Read the fine print form­ing a gov­ern­ment

There are more than a few point­ers in the Gov­ern­ment agree­ments to where things could go wrong.

Sunday Star-Times - - Focus - Stacey Kirk

Words are ev­ery­thing in pol­i­tics. A few words from a prime min­is­ter and mar­kets can crash. A ca­su­ally-flung bot­tom line be­comes a bro­ken po­lit­i­cal prom­ise.

The wrong com­ment fol­low­ing a bad poll can cost a leader his job – just ask An­drew Lit­tle.

Say the wrong thing on the record, and politi­cians should be fully pre­pared to be held to ac­count if ac­tions don’t match ex­pec­ta­tions.

Which is why the word­ing of the two Gov­ern­ment agree­ments Labour has reached with NZ First and the Greens is so im­por­tant. Whether those agree­ments are in com­plete sim­patico has not yet been tested. But some care­fully worded sec­tions in both point to prob­a­ble flash­points down the track.


In one sim­ply-worded bul­let point the NZ First agree­ment states: In­tro­duce and pass a ‘WakaJump­ing’ Bill.’’ If there wasn’t a rea­son­able like­li­hood of this be­ing an is­sue in the fu­ture, this would not be an is­sue now.

It’s a fu­ture-proof­ing en­deav­our to pro­tect the Gov­ern­ment ma­jor­ity, if one of the par­ties splits into a frac­tious mess. Most rel­e­vant for ex­am­ple, in the event one party leader re­tires, and the deputy faces a chal­lenge from the party’s num­ber eight.


Here, what’s im­por­tant is stretched across both agree­ments. NZ First – on the side of the fish­ing in­dus­try and iwi prop­erty rights – have wran­gled a con­ces­sion over the pro­posed sanc­tu­ary that any out­stand­ing is­sues are worked through with Ma¯ori and other quota hold­ers ‘‘in a way that is sat­is­fac­tory to both Labour and NZ First’’. And NZ First op­poses the sanc­tu­ary go­ing ahead at all.

The Greens have a prom­ise that they and Labour will ‘‘use best en­deav­ours and work along­side Ma¯ori to es­tab­lish the Ker­madec/ Ran­gi­tahua Ocean Sanc­tu­ary and look to es­tab­lish a Taranaki blue whale sanc­tu­ary.

NZ First is against the es­tab­lish­ment of the Ker­madec sanc­tu­ary, while the Greens were for it (though not en­am­oured with the rough-shod pro­cess Na­tional used to orig­i­nally an­nounce it).

Trans­la­tion: Be pre­pared for this to be parked in con­sul­ta­tion for the fore­see­able fu­ture. Hey, read the fine print; we only ever said

we’d try.


The NZ First agree­ment states: ‘‘Al­low a con­science vote for MPs on New Zealand First’s Sup­ple­men­tary Or­der Pa­per to the End of Life Choice Bill, which pro­vides for a ref­er­en­dum’’.

At some point this term ACT leader David Sey­mour’s euthanasia bill will come be­fore Par­lia­ment. NZ First has al­ways held the po­si­tion that mat­ters like this should be de­cided by ref­er­en­dum. This care­fully-worded point al­lows NZ First to in­tro­duce a late-stage amend­ment to the bill to kick it out of the House and to the Peo­ple, if the bill passes its first two read­ings.

Both Labour and Na­tional have in­di­cated that the euthanasia bill it­self will be a con­science vote, mean­ing MPs are not bound to vote along party lines. Nei­ther has sup­ported it go­ing to a ref­er­en­dum.

Yet this pro­vides NZ First with an out to sat­isfy its pol­icy to its own con­stituency, in the likely knowl­edge its amend­ment will strug­gle to gain ma­jor­ity sup­port.


The Greens are not in coali­tion with Labour. They’ve agreed to sup­port Labour only on mat­ters of con­fi­dence and sup­ply, while re­tain­ing the abil­ity to de­ter­mine their own po­si­tion ‘‘in re­la­tion to any pol­icy or leg­isla­tive mat­ter not cov­ered by col­lec­tive re­spon­si­bil­ity’’.

In the­ory, the Greens have re­served the right to vote against Labour and NZ First on is­sues where it’s not in­cum­bent upon them to en­sure the Gov­ern­ment can con­tinue to carry out its busi­ness.

In prac­tice, this means vot­ing along­side Na­tional, so let’s call it the nu­clear op­tion.

Still, the trig­ger is there.

Fish­ing has been banned for many years in the Ker­madec Is­lands Ma­rine Re­serve, but plans for a far big­ger ocean sanc­tu­ary are now stalled by NZ First’s quib­bles.

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