22 Nov 2023

Watch: National Party leader Christopher Luxon says coalition deal close

2:40 pm on 22 November 2023

It has been nearly six weeks since the election, but National Party leader Christopher Luxon says a coalition deal is close - and that no-one is holding the country to ransom.

He says the third and final stage of the negotiations is "largely" finalised, but it's "fair to say" the deputy prime ministership is a sticking point.

"Suffice to say we've got a couple of issues to close out and then we can get this thing done ... largely we've agreed our ministerial positions and appointments," he said.

"I've laid up a process from day one which was: Policy, process, appointments. And so we've done each of those things as a component part and then moved on to the next.

"We've agreed fully a policy programme, we've also agreed the processes and ways of working as a government, we've importantly largely worked through ministerial responsibilities and positions."

He said it was fair to say deputy prime minister was one of the sticking points, but "those are conversations I've said I'd have with the leaders".

Nicola Willis had been suggested by some commentators as a possibility to take the role, but she today said she was not in contention for it. Luxon said she was never considered for the role during negotiations.

"No, absolutely not. It had never been a consideration for Nicola, her and I both spoken well before the negotiation and of the view that frankly given our past convention that actually deputy prime ministership is a role that should be held by coalition leaders."

He said there was "incredible talent" within each of the three parties, "and as the prime minister I want to be able to use all of that talent and put the right people in the right assignments to be able to go and get the job done".

'I've never said it's about what I want' - Seymour

ACT's board met last night and is unlikely to need to be consulted on the deal again. Party leader David Seymour told RNZ the vast majority of the negotiation period had been used for policy discussion and waiting for the final vote count, seemingly calling for patience.

"We've had one or two days to get everyone organised in the right jobs to use their time and talents for the good of our nation, and I think that process appears to be nearly resolved.

ACT leader David Seymour leaving National Party leader Christopher Luxon's house on 21 November, 2023.

David Seymour emerging from talks at Luxon's house on Tuesday. Photo: RNZ / Marika Khabazi

"I think people have probably been pretty patient with the policy process, the position process has been much quicker."

The deputy prime minister role was "as much a media fixation as a fixation for politicians", he said, but would not answer directly when asked whether he wanted it.

"I've never said it's about what I want, it's about how can we make sure that we deliver good public services, good laws, a country that people want to live in and a country where people ultimately want to re-elect their government so we can do more good."

He commented on Luxon's previous characterisation of it as "largely a ceremonial role".

"I think he's right to say it's ceremonial in a sense that all ministers are cerermonial in some ways. I mean, Minister of Health isn't usually actually doing operations, but also all ministerial roles involve a responsibility. The job has to be taken seriously, and often involve some real hard work.

"In a sense if you're trying to make a Cabinet and you haven't finished yet then every position is unresolved until you resolve them all."

New Zealand First MP Shane Jones arrives at Wellington Airport on 22 November.

New Zealand First MP Shane Jones arrives at Wellington Airport on 22 November. Photo: RNZ / Angus Dreaver

Seymour flew Wellington on Wednesday evening with his deputy Brooke van Velden, but he said nothing should be read into the trip.

"It looks like a deal is close enough that we're getting a flight that we can to get down to Wellington. Classic, only in New Zealand, we've got to go down because there's been some fog and it's hard to get a flight."

Van Velden said much the same.

"I suspected that I might be needed some time in the coming days so it's just getting down to Wellington when I can," she said. "There's nothing to read into today versus tomorrow versus Friday, I just wanted to make sure I could be there if something did happen."

Unsurprisingly, she backed her leader for the deputy PM role.

"I think before the election, Chris Luxon and David were making some pretty clear statements that they wanted to work together tightly as a team and I think that's what the people kind of expected to happen," she said. "Of course, the election result is a bit different to what it was before the election. But I still think they would work as a good team."

Meanwhile, senior New Zealand First MP Shane Jones arrived in Wellington, as negotiations over the deputy prime minister position continue.

Jones was asked by reporters if Peters wanted the position.

"Well no doubt those matters are being teased through. Like I said, cometh the hour, cometh the man."

The leaders of National, ACT and New Zealand First remain in Auckland and are expected to travel to the capital when a deal is done.

'More important to get it right' - Greens' James Shaw

Green Party co-leader James Shaw also counselled patience over the length of negotiations.

"All New Zealanders would like to see a government by Christmas, of course there is a government at the moment just keeping things ticking over but, you know.

"I remember that we got a lot of stick in 2017 for taking two weeks or whatever it was that we took as well, but I just think it takes the time that it takes -and a week here or a week there actually just doesn't matter in the grand scheme of things, it's more important to get it right."

But he suggested the decision over which leader because deputy prime minister would be a complex one to solve.

"I think the problem that they've got now is that they've both said that they want it. And so whoever gets it, the other one looks like they're a loser. So they're going to have to work out an elegant solution to that one."

The outgoing climate minister said he had no idea who his successor might be, but the worst possible outcome would be ACT's climate policy.

"They wanted to get rid of the Zero Carbon Act, get rid of the climate change commissioner, essentially take climate policy back about three decades in this country and that would be catastrophic - not just in terms of climate action but also in terms of our international relations and trade agreements."

No one holding country to ransom - Luxon

Today some senior National MPs, including deputy leader Nicola Willis and Chris Bishop returned to Wellington, with Willis telling RNZ her job in Auckland was done.

It has now been nearly six weeks since the 14 October election, and almost three weeks since the final vote total was announced. Special votes saw National and ACT lose their majority, meaning they need NZ First to form a government.

Luxon said the process would "take as long as it takes".

"As I said yesterday, we are in the final stages of our coalition conversations, and we've made tremendous progress, as I've said before.

"We're so close, we've come so, so far. And we need to close it out quickly and get to work.

"When you look at how MMP works around the world and you look at how long it takes to form governments in other MMP environments, I think we've made tremendous progress."

Christopher Luxon speaks to media outside his home in Auckland on 22 November

Christopher Luxon Photo: RNZ / Marika Khabazi

He said he had been on the phone a lot since early this morning.

"I've had to recharge my phone twice."

Asked to describe the chemistry between Seymour and Peters, he said there was a desire from all three to make this work for the New Zealand people, and he had enjoyed working with both.

"I think both gentlemen have actually done an exceptionally good job and I think all three of us have actually worked well."

"We are determined all three of us to come together to collaborate, cooperate, work together for the interests of New Zealand. I think they've done that very well.

He said there was "no-one holding the country to ransom".

"I'm trying to get people to understand that in an MMP process it requires some maturity and it requires serious stuff and I laid up a process that I've followed really clearly all the way through it. And we are trying to do something to make sure New Zealand gets a really strong, stable government and I'm really serious about that.

"As I've said before MMP is an environment that New Zealanders have chosen for (sic), the New Zealand voters are never wrong. Whatever result they give us on election night we are forced to make it work.

He said they would continue the conversations tonight, possibly tomorrow, as long as was needed.

"But once we have agreement there we'll be able to signal that we've concluded our negotiations. They will need to be ratified by our respective party organisations which will be pretty quick, and then we'll be moving very quickly through to Wellington to announce what we've agreed.

"I think I'll close things up from up here at this stage. But anything's changing, as I said we've been agnostic to Auckland and Wellington it's just been about where our weight of teams have been, and where the party leaders have been."

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