14 Feb 2019

Two break-ups for Valentines - Parliament's votes of confidence

From The House , 6:55 pm on 14 February 2019

“I move that this House express its confidence in the coalition Government and commends its programme for 2019 as set out in the extensive Prime Minister’s Statement…”

That’s the Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern kicking off the Parliamentary year with the formal motion that opens the debate on the Prime Minister’s Statement. The debate’s 13 hours long and covers both the government’s record and its intentions.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern speaks in a debate on the Prime Minister's Statement.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern speaks in a debate on the Prime Minister's Statement. Photo: VNP / Daniela Maoate-Cox

But the most important bit of the whole thirteen hours is that first sentence - the confidence motion.

From then, the whole debate, and whatever is said in it - is over one thing - whether or not the House (all of Parliament’s MPs), has confidence in Jacinda Ardern's ministry - the coalition government.

“But”, I hear you say, “the government doesn’t lack in confidence - Winston Peters alone has enough for everyone.”

Except that’s not the kind of confidence that’s at stake. This is the kind of confidence an employer has in deciding to keep a contractor, or a Prime Minister has in deciding not to sack a Minister.

This is a “she loves me, she loves me not” kind of confidence. So very appropriate for Valentines day.

Next week, probably on about Wednesday, there’ll be a vote on that motion (that the House has confidence in the Government), and and opposition amendment that the House has no confidence in it. If Jacinda Ardern’s motion fails, that means that the Parliament has decided they don’t want the current coalition to be the government any longer.

The Prime Minister would need to visit the Governor General and say “I can’t make this work” not such a cheery Valentines sentiment. It’s an “it’s not you, it’s Parliament” kind of thing.

Voting sign, Mt Albert electorate, 12 September 2017. Polling booth.

Photo: RNZ / Demelza Leslie

At which point there might be a new election, or as happened back in 1928, a re-alignment of parties and a new government created from the MPs already elected (like New Zealand First swapping to support National for example).

That’s the effect of a loss of confidence. That and sweaty palms.

That’s why coalition deals always include a promise to give support on confidence motions. But they also always include a promise to give support on Supply. Confidence and Supply.

Because it’s Valentines Day, it might be appropriate that there are - quite unusually - two different debates today that involve confidence. The second one is a bit different. It's on a tax bill - the one that includes your tax rate for the year.

This is known as supply legislation - because it gives the government a supply of money.  And as no government can operate without money it is automatically a bill that must pass for the government to stay on. Therefore it is also a confidence vote.

So, there you are - two different chances to break up a coalition relationship on a single day. It really must be Valentines.