By Alex Tarrant
Winston Peters met separately with National Party leader Bill English and Labour Party leader Jacinda Ardern on Tuesday night, after a two-day New Zealand First board and caucus meeting came to an end early evening.
The meetings were one-on-one affairs, with none of the three leaders accompanied by any aides. That the meetings were held straight after the internal NZ First discussions ended has kicked off speculation that announcement of a governing pact could come as early as Wednesday.
English told media after his meeting that he hoped "there's more to say in the next few days."
Earlier, speaking to media Tuesday early evening after two days of party meetings, Peters said there was over 95% agreement from the group on policy. But, his comments got rather cryptic when media tried to ask whether this meant NZ First was leaning one way over another, as the two potential policy platforms being discussed were different - something he himself admitted.
The 'near-full policy agreement' comment didn’t relate to agreement on one potential deal’s policy platform over the other’s, Peters went on to say. He said the consensus was merely that the board and caucus had come away from the meeting knowing what each policy platform would mean.
He dismissed a question where he was asked to clarify that the party had come out of the meeting happy with both proposals. "No, I didn't say the board was happy with both of those; the board knows precisely what they’ll both mean, depending on what we do, if we take that choice," he said.
Work would now be done on presenting final proposals back to Labour and National, while also discussing government structure and positions.
Peters said discussions had been comprehensive. Preparations for the party to make a final decision were now underway. A lot of work had been done – and the board’s engagement in terms of that work was complete.
Now, urgent work would be undertaken to sort out differences of calculations and opinions and make sure understandings were such that, if an NZ First decision were finalised, an agreement with either National or Labour was there rather than anything requiring rewriting.
With the board now heading home, the caucus would press on and bring the matter to finality as fast as it could, Peters said.
Asked whether the board had come to a consensus, Peters had initially replied, “no.”
He added that the board had come to a consensus on policy work as far as it could be taken, although there were some outstanding matters. “But on the other issues, that is to be decided in discussions with the leader of, no doubt, the two parties. And we can’t make a decision as a party until we’ve had those discussions,” he said.
New Zealand First had “almost” finalised proposals to take back to the two major parties.
The board had not discussed the matter of whether they preferred to go with Labour or National – there was serious consensus on policies that were being put to both sides, Peters said.
“This is a case of policies that survived. And those are the ones that’ll be going into an agreement.”
When the party believed it had the policy side of things fully wrapped up, Peters said they will talk to Labour and National about “what it is that they want.”
Discussions will develop from these interactions to take to the New Zealand First board and caucus. Peters said the board could be contacted electronically, rather than having to meet face-to-face next time around.
He indicated a decision could still be made by the end of the week, although added this was also in other people’s hands.
The board had come to a “substantial consensus – an almost total consensus” on policy, “and that’s what really matters to us,” Peters said. The party was very happy with the progress that had been made. “We now know the other final decision we’ve got to make.”
Asked whether what was left to discuss was the form of government and Ministerial positions, Peters agreed: “the formal things to come in the future.” All nine of Peters’ possible government permutations were still on the table – “right to the end.”
Asked whether the board and caucus was leaning one way or the other, Peters said they knew which way they were leaning on policy. “We all know exactly what it is we want.” The group was 95%-98% there in terms of policy. “Substantially unified, massively unified on what we’ve negotiated thus far.”
There were two sets of policy arrangements. “They’re obviously different because they’re different parties.” Asked whether the board was happy with both of those, Peters replied he didn’t say the board was happy with both: “The board knows precisely what they’ll both mean, depending on what we do, if we take that choice.”