Dunne say­ing deal could just un­ravel

Otago Daily Times - - GENERAL -

LONG­SERV­ING MP Winston Peters is hav­ing a week of it. He is due to take over from Prime Min­is­ter Jacinda Ardern as soon as her baby is ar­riv­ing and he an­nounced this week he is su­ing the Gov­ern­ment.

There has been spec­u­la­tion this week in the wake of New Zealand First’s hang­ing out to dry of Jus­tice Min­is­ter An­drew Lit­tle over the pro­posed re­peal of the ‘‘three strikes law’’ that a melt­down in the coali­tion is im­mi­nent.

For­mer long­serv­ing MP Peter Dunne re­called that nearly 20 years ago, New Zealand’s first MMP coali­tion gov­ern­ment col­lapsed.

It was not a dra­matic im­plo­sion on a ma­jor point of prin­ci­ple but was pro­voked by a com­par­a­tively mi­nor is­sue — a pro­posal to sell the Gov­ern­ment’s shares in Welling­ton Air­port — and came af­ter a se­ries of dis­agree­ments be­tween the coali­tion part­ners on var­i­ous as­pects of pol­icy.

‘‘While it is far too soon to draw con­clu­sion par­al­lels, the 1998 ex­pe­ri­ence does set out some road marks to watch out for,’’ Mr Dunne said.

Im­me­di­ately af­ter the for­ma­tion of the 1996­98 coali­tion, NZ First’s stand­ing in the opin­ion polls slumped to the point where one se­nior Na­tional MP at the time fa­mously de­scribed them as ‘‘dog tucker’’.

Na­tional MPs be­came gen­uinely con­cerned their party and lead­er­ship were con­ced­ing too much, con­se­quently threat­en­ing their own fu­ture elec­toral prospects.

There was spec­u­la­tion the cur­rent Coali­tion Gov­ern­ment was be­ing dom­i­nated by the whims of NZ First, although the talk seemed lim­ited to the me­dia com­men­tariat, at this stage, Mr Dunne said.

No Labour MPs had yet bro­ken ranks to make that com­plaint but a long win­ter and some tough de­ci­sions lay ahead.

Dur­ing 1996­98, there had been a se­ries of pub­lic dif­fer­ences be­tween Na­tional and NZ First min­is­ters on a range of is­sues.

So far, this time, the spat over three strikes had been the most ob­vi­ous. But the seem­ingly gen­eral poor com­mu­ni­ca­tion be­tween min­is­ters sug­gested the three strikes de­ba­cle would not be the last seen of that type.

The third prong of the 1996­98 era was the mount­ing pub­lic con­cern the tail was wag­ging the coali­tion dog and Na­tional was not stand­ing up suf­fi­ciently strongly, he said.

‘‘There is no real ev­i­dence of that feel­ing emerg­ing at present. Although the next few weeks when the NZ First leader [Winston Peters] is act­ing Prime Min­is­ter could change that.’’

One fac­tor present in the cur­rent sit­u­a­tion not there in 1996­98 and which made the Gov­ern­ment po­ten­tially more vul­ner­a­ble was not hav­ing a ma­jor­ity in Par­lia­ment.

The Coali­tion had to rely on the Greens as a con­fi­dence­and­sup­ply part­ner to achieve a ma­jor­ity. There had been hopes the Greens might be the con­science and moral back­bone of the Gov­ern­ment. So far, the al­lure of power for the first time had sup­planted that hope and the Greens could not be ex­pected any more to do any­thing to put the

Gov­ern­ment at risk, Mr Dunne said.

All of which came back to the dy­namic be­tween Labour and NZ First, and Ms Ardern and Mr Peters in par­tic­u­lar, de­ter­min­ing the fate of the cur­rent coali­tion.

Ms Ardern’s author­ity is cur­rently un­ques­tioned but gen­er­ally un­ex­er­cised, so far.

It there came a time when the per­cep­tion changed and Ms Ardern, through either cir­cum­stances or her own in­ac­tion, came to be seen as weak and in the thrall of Mr Peters, pres­sure on the coali­tion would in­ten­sify.

As the 1998 coali­tion col­lapse showed, a com­bi­na­tion of cir­cum­stances came to­gether to the point where a rel­a­tively small is­sue trig­gered the demise, Mr Dunne said.

Mr Peters was be­gin­ning to dis­play all over again the same traits that saw him sacked from the Cab­i­net in 1991, sacked as deputy prime min­is­ter in 1998 and sus­pended as a min­is­ter in 2008 — sug­gest­ing leop­ards re­ally can­not change their spots.

‘‘In which case, the next 12 months have sud­denly be­come much more in­ter­est­ing,’’ Mr Dunne said.

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