The polls currently show NZ First likely to get significantly in excess of 5%, and quite possibly doing well enough that both National and Labour would need their support to form a Government.
This post looks at what form such support could take, what portfolios NZ First might want if in coalition, and also which of their MPs might be Ministers.
Type of Support
There are three main types of arrangements a Government could have with NZ First. They are:
(a) Coalition, with NZ First having Ministers in Government
(b) Formal Support on Confidence and Supply
(c) Ad Hoc Support
A coalition would set some high level goals, details Ministerial appointments, and cover some policy commitments. It would not be as detailed as the 1996 coalition agreement, but would be more specific that the 1999 Labour/Alliance one which basically just said we pledge to be nice to each other. This is what the media’s default expectation is, but it is not the only option.
A formal confidence and supply agreement could be attractive to NZ First as they could claim victory for some specific policy goals, but not have to actually be held responsible for the Government’s performance. They would agree to vote with the Government until the election, as long as policy is generally acceptable.
An ad hoc confidence and supply situation is what I call the all power and no responsibility scenario where NZ First say we want you to announce your plans every Monday, and then we’ll announce on Tuesday what we’ll pass into law and what we won’t. Also no guarantee we won’t being the Government down at some stage if we think they are losing touch.
If a coalition is the preferred option, what portfolios might NZ First want or get?
Prime Minister – not even the remotest possibility with either party. Anyone who claims otherwise is either clinically insane or a paid liar. No-one of credibility thinks either National or Labour would agree to power-sharing if that is the price. Both parties would bluff NZ First to trigger another election rather than agree.
Deputy PM – almost guaranteed to be conceded. The reason for this is that the portfolio is almost meaningless in a coalition government. It is merely a title of respect to the leader of the minor party, but in no way do they actually run the country when the PM is overseas. Having worked on the 9th floor, I can assure people that the staff keep in close contact with the PM when overseas and an Acting PM does little other than symbolic stuff. If the Deputy PM is from the same party, then the role has some teeth, but in coalition it is a nice title only. I don’t mean that in a demeaning way, but just to point out they get their power as leader of the minor party, not as Deputy PM.
Finance/Treasurer – Neither party will make Peters the senior finance role. And I don’t think he will ask for it this time – economic issues are not a big campaign issue for him now.
Foreign Affairs – NZ Herald speculates this would be conceded by either party, and I agree. Key is whether Peters wants it. In favour is the idea at 61 he wants to be a statesman and Foreign Affairs is a portfolio where you generally get to appear in the news a lot, and almost always in a positive light. Against is the fact he shows no signs of “settling down”.
Economic Development – highly likely. NZ First believe in handouts and I am sure they would love to announce cash handouts left right and centre. A good way to be involved in most economic policy without being seen to be in charge of the economy.
Social Services – maybe an Associate, but unlikely to want full portfolio
Health – have to be mad to want to be Health Minister, but Associate Health with focus on oldies is a distinct possibility.
Education – Could well get with Labour the full portfolio (Mallard would love to lose it I suspect) or at least one of the three sectors – early childhood, schools and tertiary. With National English would have to have full portfolio but could well work with NZ First in one or more sectors.
Maori Affairs – With National highly likely – preferably Peters himself but others with credibility are Peters Sr, Paraone etc. Labour might concede this portfolio also as a foil to Maori Party, but far less likely to as their own Maori Caucus would all defect to Maori Party (in fact I suspect many of them will defect anyway if they lose their seats and come back as List MPs only)
Police – NZ First very likely to want a law and order portfolio. Police is more popular (announcing new cops etc) than Corrections (explaining prison escapes).
Defence – With National the portfolio or an associateship is quite possible, far less likely with Labour.
Immigration – highly unlikely NZ First will want this, as they would have to actually do something other than rhetoric, and they don’t want all the tactics they have used turned back on them.
Peters would be Deputy PM. He needs a significant portfolio on top of that and Foreign Affairs or Economic Development are most likely.
Peter Brown as NZ First Deputy Leader would have to be a Minister, but God knows what one could give to him. Maybe Senior Citizens and an associate or two. He would be a key ministerial target for any opposition.
Brian Donnelly is a very easy choice for Education. He could also capably work in other portfolios.
Dail Jones. Most likely of the new intake to get a portfolio as he was an MP in the early 80s. A bit eccentric so nothing too major – maybe an associate in welfare?
Craig McNair – the Deborah Morris of the new NZ First, without the sex appeal though. Maybe Youth Affairs if NZ First push for a large number of Ministers.
Ron Mark – a very easy choice for law & order or defence portfolios.
Pita Paraone – Maori Affairs maybe or a mid level portfolio like Internal Affairs
Jim Peters – Fisheries or Local Government
Doug Woolerton – Agriculture/Rural maybe.
I don’t actually expect NZ First would press for the huge number of Ministers they had in 1996, as they know inexperienced Ministers become liabilities. If it is a coalition, I would suspect they would only seek five Ministers staying with the proven performers.
The overall issue for any agreement though will not be the details of portfolios and Ministers, but quite simply can you trust Winston not to bring the Government down at some stage before the 2008 election? His track record is very bad, having shown a total inability to ever go into an election saying this Government is doing okay, and one has to worry that if the polls get tough at any stage, he will once again destabalise from within as an attempt to disassociate himself the Government.