28 Aug 2023

Winston Peters says non-coalition deals up to 'the people'

11:21 am on 28 August 2023
NZ First leader Winston Peters and Prime Minister Chris Hipkins.

New Zealand First leader Winston Peters and Labour leader Chris Hipkins. Photo: RNZ

New Zealand First leader Winston Peters has avoided saying whether he would support a Labour or National government outside of a coalition.

It comes after Labour leader Chris Hipkins called NZ First a "force for instability and chaos", ruling out any formal working arrangement post-election, and a string of polls showing support for the left Labour-Greens bloc sliding.

But with the numbers still close, Peters could once again find himself in the position of kingmaker - or at least picking and choosing which bills get passed from the crossbenches.

Asked if he would be willing to support either a National- or Labour-led minority government outside of a coalition arrangement, Peters did not answer, saying that would be "asking for an outcome before the people have spoken".

"Remember, we are all dependent upon what [the public think] come with the election. It's not about us, it's about them. And so all these premature speculations are of no value because when the dust settles, we'll know what we're dealing with…

"No matter what you think, you've got to put your pride aside and your past aside and try and form a stable government. That's been the biggest obligation of any politician…

"We don't know what the people will deliver, the voters will deliver on election day, and all the rest of speculation. But I make one promise, and it's always been our position in New Zealand First: we will try and see that there's a stable and much better government going forward. And that's the big challenge. Democracy will prevail."

Peters, who in the past has gone with both National and Labour - in 2017 siding with the smaller of the two and putting National into opposition - also said it was a "waste of time" to discuss potential post-election deals.

He had last year ruled out working with "this present Labour Party crowd". Since then the leadership has changed, Jacinda Ardern handling over the reins to Chris Hipkins, but Peters on Monday said his position had not.

"I don't know why Hipkins had that press conference yesterday, but we ruled Labour out 18 months ago, so he's in a bit of a time warp there and all the rest is sort of PR and excuses," Peters told Morning Report. He had laid out that pledge nine months ago in November.

Peters on Monday said Labour's "hidden racist policies" were behind the move.

"We have one vote. It means that everyone has the same value of the vote and there's no separation of races."

Voters actually have two votes under MMP, including those on the Māori roll - one for a local candidate and one for a party. No one gets any extra votes, regardless of their race or the roll they are on.

Labour campaign chairperson Megan Woods told Morning Report Hipkins' rule-out on Sunday was in relation to "formal coalition arrangements in terms of forming a government, and that can include supply and confidence".

Another possibility remains of NZ First agreeing to abstain from confidence and supply issues, in practice forcing all law changes other than Budget funding to a Parliament vote at the mercy of non-governing parties.

Woods said that possibility was a matter for "another party".

"What Chris laid out yesterday was around what we do around formal coalition arrangements. In terms of crossbenches and abstentions, that's something that's really up to the party themselves. That's very difficult for Labour to answer.

"This is about what we do in terms of formal coalition arrangements. We're not trying to kind of weave some magic way through this and look for outs in this.

Labour Miniser Megan Woods

Megan Woods. Photo: RNZ / Angus Dreaver

"Chris was really clear. He drew a line in the sand about the kind of government that he wants to lead and the kind of government that we want to form after the election."

Hipkins said NZ First had become "a party more interested in toilets than the issues that really matter", in the next breath noting the Labour was "the only party New Zealand First have managed to complete a full term of government with [in coalition]".

Peters said the media had "falsely reported" his views on toilets and transgender issues.

"We're not anti-anything, we're not anti anyone, but we're about common sense and safety - and women and children and girls rather are entitled to be able to go to the public toilet and be safe."

He complained that journalists were not asking him about the party's other policies, "whether it was Pharmac or whether it's to do with the health changes to the health system, a whole lot of policies we've spoken about".

Winston Peters from the New Zealand First Party Leader's Address at The Rydges on Latimer at Christchurch.

Winston Peters. Photo: RNZ/ Niva Chittock

In his speech, Hipkins said while he did not agree "with everything the Māori Party says", he was "confident we have enough shared values and goals to work together if that's what New Zealanders decide".

Te Pāti Māori in the past had supported National-led governments, but its stances have become far more left-leaning since they were ejected from Parliament at the 2017 election - coming back in 2020 on an electorate seat.

Te Pāti Māori co-leader Debbie Ngarewa-Packer said there was not anything in Hipkins' speech she did not already know.

"I think it's really important to put out a loud message on what kind of politics and what kind of party that you would align with," she told Morning Report.

"And I think what we're seeing at the moment is really revolting and I'm trying to find another way to say it, divisive, race-baiting and minority-beating politicking … I know that we would not want to be attached to any relationship or any party that was politicking in that way."

She did not say which party or parties in particular were campaigning on "fear and division" and using "bully-boy" tactics, but she thought Hipkins' speech on Sunday had "read the room right".

"We call out anyone that has, you know, for goodness sake, a problem with our trans community; who are anti Māori, who are anti takatāpui, who are anti every minority that exists.

"This is just a painful way of politicking."

She did not want to say what bottom lines her party would enforce in any potential negotiations post-election.

"But from a transparent perspective, that is about us being able to say that … we need to be future-focused and look towards what an intergenerational, you know, transformation of Aotearoa is needed."

National has not ruled out working with NZ First in a formal arrangement, but its other likely coalition partner ACT has, if NZ First MPs are given Cabinet positions. NZ First has not ruled out working with National.

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs