By Alex Tarrant
It won’t come as the biggest surprise in the world, but New Zealand’s foreign ownership rules are being canvassed in New Zealand First’s government formation talks with the National and Labour parties.
In fact, our whole economic paradigm since Labour won the 1984 general election sounds like it’s up for debate. That might include the way the Reserve Bank runs monetary policy - Peters told one reporter he had asked a "brilliant question" on the matter of reforming the Reserve Bank Act, although he wouldn't say whether it was being discussed.
However, don’t take that as Winston Peters leaning to the Left.
Peters wasn’t giving much away to media Monday lunchtime as he returned from a two-hour negotiating session with National. So, Interest.co.nz asked him about the HNA-UDC deal, which he has strongly opposed. Would the deal still be on if NZ First is in government?
“Look, the extraction of our ownership to foreign interests, whether it be from a present foreign interest to another foreign interest, it’s the continuing story of this country’s decline since the 14th of July 1984. Nothing has changed,” Peters said.
“But, these talks are about a change in the way this country’s run, both economically and socially,” he said.
I asked whether NZ First’s policy intentions in terms of shaking up the Overseas Investment Office’s powers and mandate were therefore a subject of the talks.
“I don’t think there’s anybody in the press gallery that would not think foreign ownership is not part of these talks. So, have you got that? It’s a yes.”
Next question: Has he found he is closer to one party – ie Labour – over policies which would change the economic and social direction of New Zealand? They do have a similar policy platform in areas like foreign ownership, after all.
“Well excuse me. You’ve got that rather wrong, haven’t you,” came the reply. “I mean, you could after the election, even if you got it wrong before the election. Get that part right. Thank you.”
Talks going well...
Meanwhile, we got all the stock answers to the regular questions. The meeting with National was “great, actually.” Peters said NZ First was likely to meet twice with National and Labour Monday as talks carry on into the night. (Update: Talks with Labour went a little longer than expected, so an afternoon meeting with National and then Labour first Tuesday morning, to keep the pattern going.)
He was still on track for making a decision on Thursday. “What we’re trying to do is, ensure that we give all sides in this negotiation a fair hearing and vice versa.”
Similar policy areas are being traversed with both parties. However, “it’s not a game of tennis here, or ping pong, it’s different discussions with different parties.”
Peters also indicated that New Zealand First would not be holding discussions with the Green Party. “How many times do I have to point out to you, from a long way out before the election, and since it, that we will be negotiating with first, the National Party and the Labour Party – not necessarily in that order – and that, that would be our sole set of discussions. Not more than that.”
Greens meet with Labour
Green Party leader James Shaw on Monday morning met with Labour, while Peters was talking to National. Speaking to media afterwards, Shaw wasn’t prepared to make any comment on the subjects discussed, going only as far as to say talks were “warm and constructive,” about “forming a government,” and canvassing “several” policy areas.
In response to a question on whether talks touched on the Greens’ core values of climate change, clean rivers and poverty, Shaw replied: “I don’t think it’s going to come as surprise to anybody the things that the Green Party is putting forward as the programme for new government. We campaigned on those things, and that’s what we’re looking for.”
Shaw said he was “highly confident” there would be a Labour-led government. “The majority of the country voted for change, and as the results showed on Saturday, that majority’s been extended out.”
He said he anticipated more meetings with Labour would be held this week. “We haven’t formed a government yet, so we’ve got to keep meeting until we do that.”
Peters: RBNZ query a "brilliant question" but can't give answer
Peters spoke to media again Monday afternoon on his way back from a meeting with the Labour Party. New to the Labour team was David Parker. His roles within the party are Spokesperson for Foreign Affairs, Environment, Water, Regulatory Reform, Entrepreneurship, & Trade and Export Growth and Shadow Attorney General.
Peters wouldn't be drawn on whether Parker's appearance meant there was discussion on Labour's water royalty policy, which Peters has said he would oppose. It is thought that Labour is well-prepared to give the policy away in negotiations with NZ First in respect to charges aimed at commercial water users; both parties agree, however, on the more targeted policy of taxing bottled water exports.
Meanwhile, Peters was asked whether his earlier comments on changing the economic direction of New Zealand meant both National and Labour needed to move on Reserve Bank reform. "Well, it's a brilliant question but I can't possibly tell you the answer to that because it's confidential," he replied.
While Labour wants to make changes including bringing unemployment under the Reserve Bank's targets - something Peters himself did through tweaked wording of the government's Policy Targets Agreement with the Bank in 1996 - Peters this time wants to go further in making the Bank use the exchange rate as its key monetary policy tool rather than the Official Cash Rate, along the lines of Singapore's set up.
Labour: Talks going well
Labour Party leader Jacinda Ardern said talks with each of New Zealand First and the Greens were going well. Watch her comments in the short video below: