NZ POLITICS DAILY: Six months for voters to demand coalition transparency

Political parties and politicians treat voters with contempt when they refuse to be upfront about post-election coalition arrangements. To varying degrees all of them are rather tricky about who they might go into coalition with, what the configurations might be, and what policy tradeoffs and negotiations could be involved. To add insult to injury, politicians also attempt to spin their obfuscation as being about protecting voters and democracy. With the general election date announced, this is the major political discussion of the moment and will be an ongoing debate throughout the campaign with attempts by both voters and the media to tie the parties down over their post-election intentions.

For the best recent item about coalition transparency see Tim Watkin’s blog post With friends like these... the coalition questions. Although Watkin’s post is primarily focused on David Cunliffe’s recent interview in which he refused to discuss who Labour might work with in government, it’s also a very good discussion on why voters need to know in advance what they’re voting for. Watkin argues that both major parties, as well as the minors, need to be much more transparent: ‘To refuse to answer questions about a coalition even with your best mate, and to say that any deals will only be done after the election, lacks respect for what the party is asking of voters.  Cunliffe said the voters have the right to choose who governs. But that argument misses the point that it's only an informed choice if they know what that government might look like’. With this level of ambiguity from politicians, Watkins argues that elections are much more uncertain, and voters might find that they get a different outcome to what they thought they were voting for.

Who will New Zealand First go with?

With public attention now turning to likely coalition possibilities after September 20, the big question is over Winston Peters. If New Zealand First gets back into Parliament, would it use it’s ‘king-making powers’ to put Labour or National into government? John Key has challenged Peters to signal his coalition preferences. According to Frances Cook and Barry Soper, National is putting the pressure on the minor parties: ‘John Key says Winston Peters has a responsibility to his supporters to say who'd he'd most likely coalesce with after the election.  The PM is quoted as saying, ‘New Zealanders actually do want a sense of transparency about how people will operate and that's going to be one of the challenges for a New Zealand First voter and in reality they won't actually know whether they'll go with Labour or National and those voters might have a view’ – see: Newstalk ZB’s Peters fumes over being accused of dragging his feet.

The same article reports Peters’ explanation for why he can’t say more about his coalition preferences: ‘A democratic party makes a decision as a Party, as a caucus, as a board, alongside its supporters. Now there's a lot that's going to be said and done by way of new policy in the next six months. How can we make a judgment on that until we've heard those policies.’ Peters has also claimed that ‘the public doesn't want these sort of deals pre-election’ – see Radio NZ's Peters deflects Key's election challenge. According to Peters John Key is scaremongering, and he has labeled Key’s statements about New Zealand First as ‘deceitful’, ‘dishonest’ and ‘disingenuous’.

This morning, Peters had a 35-minute interview with Radio NZ’s Kathryn Ryan, in which he discussed his election year agenda and answered questions about how he would use the ‘balance of power’ after the election – listen: Winston Peters – New Zealand First Party Leader. Listeners will be more informed about Peters’ reasons for not talking about post-election scenarios, but unfortunately not much wiser about which major party he is more likely to support. The most interesting admission from Peters was that he is open to – though does not prefer – the idea of supporting neither party as a coalition partner – see Radio NZ’s Cross-benches fine if necessary – Peters.

Will the Greens be left in the lurch again?

In the past, Winston Peters made it clear he would not support any government that involves the Green Party. This continues to be a potential spanner in the works for any Labour-led coalition after the election. And today, Peters did not rule out again making this demand after 20 September if he negotiates with Labour. Certainly many commentators argue Peters will be reluctant to enter into a Labour-led coalition as the third-place getter behind Labour and the Greens. If Peters is ‘king maker’ he will effectively have Labour over a barrel, which goes someway to explain why Cunliffe is so reluctant to box himself into any firm arrangements.

This all raises the spectre of the Greens being left out of a Labour-led government for a fourth time. Notably, Labour leader David Cunliffe is refusing to say that he would include the Greens in a post-election coalition, only admitting that he would discuss the possibility with the Greens after the election. This is covered well by TVNZ’s Katie Bradford in Labour, Greens sparring soon after election date revealed. Bradford reports: ‘Labour is now "cuddling up" to New Zealand First leader Winston Peters.  Mr Cunliffe said: "We will see what the voters decide and we will work with whatever cards the voters put on the table. That may indeed quite likely will be with the Greens. It may well be with Winston first."  That was a slip of the tongue, but the Greens could yet again be sidelined, with Mr Cunliffe saying there's no pre-ordained party he will talk to first.  He says "probably the next biggest left of centre party" will be the one he talks to.  Mr Peters is refusing to say if he would work with the Greens but is positioning himself to once again be kingmaker’.

