in Court on Peters’ legal action was on Monday. Stuff – Winston Peters’ lawyers aim sights at journalists involved in leak:

The NZ First leader’s legal team served court papers last week on nine people including former National Party government ministers, journalists and a government department chief executive over the leak which occurred in the leadup to this year’s election.

Peters’ lawyers are requesting documents from the parties named in the legal action to try and get to the bottom of where the leak came from, and who was involved.

The first call for Peters’ case was heard in front of Justice Anne Hinton on Monday morning at the High Court in Auckland. It was a largely procedural hearing, with all parties represented by lawyers.

Peter’s legal counsel Brian Henry told the court some of the journalists who were leaked the story may have been politically motivated, and not neutral reporters.

Newsroom co-editor Tim Murphy and Newshub journalist Lloyd Burr were both served documents as they knew about the leak before it became public.

“The situation is about an illegal act, not dirty politics. When it comes to the journalists, it is our understanding some of the journalists were not ‘journalists’ but political agents,” Henry said.

“This was a political set up from woah to go,” he said.

Henry said they were considering challenging the pair’s journalistic privilege.

Justice Hinton told Peters’ lawyer they will need to file documents with the court detailing exactly what they are alleging against the parties involved.

Justice Hinton set down a hearing for March next year where it will be ruled if the parties will need to disclose the documents.

In a statement on Monday morning, the National Party said: “The National Party people named all continue to refute any suggestion they had any involvement in the leak of this information and will be responding accordingly.”

With this action planned since before the election coalition between NZ first and National seems an unlikely outcome of negotiations, or if it had happened it would have started with a degree of tension and toxicity.

On making his announcement after extended negotiations Peters had claimed that the decision to support a Labour led Government was made 15 minutes before making the announcement.

Perhaps that refers to a decision on something like ‘will we accept what Labour has offered us or push for more?’.

 

The ‘largest party’ argument

Although The Standard has just lost stalwart author Anthony Robins they have gained another, Matthew Whitehead, who has previously commented there and has had the occasional guest post. While he is openly a Green supporter he will provide some good input at The Standard.

His first post is an intteresting Critiquing A Modest National Party Proposal

I’m going to be focusing on the suggestion, floating around National Party supporters on social media, that the largest party (“plurality winner” is the technical term for being largest without necessarily winning a majority) after an election should have some enshrined constitutional right at the first shot to form the government offered to them by the Governor General.

The obvious first thing to discuss here is that such an arrangement would favour National forming the government except in the most Labour-slanted circumstances, as right-wing votes tend to be much more concentrated towards the largest party when they feel like National is doing well, making them the most significant beneficiaries of the “come back to mother-ship” effect that both of the two largest parties benefited from this election.

Under the current mix of parties it may favour National but that situation may change. Obviously Labour were the biggest party when they were able to form the Government in 1999, 2002 and 2005.

Given that it is almost exclusively National supporters suggesting this change, we should probably fall back on the principle of electoral reform’s purpose not being to outright advantage any particular party, and count this as a strike against the idea.

That’s silly. Of course National supporters will be dwelling on why they lost power and the process that led to Winston peters decision to go with Labour, while Labour, NZ First and Green supporters are more likely to be rejoicing and looking forward to the new term. That’s not a good reason to “count this as a strike against the idea”.

…it’s simply a constraint on freedom of association for minor parties. It goes against democratic principles and constrains political speech to have our head of state direct coalition talks, and it rules out parallel talks which are simply more efficient and leave the country waiting less time.

It’s not necessarily restraining small parties from associating. It could be a simple guide to beginning negotiations.

It would have been useful for the Greens to officially rule out dealing with National up front in the recent process. But perhaps all parties should make it clear before the election what they would consider to properly inform voters.

It might not be a bad idea for parties to agree to some fair norms around coalition talks and Parliamentary reforms, but I think that’s a discussion that needs to be had on a more consensus basis between our four largest parties.

Why just between our four largest parties? That doesn’t sound very democratic. It should involve all parties in Parliament, any parties not in Parliament that wish to have a say, and the public.

If Greens had missed making the threshold I doubt that Whitehead would be suggesting “a more consensus basis between our three largest parties”.

Overall failing on every major point, this idea seems to be a non-starter, and is instead perhaps intended as just another front for National to attack MMP on, after it has tried and failed twice to defeat it at the ballot box- if they succeed in getting the measure through, they slow down and make coalition talks far less popular.

Questioning whether our current way of doing MMP could be improved is an important democratic process. Dissing it as “just another front for National to attack MMP” could be described as just another front to attack an idea Whitehead doesn’t favour.

They need to instead move on and accept that they can’t rely on strong plurality results to govern without eating up the electorate-based parties that support them, and perhaps even consider splitting into multiple parties themselves for more differentiated campaigning, as National has always been an informal coalition of urban right-wing liberals, right-wing conservatives, and a significant rural support base of many ideological flavours, and arguably could earn more of the Party vote under MMP by campaigning separately to each group.

But that might require them modernizing, an idea which is always deeply unpopular with the National Party, who still have no direct democratic impact on important decisions like electing leaders.

“An idea which is always deeply unpopular with the National Party” – that’s a ridiculous claim and hints at Green arrogance. It’s possible for parties to modernise without being just like the Greens. It would be alarming if parties didn’t modernise in their own ways.

