PM denies hiding 'secret' coalition document in the shadows

Opposition leader Bill English says the public deserves to know what's in the mysterious 33-page document.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern admits the document at the heart of a row over government accountability exists but has played down its importance.

Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters alluded to the existence of a 33-page document he described as “a document of precision on various areas of policy commitment and development” at a media conference last month as the coalition was forming.

“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.”

But the government refused to release the document under the Official Information Act to Newsroom as it was claimed the prime minister did not hold the information.

Opposition leader Bill English says 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.”

At a post-cabinet press conference today, Ms Ardern acknowledged the existence of the document but attempted to play down its level of importance.

“It’s not a formal or government document – it’s a document of elements that we may progress in, and that we may not,” she said after being questioned on the topic many times.

“I have not had it in front of me since I was the leader of the Labour party in opposition – it has not been distributed to ministers. So, under that classification, I do not consider it to be a formal document for the purposes of the OIA.”

The prime minister says the official coalition document has already been released to the public – referring to the document made available on October 24.

Everything in that document was formal but other issues that may have been in the 33-page document either did not make the cut or are still being worked on, she says.

“Some issues will see the light of day and, at that point, we will make sure people are absolutely clear that that was part of our conversation with NZ First.”

Where there is more work to be done, she says, that will be released “at the time when we have reached a conclusion.”

Ms Ardern says it's not uncommon for some government documents, which are still being discussed on consulted on, to not be released under OIA as they're still being worked on.

The Prime Minister appeared at today's post-Cabinet press conference with deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters, ostensibly because the pair had just finished a meeting with the UK Secretary of State, Liam Fox, who is in Wellington for talks.

Mr Peters gave a somewhat biblical answer when asked why the full document was not released.

"I mean Moses came down from the mountain, he only had 10 commandments, right? But there's a lot in the Old Testament as well. Get it?

"I'm only here because the Prime Minister asked me to be here."

Robertson speech

Finance Minister Grant Robertson will use a major speech in Auckland on Friday to announce the date of the pre-Christmas fiscal update and Budget Policy Statement, cementing in place the timetable for achieving key elements of the new government's 'first 100 days' plan.

While the government is tight-lipped about how far the statement will go beyond the usual half-year update, it is not expected to be a full mini-Budget with major, previously unannounced measures.

However, it does appear likely that the government is building a narrative intended to acknowledge the existence of a gap between its spending promises and its ability to fund them, and to blame those shortfalls to the greatest possible extent on the previous government.

The finance minister in the previous government, Steven Joyce, pursued the accusation that Labour had a "fiscal hole" in its Budget projections over the next four financial years that could be as large as $11.7 billion.

Labour vehemently disputed that charge, but has begun talking up its discovery of major capital expenditure delays it has discovered in areas such as health and education since taking office a month ago.

Ms Ardern also confirmed the government will shortly introduce legislation to abolish the National-led government's April 1 2018 income tax cuts and family welfare and accommodation supplement payments in favour of its own 'families package', which will target tax relief through the Working for Families to low income households rather than distribute tax cuts across all income levels.

The updates are generally delivered on a Thursday, making Dec. 14 or Dec. 21, the final sitting day for Parliament this year, the most likely dates for the announcement.

Ardern says the BPS will "show our investment and spending plans are responsible, affordable and in line with our Budget Responsibility Rules" announced before the election.

“The update will also spell out the renewed contribution to the New Zealand Superannuation Fund after nine years of a contribution freeze" and other legislation would be introduced shortly to implement the Best Start policy for families with new-born babies, offering support up to the age of three, and the $500 per year Winter Energy Payment benefit.

(  Additional reporting BusinessDesk)

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