11 Oct 2017

NZ First leader says huge progress made in coalition talks

From Checkpoint, 5:12 pm on 11 October 2017

For a fourth day in a row, New Zealand First has been locked in back-to-back meetings in Parliament as decision day looms.

Winston Peters says he would make his mind up which way he will go by tomorrow night, but the man in charge of the party holding the balance of power says the public will not find out until an unspecified later date.

The last few days have looked very much the same. 

New Zealand First goes back and forth between the two major parties; National, Labour, National, Labour.

Every day Mr Peters gets stopped as he enters and exits talks, every day he gets asked about what was discussed, every day we are reminded the talks are confidential.

Today, Mr Peters said there had been "huge progress".

"Finding out what we agree on, what we don't agree on, what we can still negotiate on, where we might take things into the future by cooperation."

But again, no details around which policies were being discussed.

Mr Peters wouldn't budge, even when asked about one of his favourite talking points - immigration.

"Is this an attempt to entrap me? In a comment which I can't make, which I told you on day one I told you I couldn't make, I mean can we cooperate here without me looking like I'm being evasive when I'm not?"

There have not been any talks about specific ministerial roles, he said.

"I said it's all about policy and it is. We haven't mentioned anything about personal preferment or position at all."

Labour's Jacinda Ardern was also keeping relatively mum and repeating the same script from the past few days.

"Looking forward to holding another meeting this evening, again to continue to talk about the policy priorities."

But if Labour is an echo chamber - National is radio silence.

The last time there was anything from them was Monday night.

And while Mr Peters says a decision on any deal will be made by tomorrow, he's being coy on when the public can expect an announcement.

It could be Friday, it could be the weekend, it could be much later.

"We are not going to be leap-frogging all over the place, we know what we're doing, we've got a plan, and we're sticking to it," Mr Peters said.

Once an agreement has been struck, all parties would have to go through a ratification process.

The Greens have to hold a special meeting of national delegates, and that could be held online or via phone conference.

Labour's 20-member Executive Council would sign off on any deal. National and New Zealand First consult their respective board and caucus.

Mr Peters will not say if his board, which includes him, his deputy Ron Mark plus Brent Catchpole and Anne Martin, will convene on Thursday night to talk over any decision.

And while it's difficult to get any answers around what policies are on - or off - the table, we did find out what politicians snack on.

Cheese scones at Labour-Greens, and a ginger loaf - possibly baked by Jacinda Ardern herself - for talks with New Zealand First.

Mr Peters was not too happy to be quizzed about that.

"Look this is a rather serious issue, it's about the next government of this country and you're asking me about a cake?"