For another example of Cunliffe’s careful distancing himself from the Greens, see Barry Soper’s Labour hedging its bets over preferred coalition partner. He reports that ‘Cunliffe says the Greens won't necessarily be the first cab off the rank if he's in a position to form a Government after the election’.

Today, Cunliffe has been slightly more positive about a Labour-Green coalition, but remains very careful not to say anything resembling a promise he’ll work with the Greens – see Stacey Kirk’s Cunliffe backs down on coalition comments.

The fundamental problem for the Greens is that they are essentially hostage to the Labour Party, and will have no post-election leverage. Arguably this wasn’t so much the case at the last election, when the Greens’ official coalition position was that it could potentially go into coalition with National. It’s unlikely that the same line could be run again, given the more intense National-Greens hostility in 2014. In political science terms, the Greens are now a ‘flank party’ without any ‘blackmail’ potential in coalition negotiations. It means that if Winston Peters demands a Green-free Labour-NZ First coalition, Labour can easily oblige, knowing that the Greens will not vote in any way to bring the government down and let National govern.

The Greens could announce that they have no pre-determined coalition partner and that after the election they would provide parliamentary votes for whatever party implemented, say, five key radical policies. This would, of course, mean that the Greens would have to put less emphasis – or none – on Cabinet positions or other baubles, which is apparently not a strategy favoured by the co-leaders who clearly see the need for Green cabinet ministers. It is also a strategy that could risk causing a subsequent general election or give Winston Peters the excuse to go with National.

Declining Green-Labour relations

Any attempt by Labour and the Greens to be seen as a ‘Government-in-waiting’ has been dealt a further blow by tensions between the Greens and Labour MP Shane Jones, with the maverick MP stating publicly that the Greens are unfit for government. Jones has targeted Gareth Hughes, calling him a ‘mollyhawk’ for opposing offshore iron ore extraction – see Vernon Small’s Greens complain about Jones' attack. An official complaint has been made by the Greens, invoking an apparent pre-election non-aggression pact between the parties. See also, Isaac Davison’s Jones stands firm on jibes at Greens.

For many voters, the whole incident will be a poor advertisement for the Greens and Labour being able to work together in coalition. The NBR’s Rob Hosking also writes today about tensions between the two parties: ‘A suggestion from the Green Party leadership it might have to accept seabed mineral exploration as the price of being in government has not gone down at all well with some MPs, nor has it been well received by the wider party membership.  There are below-the-surface tensions in the Greens between the pragmatists and the purists - or, if you prefer, the careerists and those with principles. These tensions, though, are not so likely to become obvious during an election campaign but are more likely to explode in government’ – see: Flagging a third term – Key’s challenge (paywalled).

National coalition problems and trickiness

Voters are not just in the dark over any potential Labour-Greens-NZ First alignment, but also about National’s coalition plans. We still don’t know whether National will do electorate deals with the Act, United Future and Conservative parties. And we still don’t know whether, or how, National would incorporate these parties into the next administration. John Key promises to make this clearer in the future, but Clare Trevett reports that this might be only in the last couple of weeks of campaigning – see: Early election avoids clashes: PM.

Colin Craig’s Conservative Party is the coalition option of most interest to voters. At the weekend, John Key essentially stated in his TV3 The Nation interview that a deal with Colin Craig in the East Coast Bays electorate was still on the table (despite what Murray McCully might be saying).

The Dominion Post warns that ‘The Conservative Party might prove to be National's tar-baby. The closer National gets to this odd little entity, the messier it becomes’ – see: Craig alliance sticky situation. The editorial says that ‘If National gets into bed with the Conservatives’ it risks losing more socially liberal votes.

Election date – motivations and advantages

The announcement of the September 20 election date has led to an array of opinions about how the chosen date could impact on the outcome. The best analysis of why the PM chose that date comes from John Armstrong, who says National went for the earliest possible date without looking like it was manipulating the public – see: Poll date an advantage – without upsetting voters.

Similarly, Vernon Small focuses on the advantage that an early election gives National over Labour: ‘Key made the announcement with Labour at a low ebb in the polls and with morale hit by leader David Cunliffe’s recent woes…. The longer he waited, the more likely Labour would get its act together, an unexpected problem would blindside him  ... or drip-fed interest rate rises would erode confidence in mortgage-land’ – see: Key's move a convenient one.

