Read the fine print forming a government
There are more than a few pointers in the Government agreements to where things could go wrong.
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
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.