17 Nov 2023

Luxon defends negotiating skills as coalition talks continue

12:56 pm on 17 November 2023
National Finance Minister Nicola Willis and incoming Prime Minister Christopher Luxon.

National Finance Minister Nicola Willis and incoming Prime Minister Christopher Luxon arrive for the talks on Friday. Photo: Nick Monro / RNZ

National leader Christopher Luxon has defended his negotiating credentials as meetings to form a government with ACT and NZ First continue in Auckland.

Arriving at the Cordis Hotel again on Friday in the mid-morning, Luxon told waiting reporters they planned to meet with the leaders of both parties in the afternoon - saying having a good foundation for the government was key.

"That's why we're taking our time, we're making sure that we've got a really good foundation, that we understand each other fully, we're going through line by line ... on each of the manifestos. We've made tremendous progress.

"This is a great country but, man, we've got to get things turned around and sorted."

After election night, Luxon had spoken about his expertise in business deals.

"I've done a lot mergers and acquisitions and I've done a lot of negotiations, and getting the chemistry, getting the relationship right is the platform and foundation for then being able to work your way through the transactional issues," he said.

He spoke about using the three weeks during which the final vote count was being confirmed to build those foundational relationships, and would get into negotiations proper once that milestone was reached. The extra week taken to get there - brought in before the 2020 election to allow more people to vote - was a sore point for him, and during the lead-up he repeatedly raised the idea of sharpening up the Electoral Commission's processes.

But in the two weeks since that final vote was confirmed, and the talks extending now two days beyond the equivalent timeframe in 2017, public sentiment appears to be growing impatient. After NZ First's Winston Peters never showed up in Wellington on Tuesday - where both Luxon and ACT's David Seymour said they had been expecting him - the two leaders flew back to Auckland, the trio finally meeting in a room together the day after.

New Zealand First leader Winston Peters arrives for coalition negotiations in Auckland, 17 November 2023.

New Zealand First leader Winston Peters arrives at the talks on Friday. Photo: RNZ / Nick Monro

Media commentators have been criticising the leader's early confidence, with Stuff's Tova O'Brien calling Peters' no-show "one of the most stunning and humiliating displays of political brinkmanship". Right-leaning commentator Matthew Hooton, a frequent critic of Luxon, penned a column in the NZ Herald questioning exactly what merger and acquisition experience Luxon was referring to, saying he had failed to take up the mantle of leadership, and instead "spent five weeks reciting his vacuous and facile slogans that everything is just swell".

Luxon was forced to defend himself to reporters on Friday morning, asked exactly what experience in his business life at Unilever and Air New Zealand he had been referring to.

"I'm not going into them specifically. If you understand Unilever, and you understand Air New Zealand and what we did at Virgin, and what we did in other things, you'll understand what we did," he said. "Air New Zealand had a position in Virgin when I took on as CEO, and then I obviously sold the position."

He was asked what specifically he had learned from those.

"The absolute importance of making sure that you take time at the beginning to get the foundations right for a good agreement and you make sure that you've got good alignment. If you don't have alignment on what you're trying to achieve, the goals which you're trying to deliver against, that's important," he said.

"Right from day one we've been making sure we understand each other, go through the detail incredibly well."

He said conversations would be continuing today, but - as is typically the case in negotiations - refused to go into much detail around exactly what was being said behind closed doors.

Seymour had on Wednesday said ministerial positions as well as policies were being explored, but Luxon said that had only been discussed "in very loose terms" with ACT - the priority was to sort the policy first.

"The process that we've agreed is that we'll continue to work on policies primarily and then we'll talk about appointments," he said.

He would not say whether that signalled the agreement with ACT was more advanced than the deal with NZ First.

"Not getting into any of that, we've made progress with both parties."

Arriving at the Cordis earlier, the party's number-three Chris Bishop - also on the negotiating team - rejected suggestions the National-ACT deal was closer than the agreement with NZ First, saying only "I wouldn't characterise it like that".

Asked about Luxon's vaunted negotiating skills, he said "it is what it is, every deal is different, every post-election arrangements with political parties under MMP with the exception of the last election, every election has produced a different set of results and every deal is different.

"Some arrangements have taken a matter of days, others have taken a bit longer, I wouldn't read anything into that whatsoever. Just it is what it is, it just reflects the facts."

Any final deal will need to be signed off by the parties MPs and board members. With all three party leaders having said the talks were in the "final stages" over the past couple of days, expectations of a deal being reached will only grow and any further delays to getting a deal done will be that much more painful for National.

But as all three party leaders have also emphasised, any final deal will also need agreement from all members of the trifecta - and there's no hard deadline beyond the increasing pressure they're facing.

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