What Winston wants: It's crunch time as coalition talks get under way in Wellington
JO MOIR, TRACY WATKINS AND AMANDA SAXTON
It's game on.
Coalition negotiations will get under way in earnest on Sunday as NZ First leader Winston Peters begins four days of meetings to decide who he will form the next Government with.
Peters is heading back to Wellington from his Northland bolthole while National leader Bill English and Labour leader Jacinda Ardern jet in from opposite ends of the country to begin talks, which the NZ First leader maintains will be wrapped up by Thursday.
Both main party leaders will be vying to make an offer Peters can't refuse without abandoning their core principles in a game of political brinksmanship that plays perfectly into the wily old campaigner's hands. He is tipped to demand the ministerial posts of foreign affairs and racing.
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After special votes were counted yesterday, Labour and the Greens gained one seat each, meaning a National/NZ First coalition would reach 65 seats while Labour/Greens/NZ First would get to 63 seats – a majority with two votes to spare.
Generations of superannuitants will be the big winners, with Peters expected to win key policy concessions around NZ Super and the SuperGold card.
National announced earlier this year it would raise the retirement age to 67 in 2030 but Peters is expected to make it a condition of any deal that the age be rolled back to 65. Peters is set to build on his legacy SuperGold card, extending it from public transport to a full-fledged e-wallet providing discounts on doctors' visits and eye tests, and perhaps even power bills.
On Saturday night at the Grey Lynn Returned Services Club in Auckland, voters were confident Peters would take care of them.
Gillian Riley, 57, said she hoped Peters would tilt to the Left.
"That's what I hope for, but I don't think it's what will happen," she said.
Riley's main concern this election was the superannuation age hike that National had proposed: she wanted it to remain at 65.
Usually a NZ First voter, Riley voted for Labour because she "thought they needed a bit of help this time".
"I'm glad Winston will be in Government regardless, though," she said. "I appreciate his openness, he tells it like it is."
Among other pledges, Peters recommitted this week to standing by the families of the Pike River men who lost their lives and re-entry into the mine to try and retrieve the bodies will be a non-negotiable.
National and Labour will have to make some big concessions. Peters ran a hard line against Labour's contentious water tax and wants that reined in, except for a tax on water bottlers.
The Greens could still emerge as a major stumbling block for Peters, and he would likely demand they remain on the cross-benches supporting the government in supply and confidence, as the price of a deal with Labour.
Peters told Newstalk ZB that making a decision by Thursday – his self-imposed deadline was still completely doable.
"It was always going to change and so the special votes were always important for that reason and knowing the facts now as we have them puts us in a better perspective to make judgments," he said. "It is not going to be a simple exercise."
"It is extraordinarily complex and you've got to have regard to every one of your colleagues and the member of your board's views," he said.
"But we can construct a serious comparison for them to look at when these talks are over and we should be able to come to a decision pretty promptly after that."
Ardern said she was confident she would become Prime Minister, and said she would be "proud" to lead a Labour-Green-NZ First coalition. The result strengthened the mandate for change and "for negotiations to continue in earnest".
She added the majority of people voted for a change to the status quo and over the coming days Labour would "focus all its efforts on completing negotiations".
English said the final result made it clear National had finished 10 seats ahead of the Labour Party and ahead of the Labour-Greens bloc.
"It would have been nice to keep those two seats, two excellent members that are represented, but it doesn't change the calculation. National is still the largest party," English said.
"The fundamentals haven't altered, and that is National have significantly more seats than Labour, and more than a Labour/Green combination."
Caterers will be working overtime in the Beehive on Sunday as talks get underway on neutral territory – a meeting room between the Beehive and Parliament buildings on level two - where all parties agreed in preliminary talks last week that room would continue to be used for formal negotiations.
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- Sunday Star Times