Like it or not - the politicking has begun

5:48 am on 29 January 2016

Power Play - The political jostling for 2016 has begun in earnest, with parties setting out their priorities and positions for the year ahead.

John Key addresses the media after confirming funding for Auckland's City Rail Link.

John Key addresses the media after confirming funding for Auckland's City Rail Link. Photo: RNZ / Diego Opatowski

John Key's first speech of the year focused largely on the third of voters who live in Auckland, with his announcement to cover half the cost so work on the City Rail Link can start earlier.

But he also used the stage to staunchly defend the government's position on the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).

All week he has front footed the issue, saying it would be inconceivable that any government would not support the deal.

The Prime Minister has been unequivocal about the TPP, unlike Labour's leader Andrew Little who, for many months, has struggled to express a coherent position.

Later this week, however, Mr Little finally decided Labour did not support the TPP in its current form.

That was fine, until his senior MP, Phil Goff put his head above the parapet and said he didn't agree and that he, in fact, supported the TPP.

Mr Little dealt with that swiftly and cleanly, putting out a statement saying Phil Goff would be given special dispensation to take a different position to the rest of the caucus.

Trade Minister Todd McClay then released a cheeky statement thanking Phil Goff for his support for the TPP.

And so began the 2016 politicking.

Labour party leader Andrew Little during caucus run.

Andrew Little Photo: RNZ / Alexander Robertson

Andrew Little is yet to give his State of the Nation speech, but expect to see Labour's first chunky piece of policy on Sunday - most likely in education and something that fits alongside its Future of Work programme.

Labour will also this year start to work more closely with the Greens, as the parties try to present what they think an alternative government will look like.

The two parties are likely to share a platform more often and possibly make joint announcements as they did for the NZ Power policy in a previous parliamentary term.

In her State of the Nation speech on Tuesday, Green Party co-leader Metiria Turei was at pains to dissuade people of the notion that her party is too radical.

In recent years the Greens have come across as a more mainstream voice, though, as they argue, that's most likely because the issues they are talking about have become more mainstream (excluding that unfortunate curing Ebola with homeopathy moment of course).

Mrs Turei argues her party is always ahead of the game, and while policies it proposes may often be dismissed as outlandish when announced, they are frequently picked up by other parties further down the track.

The announcement in her speech to set up a policy costing unit in Treasury was not outlandish, although getting cross-party support for it was scuppered by the Prime Minister just a few hours later.

Winston Peters on the bridge at Parliament.

Winston Peters Photo: RNZ / Alexander Robertson

New Zealand First leader Winston Peters retreated to his roots for his State of the Nation speech, with talk of racial separatism and restrictions on immigration.

He also took great pleasure in stirring the pot between National and support partner the Maori Party by offering to support changes to the Resource Management Act if National rolled back promises made to the Maori Party.

John Key says he's open to hearing from Mr Peters about his support for the RMA, causing the Maori Party to take a sharp intake of breath.

As the Prime Minister eyes his fourth term in office, it's likely his door will remain wide open for discussions with the New Zealand First leader.

His other support partner, United Future leader Peter Dunne, was not having a bar of any State of the Nation speeches - deriding them as ritual chest-thumping and knuckle dragging behaviour.

He says sadly for many New Zealanders the speeches signal the holidays are over, the politicians are back, and it's time to switch off and get with their own lives.

While the speeches are somewhat of a throat-clearing exercise, they do set the tone for the year ahead, and like it or not, the 2016 political year is now well underway.

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