12 Mar 2014

Peters deflects Key's election challenge

12:43 pm on 12 March 2014

The Prime Minister is challenging New Zealand First to be upfront about who it would work with after the general election on 20 September.

Winston Peters - may be kingmaker

Winston Peters - may be kingmaker Photo: RNZ / Diego Opatowski

Announcing the election date on Monday, John Key said he is the only New Zealand Prime Minister to have been so upfront about an election date - and challenged the minor parties to be, in his words, equally forthright about who they would work with post-election.

Mr Key said New Zealand First leader Winston Peters could announce right now that he would go with the largest party, but he won't. He said all the anecdotal evidence he has heard is that Mr Peters would partner with Labour and the Greens: "That's what I hear, so that's what I've got to work on."

For his part, Mr Peters said the Prime Minister is scaremongering. "He's never talked to me on the matter and whatever his planning skills are, mind-reading is not one of them."

Mr Peters told Morning Report on Tuesday that Mr Key is being disingenuous because "he knows full well that the public doesn't want these sort of deals pre-election, and nor do we".

But the Prime Minister believes New Zealanders want as much transparency as possible about how the Government might be formed before they go to the polling booth.

"Give them a sense of before they vote what that might all mean. What the partners might look like, what the process might look like. In the end, I think it's very difficult for New Zealanders to assess that and that's going to be one of the challenges for a New Zealand First voter.

"In reality, they won't actually know whether they'll go with Labour or National, and those voters might have a view."

Opposition welcomes annoucement

The Labour and Green parties both welcomed the election date announcement, with Labour leader David Cunliffe saying his party is already in campaign mode and is ready to govern, despite trailing National in the polls.

Mr Cunliffe said Labour would not be having coalition negotiations before polling day.

"Here's the order of the plan: New Zealanders get to have their say, politicians get to respect the votes of the public and once election day has occurred, my phone lines and my doors will be open to potential coalition partners as we form a government for change and a government for a better future."

Mr Cunliffe told Morning Report the next government will be about the largest coaliton rather than the largest single party, and that will be a Labour-Green coalition - possibly with New Zealand First. He said Mr Key is trying to manipulate the electorate by holding the vote early, hoping voters will not want to get out of bed on a cool spring morning.

Mr Key said he has chosen the September date, rather than wait until November, because he believes the elected Prime Minister should represent New Zealand at the G20 summit in Brisbane on 15-16 November. He said a number of world leaders have already expressed an interest in visiting New Zealand after the summit, which would not be possible in the middle of an election campaign.

Mr Peters says Mr Key is using international excuses to hide the issues, and is only calling an early election in an attempt to mitigate the damage he will face during the campaign.

Mana leader Hone Harawira says the date is no surprise. The leaders of United Future and the Maori Party could not be reached for comment on Monday. ACT leader Jamie Whyte says that with his party polling below 1 percent, a later election might have been better.

Greens 'in strong position'

Greens' co-leader Russel Norman says he doesn't think his party will be pushed out of the way by Mr Peters in any post-election coalition talks.

Mr Peters is confident his party will win more of the party vote than the Greens and says New Zealand First has a solid track record as a governing partner with Labour.

Dr Norman said on Tuesday the most important thing for the Greens is to get as strong a party vote as possible so it can be in a strong negotiating position. He said he does not think the Greens will be the last cab off the rank with Labour, should it be in a position to form a government.

"You know I think it's pretty unlikely - we'll see what New Zealand First gets at the election, but the Greens are in a strong position and we're pretty confident."