From old scores to blank canvas, a survey of the most puzzling parts in the NZ First and Act deals with National.
Across 28 pages, the two documents born out of several weeks of inter-party negotiations chart the path ahead for the first term of the three-way coalition made up of National, Act and New Zealand First. There are major commitments, there is a good bit of non-specific direction-of-travel verbiage, and notes on how the parties will deal with disagreement.
There are also a number of things that are just, well, puzzling. Here’s a selection.
As defining documents of the parliamentary term, these agreements deal with sums in the billions of dollars. So it is quite a surprise to stumble on a line that you’re more likely to find in a Ministry of Health report. “Fund Gumboot Friday/I Am Hope Charity to $6 million per annum,” reads the line in the NZ First/National agreement. That’s about 0.0002% of the health budget.
If there was one programme likely to be singled out, however, it was probably this. Mike King’s initiative was a regular mention in Christopher Luxon’s campaign stump speeches. It was in the NZ First manifesto, too, though at a more modest dollar demand: “Provide mental health programme ‘Gumboot Friday’ with $10m over three years to go toward administering and delivering free counselling services for young people.”
And it has not gone unacknowledged. At a boxing event in Whangārei over the weekend, King paid tribute to Winston Peters, telling the crowd: “He gave me $18 million, I don’t care what you think.”
In what appears to be a direct callback to the time Winston Peters was enraged about his personal superannuation details being referred up as part of the “no surprises” provision, the NZ-First-National agreement includes the following: “The parties agree that the present ‘no surprises’ policy needs clarification to better respect the privacy of individuals. This policy will be updated in government.”
“Investigate the strategic opportunities in New Zealand’s mineral resources,” reads the National-NZ-First agreement, “including vanadium, and develop a plan to develop these opportunities.”
Vanadium? The NZ First manifesto doesn’t mention vanadium. It does say, down the bottom of page 42, “Seek higher Crown levies on minerals extracted and return 50% of royalties to the regions of source” but that’s not the same as “investigate the strategic opportunities” and, to repeat, no sign of vanadium.
Turns out vanadium is a chemical element (atomic number 23) that takes the form of a silver-grey metal used as a steel alloy. It’s used to make tools and could become important in battery manufacture. It is sourced, not uncontroversially, via seabed mining.
Speaking of favoured substances, wool gets a boost in the agreement, too, with NZ First having secured a direction to government agencies “where practical and appropriate to preference the use of woollen fibres rather than artificial fibres in government buildings”.
Postscript: Vanadium is named after Vanadis, Norse goddess of love and beauty (aka Freya), though it is not known whether this came up in negotiations at the Cordis (Latin word for heart) hotel.
The taxpayer receipt
There is a concept in the world of advertising, sometimes called the “blue boat”. The agency deliberately includes something in the pitch anticipating the client will suggest removing – such as a strange blue boat on a seascape – to which the agency will respond, “great idea!” and everyone will be happy.
The blue boat of coalition negotiations may be the “taxpayer’s receipt” – a National pledge to provide taxpayers with an annual breakdown of how their contribution to the public purse was being disbursed. It may also have been a pledge conjured up in a workshop or at late notice, who can say. Anyway, Act secured the scrapping of the thing, and I suspect both parties are pleased.
The pledge card discrepancy
The agreement with Act notes that, as long as nothing in the agreement says otherwise, the government will progress the National policy found in “its eight point commitment card, Fiscal Plan, Tax Plan, 100 day plan, and 100 point economic plan”.
The New Zealand First agreement is identical – with one exception. There is no mention of the eight point commitment card, aka the pledge card. I’m not sure that it makes any substantive difference but let’s assume that Winston Peters drew a Sharpie through it declaring that the only card in politics is the gold card.
Super-er super card
Speaking of the super card, it figures – inevitably – in the NZ First deal, though it is so imprecise that it’s possible to suspect the intention is simply to say “super card” as many times as possible. “Upgrade the Super Gold Card and Veterans Card,” it reads, “to maximise its potential benefit for all Super Gold Card and Veteran Card holders.”
The deputy exchange
Both agreements note that the day Winston Peters is scheduled to hand over the official deputy prime minister title to David Seymour is May 31, 2025. They don’t note that, inconveniently for the governor general, it is a Saturday. Peters will have turned 80 exactly 50 days earlier.
The honours prepositions
A minister from Act “will be appointed to the Appointments and Honours Cabinet Committee (APH)”.
A minister from NZ First, meanwhile, “will be appointed on the Appointments and Honours Cabinet Committee (APH)”.
Can you spot the difference, and if so what does it mean? It’s all very Da Vinci Code.
As long as we’re descending into the most boring pedant at the party, there are two typos in the NZ First agreement. First, the souped-up Covid inquiry is required to cover “whether the decisions made, and steps taken, where justified”. Second, “The Leader of the House consult the Parties about the House programme in advance of each sitting session.”
The last page
The 15th and final page of the NZ First agreement is totally empty, a blank canvas, an icy desert. A flex to make theirs longer than Act’s? A mistake? A kind of poem? Or a camouflage? Does anyone have an ultraviolet light?