Certainly most commentators are citing the economy as the main factor in the date chosen, and Rob Hosking details this well: ‘The economy is obviously a big strength for the government: a measure of Mr Key’s confidence is he has scheduled the election two days after GDP figures, three days after current account data; and only 10 days after a Reserve Bank monetary policy statement which will almost definitely put up interest rates.  The risk here is that the media will be awash with good economic news but too many voters will not be feeling it in their own bank accounts – especially if interest rates and other costs are rising.  Energy costs will loom large – and the opposition parties are already banging this drum hard, in the wake of several firms announcing price hikes over the past week’ – see: Flagging a third term – Key’s challenge (paywalled).

Opposition leaders have accused National of cynically attempting to reduce voter turnout by holding the election in a cooler month than usual – see Claire Trevett’s Early election avoids clashes: PM and Newswire’s Election date may deter voters – Cunliffe.

Other interesting commentaries on the announcement include Rob Salmond’s Why announce the election date this week?, Josie Pagani’s The left missed a chance to score today and Toby Manhire’s Labour in a muddle over election day.

Election campaign issues and winners

Although the economy is widely said to be the main election issue this year, Colmar Brunton has polled the public on the ’top 5 issues’, and the results do not include the economy, but rather issues like education and health – see the latest Colmar Brunt poll graphics. For another view, see Duncan Garner’s The 10 defining election issues.

According to iPredict, the chances of National forming a government are at 70%. Leftwing commentator Chris Trotter seems to agree with this forecast, stating that ‘What may also surprise is the sheer scale and comprehensiveness of the Left’s (especially Labour’s) electoral humiliation’ – see: All Over Bar The Counting. And today’s Press editorial seems to think that victory is looking out of reach for Labour, especially because the party has put forward little reason for the public to make a change – see: It doesn't give them much time.

Finally, in the end, much will rest on the ability of the Labour leader to change people’s minds and show that he has a government-in-waiting (that may or may not include the Greens and New Zealand First.) For the latest on the Labour leader’s progress, see Steve Braunias’ The Secret diary of David Cunliffe.

Today’s links

Election date and the election

John Armstrong (Herald): Poll date an advantage - without upsetting voters

Russell Brown (Public Address): Spring Timing

Rob Hosking (NBR): Flagging a third term – Key’s challenge

Dan Satherley (TV3): Key: Nats will campaign on track record

Newswire: Election date may deter voters - Cunliffe

David Farrar (Kiwiblog): Key election dates

Stacey Kirk (Stuff): What does Google tell us about the election?

Duncan Garner (RadioLive): The 10 defining election issues

Gyles Beckford (Reuters): New Zealand to go to economy-focused election on Sept 20

Luke Malpass (Australian Financial Review): NZ election to be fought over cost of living, housing

Michael Sergel (Newstalk ZB): Early election date announcement could give PM edge

Michael Fox (Stuff): World leaders keen to visit NZ

The Press: Editorial: It doesn't give them much time

Frances Cook and Barry Soper (Newstalk ZB): Peters fumes over being accused of dragging his feet

Kuneblog: Key wants 6 months to build his Adams Family coalition

Ele Ludemann (Homepaddock): Knowledge is power

Kennedy Graham (Frogblog): The election, the G20, and the climate – very simply: a matter of priorities

Pete George (Your NZ): Poll – top 5 election issues

No Right Turn: An attack on freedom of information II

Martyn Bradbury (Daily Blog): I don’t think the 285 000 children living in poverty give a damn what the flag looks like

Frank Macskasy (Daily Blog): More “tricky” business – National’s election strategy now apparent?

Barry Soper (Newstalk ZB): The Soap Box: Political courtship sees Peters in his element

Chris Trotter (Bowalley Road): All Over Bar The Counting


Shane Jones and the Greens

Isaac Davison (Herald): Jones stands firm on jibes at Greens

Radio NZ: Jones takes issue with Green Party

Pete George (Your NZ): Shane Jones – mollyhawk or mollymawk?

Jane Patterson (Radio NZ): Labour MPs told to stick to portfolios

Isaac Davison (Herald): Shane Jones: Greens are too thin-skinned

TVNZ: Labour, Greens sparring soon after election date revealed

Brook Sabin (TV3): Jones told off after Greens attack

Pete George (Your NZ): Mollyhawk versus mollymawk

David Farrar (Kiwiblog): Jones v Hughes

Keeping Stock: Russel's double standard

Ele Ludemann (Homepaddock): Greens thin-skinned?

