By Alex Tarrant
We have an answer to why Winston Peters isn’t talking with the Greens: New Zealand First is effectively treating James Shaw’s lot as a branch of the Labour Party.
Even though that Labour-Greens memorandum of understanding officially terminated on election night, its impact is now being felt strongly through coalition talks.
And this means the Greens may be relying on Jacinda Ardern’s negotiating skills when it comes to whether any of their policies that NZ First doesn’t have a common stance on, get through into the final government manifesto.
Essentially, it looks like Shaw is left hoping Winston Peters agrees there is enough three-way commonality on some policy areas to give him something to work on these next three years.
Greens wanted to chat to NZ First
James Shaw revealed on Tuesday afternoon that the Greens had reached out to New Zealand First in the last week or two, although he added they hadn’t gone as far as to formally request a meeting with Winston Peters and his team.
“We just made some contact to say, if they wanted to, we’re available, but…” Shaw said to media Tuesday afternoon following a meeting with Labour. “We’ve made ourselves available, for anybody, but like I said last week, the Labour Party will be taking the lead in negotiations, and so that’s what they’re doing.
Shaw still seemed keen on at least a cup of tea with Ardern and Peters together. He maintained that, “at some point, I assume you’ve got to get in a room together with the people that you’re going to go into coalition with.” It was still Labour’s responsibility to put the government together, which they seemed to be doing a pretty good job of so far.
Shaw said he was following the process New Zealand had been using for most of the last 20 years – that the largest party took the lead in negotiations. “We’re not the largest party, so we’re just playing our part in putting together the next government.”
Asked whether this meant the Greens would just have to go along with the agreed policy platform between Labour and New Zealand First, he noted a comment he made on election night that the three parties had policy areas in common and areas of difference.
“Ultimately, when you’re trying to put together a government, the most important thing is to find those areas where you’ve got agreement to work together for the better of the country,” he said.
'They've hugged each other for years'
It was Peters’ turn next.
Speaking to the media after meeting with National, Peters wasn’t taking a bar of any suggestion that his talks with Labour should be expanded to a three-way conversation with the inclusion of the Greens.
He said he wasn’t aware of the Greens reaching out, although even if he did know, that doesn’t seem like it would have mattered.
“I made it very clear at the start, and everybody’s aware of it, that we were to speak to the National Party and the Labour Party, not necessarily in that order, but each day we’ve been doing that,” he said. He wouldn’t comment on whether he thought Labour might look to put Green Party points across in negotiations.
Asked whether it might be worthwhile to sit down with Labour and the Greens before he made a decision, Peters replied: “Well, I’ve got no idea why this question’s being asked of me. I told you all we were going to be negotiating in good faith with both the National and the Labour parties.”
Peters said New Zealand First hadn’t campaigned for another party, and that the rest did. “For months, and months, in fact for years, they all campaigned together, hugging each other, embracing each other, and loving each other. We didn’t.” New Zealand First “was never part of any pre-arranged structure, so why are you trying to force it upon us now?”
Was he effectively treating the Greens as a bloc of Labour?
“Well take a wild guess. That’s what they campaigned on. Have you forgotten?”
“Mr Tarrant, will you get with the programme? They ran on an MoU all those months, in fact years, and now you want to know how I explain this connection?”
He was also asked if there was a chance he could be sitting around a Cabinet table with Green Party MPs without having had discussions with them beforehand. “This is an extraordinary question,” he said. “That has no relativity to these discussions whatsoever.”
Peters was asked again about New Zealand First’s decision-making process. He said the party would make its decision on Thursday – note that he’s not saying that the public would know on Thursday.