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14/9/2018 — Economics, Politics and Government
Wrestling back control of Government
By Dene Mackenzie

On the face of its, National appears to have dodged a bullet when New Zealand First leader Winston Peters decided to support a Labour-led Government.

National and Labour entered into a bidding contest to attract Peters and his other eight MPs. Eventually, Peters went to Labour leader Jacinda Ardern with a deal she could not refuse. She became Prime Minister, Peters was Deputy Prime Minister and a Coalition Government was formed.

The Green Party, with its eight MPs had nowhere to go but with the Labour-NZ First coalition, but did not enter into a coalition agreement, mainly because of the loathing Peters has for the party.

The formation of the Government was hailed as MMP working at its best. The party with the most votes - National - did not get to form the government. The three parties who attracted the most votes between them did.

Some people were riled about National being left out, calling the Government a coalition of losers. But in essence, MMP was introduced to give parties with smaller voices the right of representation.

Fast forward a few months and New Zealanders are finding Peters ruling the roost. NZ First is reportedly stopping Labour from introducing some of its key policy planks. Other policies, while being introduced, are being watered down.

This is not MMP at its best. It is bullying. Ninety-three percent of New Zealanders did not vote for NZ First yet Peters is deciding on what gets implemented into law.

Take for instance the labour relations changes Labour wants. The changes want free union access into workplaces, reintroduction of multi-employer contracts and the ability to force employers to settle collective agreements.

Peters and his sidekick Shane Jones do not like some of those provisions. Jones says regional New Zealand may be hurt by changes.

Labour wanted to lift the refugee quota. NZ First disagreed. Peters is adamant NZ First has never committed to the target. He wants a focus on housing disadvantaged New Zealanders to take precedence over increasing refugee numbers.

There are now suggestions of NZ moving to a system of co-prime ministers - Ms Ardern and Peters, something for which the country did not vote. Ms Ardern lifted Labour from a sure-to-lose position in the polls to a position of forming the next Government.

Despite welding considerable power in Cabinet, Peters needs to understand he should not stop Ms Ardern from introducing policies on which she was elected.

Peters has been fired or stood down by a range of prime ministers in the past. Whether he realises within himself his time at the top is coming to an end is open for debate. His actions suggests he wants to leave a legacy for NZ First which, without him at the top, will struggle to regain seats in Parliament.

One of Labour's long-term MPs, such as David Parker, needs to step up now and protect Ms Ardern against the uncomfortable truth of Peters gaining a stranglehold over the Government's policy preparation.

The public can now rightly ask whenever an announcement is made, whether Peters approved it and what is in it for him.

Crown and Maori Relations Minister Kelvin Davis has been sidelined by NZ First as he attempts to explain what is his role.

National would be a different party in government than it is now in Opposition. For a start, Sir William English would be PM and he had dealt with Peters in previous governments.

Ms Ardern, and most of her caucus, are new to the wiles of Peters but they should not underestimate him or Jones, a former Labour minister.

Ms Ardern must guard against the tide turning against her. She brought a new feeling to politics with her elevation to Prime Minister. She needs to exert her authority quickly over New Zealand politics, putting the missteps of the past few weeks behind her.

*Dene Mackenzie is a Dunedin political commentator.

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Winston Peters pumping the flesh.