23 Nov 2023

New Zealand First leader Winston Peters arrives in Wellington - Nats and ACT there too

3:19 pm on 23 November 2023
Winston Peters outside Treasury

Photo: RNZ / Russell Palmer

New Zealand First leader Winston Peters says negotiations for his party are now over, but there is still no indication that an announcement of a coalition government is going to happen today.

The leaders of the three parties preparing to form the next coalition government are now all in Wellington, with signs confirmation of a deal is close.

ACT's David Seymour and National's Christopher Luxon flew into the capital last night.

Peters arrived in Wellington earlier this afternoon.

Speaking outside Treasury on the Terrace, he was asked whether a deal had been reached.

"Well if that was the case, I would've told you.

"You're not going to nail me down. This is not my first rodeo, right?"

Before any deal between the three parties can be finalised, it first has to go to their respective boards and caucuses for sign off.

ACT leader David Seymour earlier said he is optimistic about what the next government can achieve.

"We've come through a long - and I know many people would say too long - process but it's come together to create a very good deal and with some i's and t's, I think we'll be in position to form that government."

National leader Christopher Luxon on Wednesday was again telling reporters the third and final stage of negotiations was "largely" finalised, with the deputy prime ministership a sticking point.

He flew down to Wellington overnight, following other National colleagues including Nicola Willis and Chris Bishop, and ACT's David Seymour and his deputy Brooke van Velden.

Luxon had previously said that when talks were complete the leaders would return to the capital to sign it, but he - along with those others - brushed aside questions over whether their transition to the capital signalled the talks had reached the finish line.

They suggested the recent difficulties with travel into the city were the reason, with 130 flights cancelled on Tuesday due to low-lying cloud backing up demand.

Clear skies on Wednesday meant flights were put back on, and flights were operating normally on Thursday, but Air New Zealand and other airlines were working through a backlog.

Public impatience over the government's formation has continued to grow, with two thirds of respondents to a Talbot Mills poll saying they thought negotiations were taking too long - up 6 percent on the previous poll just a few days earlier.

Friday would be three weeks to the day since the final vote count was unveiled, while Saturday would mark six weeks since election day.

Dispute over deputy role

Luxon has been saying for a week the coalition talks were in the final stages, with the talks following an agreed process of dealing separately with policy, then the process of how the government would work together, ending with the roles in Cabinet.

But Seymour has disputed this account, raising the point that all details remain up for negotiation until the deal is finally agreed.

Both Seymour and Peters have legitimate claims to the deputy prime minister role. Peters has been deputy prime minister before and would bring some much-needed experience and seniority, while Seymour has continued to argue that ACT as the second-biggest party should have first claim to it.

National's deputy leader and incoming finance minister Nicola Willis had been suggested as a third prospect for the role until she ruled herself out on Wednesday, with Luxon later saying they had agreed before the talks started it should go to one of the minor parties.

He has spoken of how the position is "largely ceremonial", but Labour's incumbent Carmel Sepuloni - who has continued to perform those duties as part of the caretaker government while the negotiations have taken place - told RNZ it was "very important".

"You are the person who stands in when the prime minister is not available, you also play an important role within your caucus and making sure that those relationships are ... unified."

The possibility of a dual-deputy arrangement has also been floated as a possible solution, but realistically one would need to have more seniority than the other, to take over as acting prime minsiter Luxon should be unavailable. A kind of time-share - where the role shifts between the two leaders - is another option.

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