A party in power for none years is always going to tend towards sticking to what succeeded, as long as it works.

I’m sure if Steven Joyce remains he will modernise his campaign strategies, but he is unlikely to favour a modern kamikaze attempt to outmanoeuvre their MoU partner party leading into the campaign, like Metiria Turei and the Greens did. They came close to not being one of the largest parties in Parliament.

Whitehead will no doubt be happy with the outcome of the election and how that came about. But the situation could be quite different after the next election, as it has been after each of our eight MMP elections. It could be the Greens that fall apart as a small party in Government.

Considering whether we can do our democracy better should be encouraged, not blown away because what is being suggested wouldn’t have suited your favoured party’s current situation.

We have just seen a situation where three parties stood back, allowing one small party dictate how negotiations would be conducted, and putting themselves in a position where they made the key decision and the key announcement.

Surely there is a better way of doing things, the public tends to not like tails calling the shots while the dogs cower.

We don’t need hard and fast rules, but if we had accepted guidelines (arrived at by consensus of course) for how post-election negotiations and decisions are made I think the public and the media would be happier with the process of forming a government.

Negotiations, decisions could be some time yet

NZ First party discussions on who to form a government with will continue into today, and even when they make a decision it could still take time from then to know what the outcome is.

There seemed to be no great urgency to get things under way yesterday morning as NZ First MPs and board members trickled into Wellington. They were reported to start meeting at 10.30 am.

Late yesterday afternoon Winston Peters issued a brief statement:

The New Zealand First Board and Members of Parliament are continuing with their discussions around post-election negotiations.

It is expected the meeting will go on for several more hours.

Later advice was given that things wouldn’t be complete on Monday.

NZH: More talks ahead as NZ First decides on government

The nine NZ First caucus members and 14 board members were sequestered away for the day getting meals taken into them rather than leaving for food. The meeting broke soon after 6pm and the board left through a back entrance. Only NZ First MP Shane Jones left past the waiting media, saying they were going to get dinner.

…after 6pm media were told there would be no public statements and the board would return again this morning.

Peters said little during the day and would not confirm whether his discussions with one party were more advanced than another. He did confirm English was correct that he had not discussed ministerial portfolios in negotiations.

He has also said the board and caucus were yet to consider what form of government NZ First would settle on – from the cross benches to a full coalition.

Although NZ First leader Winston Peters said he expected to announce NZ First’s intentions as soon as possible after that board meeting, English said that even if NZ First made its decision on which side to go with there would have to be further negotiations before a final deal and government was settled on.

So one of Peters’ assurances, that a decision may be made by the end of this week, may be his most accurate, albeit typically vague.

And that may not be the end of it. English:

“They won’t be looking at completed agreements because there are still a number of issues related to forming a government that have not yet been dealt with. The policy discussion was completed but there is not yet an agreement including the type of government, ministerial positions to put to our caucus or party board.”

He said working out those final details should not take long although if NZ First continued to negotiate with both sides on those issues it could be more difficult because of the added “complexity” on the Labour side because of the inclusion of the Green Party.

The Greens appear to be yet to take any options to the party for consideration.

The Green Party has also again held off holding its Special General Meeting to seek 75 per cent approval from about 150 delegates for its deal with Labour. It has been ready to hold that meeting for days.

If the delegates don’t reach agreement it may have to go to all party members for consultation and making a decision, if one can be made. There may be some concerns over getting into a governing arrangement when NZ First seem to have so much sway.

Earlier, Peters had told Newstalk ZB it was a complex decision and all options for a government formation were still on the table – from the cross benches to a full coalition. He wanted the party to decide based on policy gains rather than ministerial roles.

He said NZ First had worked over the weekend to firm up the precise agreements with National and Labour, and contact had been “reasonably extensive”.

So negotiations were nowhere near complete by Thursday, the original deadline indicated by Peters.

I don’t care how long they take, but media seem to be getting increasingly frustrated with being strung along without getting any stories of substance to report on.

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.

Government forming negotiations in progress

After the final election results were released on Saturday negotiations to form a new government began in earnest. NZ First had meetings with both National and Labour yesterday, and these are expected to continue over the next few days.

Winston Peters still says he expects to announce his choice by Thursday, when the formal election result, or “writ”, is returned. That was always an odd target date.

But whether he meets that target or not that may not be the final outcome as other parties may need time to consider what has been negotiated. The Greens in particular say they are committed to taking any decision to a special general meeting for the party members to decide.

Some of the media are getting a bit precious. There was complaining yesterday about being blocked from seeing how was attending negotiation meetings in Parliament, with complaints of secrecy and non-transparency, but that seems ridiculous to me. I think that most people won’t care who attends, al they will be interested in is the final outcome. It’s not that we have any say in what is going on.

I’m really getting fed up with media coverage of not much happening, and I’m avoiding a lot of their coverage. If something interesting or important happens can someone please alert me in case I miss it.

There is no urgency. The caretaker government is operating fine. We don’t get another vote for another 3 years, unless NZ First negotiate referendums on their policies.

Speculation has been in overdrive – in the absence of any news of importance all I will speculate is that media speculation will continue unabated to fill the vacuum.