MPs from the governing parties are returning to Wellington in their droves, raising expectations the deals will be signed soon.
While National leader Christopher Luxon and Act leader David Seymour are both still in Auckland, National’s senior MPs Nicola Willis and Chris Bishop are on their way back to Wellington.
NZ First’s Shane Jones is also expected to arrive today and most other NZ First MPs are already in Wellington. NZ First leader Winston Peters is also understood to be planning to travel to Wellington at some point soon.
However, there are still some final details of the deal to be resolved around the appointments of ministers, including the deputy Prime Minister.
Luxon and Seymour are expected to talk further after their meeting yesterday, at which Seymour made it clear he expected more ministerial appointments, given Act had a higher share of the vote than NZ First – and also set that out as a reason for Act to get the deputy Prime Minister’s role.
While Seymour has completed his consultation with the Act Party board, he is yet to call a caucus meeting – that won’t happen until the final deal is ready to sign.
It’s understood all parts of the deals are now complete, other than ongoing wrangling over ministerial portfolios. The final negotiating points are understood to include the number of portfolios the smaller parties are getting and the areas they are in.
The deputy Prime Minister role is among them – and yesterday Seymour made it clear that he thought he had the better claim for that job. He also made it clear that he expected Act to get more ministerial roles than NZ First, given its election result was better.
The leaders are in Auckland today where more talks are expected to be held. They will then travel to Wellington to announce and sign the deal. The timing of that could be affected by the weather. Fog in Wellington yesterday has disrupted flights.
However, the MPs of all parties are on standby and waiting to be called to meet to agree on the deals. That has to happen before they are signed.
Last night Seymour met the Act board, which must be consulted under the party’s constitution. Seymour told the Herald late last night that, barring any major last-minute changes, he would not need to go back to them.
However, Act’s caucus meeting will wait until the deal is ready to be signed, and that would require ministerial posts to be agreed on.
Seymour’s open pitch for the deputy PM role appeared to take National and NZ First by surprise – other options for the role are Luxon’s deputy, Nicola Willis, and NZ First leader Winston Peters.
It is also understood other ministerial positions are also proving sticking points. While the parties have agreed on the policy platform, who will lead some of the more contentious areas, such as work around the Treaty of Waitangi, are taking more work.
All three parties have issues to address about the way the Treaty of Waitangi is treated in legislation, the debate required over the principles of the Treaty, the direction being taken by the public service and related issues such as the naming of government departments.
Issues include whether to keep the Office for Māori Crown Relations – Te Arawhiti as it stands and who will lead that work.
Seymour told the Herald on Wednesday morning that no formal meetings had yet been arranged but the three parties would be in talks today.
The final outstanding issues remained the make-up of Cabinet, Seymour said, while adding no one position was more important than the other.
It was “quite possible” Act would want responsibility in the Treaty of Waitangi space, Seymour said.
Luxon confirmed yesterday that the only outstanding issues were ministerial responsibilities, which include who gets the role of deputy prime minister.
“We have got three parties all agreeing with each other’s policy programmes as well and we have now agreed how we are going to operate in Cabinet and how we are going to work together,” Luxon said yesterday.
Seymour made a pitch for that job yesterday, saying there was a “clear case” for Act to have the role given it was the “second-largest party in the Government and therefore if there’s a second role in the government that should go to the second party”.
Peters would not answer questions about the deputy job when he left the Cordis Hotel in Auckland yesterday, after meeting with Luxon.
Previously, Peters and Seymour have stated policy was more important to them than ministerial positions.
“Act has always said that policies for people are more important than positions for politicians,” Seymour said on Thursday last week.
National having wrapped up policy agreements ahead of discussing those positions could help its case as Seymour and Peters would be going back on their word if they dig their heels in too much.
Yesterday, Luxon was clearly unimpressed with Seymour’s apparent public pitch for the deputy role, turning Seymour’s own earlier reference to Weet-Bix back on him.
Seymour said Luxon had clearly had one too many Weet-Bix after Luxon stated that the policy talks between National and the two smaller parties were completed.
On Seymour’s public airing of the deputy Prime Minister claim, Luxon said “he probably got up and ate a lot of Weet-Bix this morning”, before saying all parties had agreed to keep talks confidential.
Luxon appeared to downplay the position saying it was still up for negotiation and adding he thought it was largely “ceremonial”.
The exact form of the new government also appears to be in the balance, with Luxon yesterday declining to answer questions about if a formal three-party coalition was on the cards or another arrangement. It is also unclear if there will be one agreement between the parties or separate agreements.
Seymour has previously said he could sit on the cross-benches if Act didn’t get its way.
“Irrespective of format, what’s obvious is all three parties need to work together,” Luxon said.
“And there are pros and cons of lots of different arrangements.”
Luxon met separately with Seymour at his Auckland home yesterday and Peters in the afternoon at the Cordis.
In his meeting with Peters he was joined by National Party president Sylvia Wood.