Goff should get to negotiate with Key

I attended the AGM of the NZ Institute of Economic Research last night. After the AGM and guest lecture (which I will blog on separately) there was a dinner at Icon Restaurant at Te Papa.

It was perhaps the only dinner I had been to, where you could have a discussion about the pros and cons of an intensity based approach to credit allocations in an emissions trading scheme, and the entire table understood the discussion!

In discussing the ETS, it became very clear that the preferred options of the NZ business sector is for National and Labour to reach agreement on the ETS, rather than National to rely on the Maori Party or ACT. They want certainty of policy.

Now Labour and National do actually agree on around 32 of the 35 issues around an ETS. However the issues they differ on are pretty big – the dates certain sectors enter the ETS and the merits or otherwise of an intensity based approach (which I will try and blog on at some stage also).

Now NZ already has an ETS, passed into law. Labour did this in 2008. So if Labour and National do reach an agreement, it is Labour that is arguably making the greater concession in order to give businesses policy certainity.

The Herald reports:

Labour is trying to rope Prime Minister John Key into the climate change negotiations, saying leader-to-leader talks are the way ahead. …

This is an opportunity for Phil Goff. In fact again at last night’s dinner we discussed how if Labour does do a deal with National on the ETS, this could be the equivalent of John Key’s compromise with Helen Clark on the smacking law.

And if Labour do put the national interest ahead of partisan interest, and strike an agreement with National, Phil Goff deserves his day up on the podium with John Key, looking Prime Ministerial.

But the issue is at what stage do you turn this into a negotiation at the leadership level.  If I was advising John Key, I would have two reservations about negotiating with Goff at this stage.

  1. Can you trust him to be sincerely wanting an agreement, or is he just trying to get the PM involved so Key gets personally blamed when Goff walks away. Up until the Richard Worth affair, Goff would have been trusted. But his behaviour over the Choudary allegations, has dented Goff’s trustworthiness. And his use of confidential MFAT staff notes to embarrass Don Brash has not been forgotten either. In a negotiation both sides need to be able to put forward positions in confidence, and trust the other not to report the details.
  2. Can Goff deliver his caucus? Key had a strong enough grip on the leadership that he could strike a private deal with Clark, and cheerfully walk into Caucus and tell them all that they are now voting for the bill they have spent the last six months fighting. A deal with National might involve (for example) a change of stance on the intensity issue. Could Goff get his Caucus to agree to that, just to get him his day in the sun?

Now these are not reasons to not meet with Goff at all. If Labour does do a deal, he should be the one to get the credit and share the podium with the PM. For putting the national interest of policy certainty first, he would deserve it.

But such a meeting is unlikely to happen, until the lower level negotiators can report back that there are reasonable prospects of success.

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