The phoney war is over. This morning, the leaders fly into Wellington. Today, the real haggling begins. The big winners will be generations of elderly, as Peters locks the super age at 65 and extends his SuperGold card. But the biggest winner of all today
It’s game on. Coalition negotiations will get under way in earnest this morning as NZ First leader Winston Peters begins four days of meetings to decide who he will form the next Government with. Peters is heading back to Wellington from his Northland bolthole while National leader Bill English and Labour leader Jacinda Ardern jet in from opposite ends of the country to begin talks.
The NZ First leader maintains they will be wrapped up by Thursday.
Both main party leaders will be vying to make an offer Peters can’t refuse without abandoning their core principles in a game of political brinksmanship that plays perfectly into the wily old campaigner’s hands. He is tipped to demand the ministerial posts of foreign affairs and racing.
After special votes were counted yesterday, Labour and the Greens gained one seat each, meaning a National/NZ First coalition would reach 65 seats while Labour/Greens/ NZ First would get to 63 seats – a majority with two votes to spare.
Generations of superannuitants will be the big winners, with Peters expected to win key policy concessions around NZ Super and the SuperGold Card.
National announced earlier this year it would raise the retirement age to 67 in 2030 but Peters is expected to make it a condition of any deal that the age be rolled back to 65. Peters is set to build on his legacy SuperGold Card, extending it from public transport to a full-fledged e-wallet providing discounts on doctors’ visits and eye tests, and perhaps even power bills.
Last night at the Grey Lynn Returned Services Club in Auckland, voters were confident Peters would take care of them.
Gillian Riley, 57, said she hoped Peters would tilt to the Left.
Riley’s main concern this election was the superannuation age hike that National had proposed.
Usually an NZ First voter, Riley backed Labour because she ‘‘thought they needed a bit of help this time’’.
‘‘I’m glad Winston will be in Government regardless, though,’’ she said.
Among other pledges, Peters’ commitment to recovering the bodies of the Pike River miners will be a nonnegotiable.
National and Labour will have to make some big concessions. Peters ran a hard line against Labour’s water tax and wants that reined in, except for a tax on water bottlers.
The Greens could still emerge as a major stumbling block for Peters, and he would likely demand they remain on the cross-benches supporting the Government on supply and confidence, as the price of a deal with Labour.
Peters told Newstalk ZB that making a decision by Thursday – his selfimposed deadline – was still completely do-able.
‘‘It was always going to change and so the special votes were always important for that reason and knowing the facts now as we have them puts us in a better perspective to make judgments,’’ he said. ‘‘It is not going to be a simple exercise.’’
‘‘It is extraordinarily complex and you’ve got to have regard to every one of your colleagues and the member of your board’s views,’’ he said.
Ardern said she was confident she would become Prime Minister, and said she would be ‘‘proud’’ to lead a Labour-Green-NZ First coalition. The result strengthened the mandate for change and ‘‘for negotiations to continue in earnest’’.
She added the majority of people voted for a change to the status quo and over the coming days Labour would ‘‘focus all its efforts on completing negotiations’’.
English said the final result made it clear National had finished 10 seats ahead of the Labour Party and ahead of the Labour-Greens bloc.
Caterers will be working overtime in the Beehive today as talks begin on neutral territory – a meeting room between the Beehive and Parliament buildings on level two.