Vernon Small (Stuff): Greens complain about Jones' attack

David Farrar (Kiwiblog): Fighting on the left

Barry Soper (Newstalk ZB): Labour hedging its bets over preferred coalition partner

David Kennedy (Local bodies): Greens Hit the Ground Running



Isaac Davison (Herald): Flag's time has passed, says PM

Dominion Post: Editorial: New flag not about parties

Southland Times: Editorial: Taking time to do it right

Tracy Watkins (Stuff): Key wants referendum on new flag before 2017

Tracy Watkins (Stuff): Debating a change of flag is a bold gesture of nationhood

Tracy Watkins (Stuff): Flag debate gets traction

Michael Daly (Stuff): Kiwis speak out on changing flag

TVNZ: Flag referendum to be held in next three years

Radio NZ: No obligation on new flag - Key

Felix Marwick (Newstalk ZB): Labour backing proposed flag referendum

Chris Bramwell and Craig McCulloch (Radio NZ): No flag referendum this election – PM

Newstalk ZB Staff (Newstalk ZB): Flag debate labelled a diversion

Toby Manhire (Guardian): New Zealand to hold referendum on new, ‘post-colonial’ flag

Pete George (Your NZ): Do we want a new flag?

Felix Marwick (Newstalk ZB): Greens commit to continue with flag referendum

Rebecca Howard (WSJ): New Zealand Backs Away From Sensitive Flag Vote

NBR: Key wants public vote on flag during next Parliamentary term

Isaac Davison (Herald): NZ flag vote to be held after election

No Right Turn: Flagging it

David Farrar (Kiwiblog): Key flags flag debate for next term

Don Franks (Redline): Redline’s guide to a new Kiwi flag

Rachel Smalley (Newstalk ZB): NZ flag reminds me of my history


Judith Collins

Patrick Gower (TV3): John Key is scared of Judith Collins

Newswire: Key 'misled the public' over Collins' clearance - Labour

Brent Edwards (Radio NZ): PM continues to defend Collins

Patrick Gower (TV3): Key's defence of Collins based on misinformation

Michael Fox (Stuff): Key misled media over Collins' Chinese link

Laura McQuillan (Newstalk ZB): Key's defence of Collins continues

Martyn Bradbury (Daily Blog): Why Key isn’t punishing Collins

Rob Salmond (Polity): "Promoting" vs "endorsing"

Scott Yorke (Imperator Fish): John Key explains to the media

The Standard: Key schemes with media at Whaleoil cafe.



Stuff: Snowden outlines spy movements

Jane Patterson (Radio NZ): NZ 'pressured' to change spy laws

No Right Turn: Did the NSA write John Key's spy bill?

Radio NZ: Govt dismisses whistleblower claims



Herald: Editorial: Rising costs give Labour a chance to win voters

Newswire: Labour scorns Govt's power price estimate

Ele Ludemann (Homepaddock): Labour on sinking sand

Ele Ludemann (Homepaddock): Three smogs and you’re . . .


Labour Party

Steve Braunias (Stuff): The secret diary of David Cunliffe

The Ruminator: Free political advice: Labour Party

John Braddock (WSW): New Zealand Labour leader appoints new chief of staff

Radio NZ: Leader says Jones regrets Asian comments


Fiscal policy

Vernon Small (Stuff): Lower tax take sees Govt deficit blowout

Newswire: Government deficit bigger than forecast

Herald: Govt tax take falls short - deficit rises

Lynn Prentice (The Standard): National – pissing debt against a wall


Westpac Rescue Helicopter

Briar Marbeck (TV3): Helicopter trust alleges council board corruption

David Farrar (Kiwiblog): Auckland Westpac Rescue Helicopter funding



Greg Ninness (Stuff): National median house price rises

James Weir (Stuff): Spending is up, but on what?

Colin James (ODT): The highs and lows of bubble economics

Mike Hosking (Newstalk ZB): Bagging dairy, our golden goose

NZ Fabian Society: Flawed theory – failed practice: Light-handed regulation in New Zealand

Jacqueline Rowarth (Pundit): Food, cheap glorious food



Clare Curran (Stuff): Health system in crisis

Matthew Dallas (Manawatu Standard): Editorial: Time for ministry to make fluoride call

Herald: Ryall gets jab to launch campaign



Stuff: Today in politics: Wednesday, March 12

David Farrar (Kiwiblog): Herald on revealing CVs

No Right Turn: Submit!

Michael Fox (Stuff): World leaders keen to visit NZ

3 News: Train builders need to pay asbestos compensation - Labour

Fine Tooth Column: Illegals and the language of the body politic

Tim Hazledine (Herald): Universities don't need tinkering, just adequate cash

Isaac Davison (Herald): MP hears her people loud and clear

Matthew Beveridge: MPs on Twitter: Gareth Hughes

Paul Casserly (Herald): The GC vs Native Affairs

Radio NZ: Mana eyes all Maori seats

Michael Fox (Stuff): Officials look at violence disclosure law

Dan Satherley (TV3): Countdown's dumped fish not paid for, says Jones

Peter Lyons (Herald): Market society breeding pushy parents

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