A gap is showing
By Richard Harman (author)
There is little doubt that Labour Leader Jacinda Ardern was less than impressed with Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters revelation that there was a secret 32-page appendix to the coalition agreement.
He made that claim on October 25, but it got little attention in the rush that surrounded the formation of new Government.
But now it has opened the way for National to claim her Government is being “secretive” and it has offered a glimpse of a slight gap between Ardern and Peters.
With Peters standing alongside --- and with her frequently jumping in to answer questions directed to him --- she tried to dismiss the document at her weekly press conference yesterday as something that contained mostly unfinished business from the coalition talks.
But POLITIK understands from sources who are familiar with it that Peters’ characterisation of it as “a document of precision on various areas of policy commitment and development” is a more accurate way of talking about it.
The website, Newsroom, quotes Peters as saying on October 25: "These are directives to ministers with accountability and media strategies to ensure that the coalition works, not in a jealous, envious way, ‘We got this, and they got that', but as a government successively, cohesively working.
"We've put a lot of thought into it, in fact, day one of our negotiations that was the first subject we raised, how are we going to handle a cohesive coalition arrangement?"
POLITIK was advised to “stick with Peters on this”.
But Ardern said that the document consisted of notes that were made during the coalition negotiations.
"Yes, of course, we made notes during those discussions, including the areas where we may undertake some work," she said.
“Where we have committed ourselves to a policy piece of work we’ve released that.
“Where there is more work to be done that will be released at the time when he have reached a conclusion.
"Some issues will see the light of day, and at that point, we will make sure that people are absolutely clear that that was part of our conversation with New Zealand First.
““SBut others may not.
“There are constraints on us as a Government – not least the financial constraints we have been left by the previous Government.
“So there is still a lot of work to be done."
The difference between the two appears to be Peters’ claim that the document is about “policy commitment and development” and her argument that some issues will see the light of day and some won’t.
Peters agreed there was a lot of work to be done on some of the policy proposals.
He said (as an example) that the per capita measurement of GDP which he said was meaningless was being “worked on” as was the current measure of unemployment.
But during the campaign, Peters raised a wide range of diverse issues such as reducing the excise tax on cigarettes or requiring all Government carpet purchases to be woollen carpets.
On one issue Ardern does appear to be in the clear.
Any notes taken during the coalition negotiations, or a document produced at the end, is not an official document because neither party involved in those talks was the Government at the time.
Furthermore, she said it had not been distributed to Ministers since it was produced.
In itself, the issue is relatively trivial.
It would be surprising if there were not some agreements between the two coalition partners on how day to day Government operations worked and it would be usual for that to be codified somewhere.
An example might be the way Party Whips communicate with both their own MPs and counterparts in other parties.
Those communications are not usually public.
The bigger issue for Ardern and Peters is that it has revealed a slight tension between the two.
The Opposition will undoubtedly continue to pick away at it. National Party sources have told POLITIK that their first political goal is to try and open up cracks between NZ First and Labour.
They will have been pleased with yesterday’s press conference.