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Triangle of gladness. Image: Archi Banal
Triangle of gladness. Image: Archi Banal

PoliticsNovember 8, 2023

Coalition talks: the wins that make a three-way handshake

Triangle of gladness. Image: Archi Banal
Triangle of gladness. Image: Archi Banal

What big gains will Act and NZ First be seeking to score in negotiations with National?

These things at least we know. With the composition of parliament now clear, talks to form a government are progressing at a great speed and they are moving slowly. National and Act are close to inking a deal and they are a long way away from inking a deal. Christopher Luxon has had dinner with Winston Peters a couple of times so no longer does not know him, but Winston Peters does not know David Seymour well enough to distinguish him from a prank caller. It is unknown, but to be hoped, that Seymour has listed Peters, a new addition to his contacts, as “Camilla”

In other words, we don’t know very much at all. But beyond the unavoidable generalisations and snippets of soap opera that fill the vacuum, it is safe to say that both of the smaller parties with which National is in talks to form a government of “last resort” are focused not just on the result of the 2023 election and what it affords them in terms of negotiation leverage, but on the election of 2026. 

MMP history says it is hell of a difficult to get a support party re-elected. To do so, Act and NZ First will need to be able to boast clear and quantifiable wins. These changes, they will need to tell their past and potential voters as the next election rolls around, are changes we made happen.

There are some issues that all three are in lockstep on – ditching the Māori Health Authority, for example; cracking down on gangs; kiboshing Auckland light rail; scrapping Three Waters (though not so much taking responsibility for whatever the alternative reform looks like). But leaving those to one side, as the parties crack their knuckles ahead of a three-way handshake, what are some of the wins – whether by adding to, accelerating or handbraking the National Party programme – that Winston Peters and David Seymour might be seeking to chalk up?

Possible wins for Act

Ministry for Regulation

After buzzing onstage in a yellow Suzuki Swift, David Seymour told his election-year rally that Act would install a new Ministry for Regulation. And while the idea of creating a new chunk of the state to crack down on a swelling state might have a touch of the Yes, Minister about it, Seymour insists that it would comfortably earn its keep by slashing red tape and policing a new Regulatory Standards Act.

Seymour is keen to be the minister in charge, brandishing the magenta secateurs and raging at the state from within. Relatedly, Act will push – via this ministry and other means – to increase the demand for public sector cuts up from the 6.5% National has said it will require.

Tough on crime

One of the heartiest three-way handshakes among the trio is on the three-strikes legislation. The issue is more about who gets credit for reinstating it – all are determined to demonstrate their tough-on-crime credentials. While Act, who introduced the bill alongside National in 2010, can claim it was their baby, NZ First can point to blindsiding Labour by applying the handbrake in 2018. (It was repealed the following term.) 

Though National is highly unlikely to consider anyone but Mark Mitchell for the police portfolio, Act will be keen on something in the law and order mix, such as corrections or associate justice.

The Treaty

Act campaigned full-throatedly on a referendum on the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi, at times suggesting it was a bottom line. That pledge, which many have decried as ahistorical and likely to engender civil unrest, seems unlikely to make the cut. Luxon continues it would be “divisive”, and may fear that such a project could swallow up a full term.

Seymour is likely still to want something in this area to sate some appetites in his support base, in the form perhaps of a public inquiry or a select committee inquiry, examining fundamental rights, governance arrangements and Treaty principles, complete with public hearings and the rest. 

(While it’s unlikely this referendum sees the light of day, it wouldn’t surprise me if one or both parties push for a 2026 referendum on a policy area that can be framed as a constitutional or conscience matter; strategically speaking, it adds an extra impetus to a small party to be championing a referendum cause in tandem with a general election.)


In a cost of living crisis, obvious targets of fury across the political spectrum are the massively profitable supermarkets and the massively profitable banks (chuck in the energy companies, too). Act is less inclined than other parties to disdain profit, but in acclaiming the fruits of free enterprise, they’ll focus instead on whether the enterprise is properly free. Grabbing the commerce portfolio would be a means to expand the war on regulation and plug into resource management reform.

NZ First is tipped to be scrapping for this territory, too – it would love to wear a great big “sheriff” badge and square up to the Australian corporations.


Act made real inroads in rural constituencies over the last three years and it could push for one of its prize signings and new MPs, former Federated Farmers president Andrew Hoggard, to take the agriculture portfolio, with a remit to lead a working group to identify regulations to cut and represent the sector in whatever the latest effort at RMA reform looks like. 

Some in National would resist relinquishing such a traditionally significant role, but coalitions mean compromises. 

A review of gun laws

Another important constituency for Act, which sprung out of David Seymour’s opposition to reforms post-March 15 that he decried as overhasty: firearms owners. National will be reluctant to wave through Act’s demands (such as binning the registry) wholesale, but they could well go along with a formal review of some sort that looks at the laws as a whole.


A fresh push on partnership aka charter schools is a reasonable bet under an Act associate education minister – in a rerun of Seymour’s project after the 2011 election – though there was less emphasis on this policy priority during the campaign than many expected, and National’s Erica Stanford is heavily favoured to be minister. 

Image: Archi Banal

Possible wins for NZ First

Foreign minister

Had one of NZ First or Act been comfortably the second biggest party of a governing trio, you’d expect one would supply the deputy prime minister. As it stands, the likelihood is that the role will instead go to Nicola Willis, who, like Bill English to John Key, would be finance minister and deputy PM (if it is a three-way formal coalition, chances are the support parties will get an associate finance minister apiece).

Winston Peter may instead be satisfied with a return to that other esteemed office of state, foreign minister. Given the geopolitical turmoil and heightened relevance of the Pacific, the role of New Zealand’s top diplomat amounts to much more than a bauble. And though at times – such as when he’s squirting out unhinged tweets seizing on a tragedy to falsely insinuate some kind of coverup by Jacinda Ardern’s office – it is hard to fathom, he has generally made a decent foreign minister in the past. 

Age of super

“Improving the lives of our seniors” is one of the five “election planks” for NZ First – and a perennial focus for the party. Top of the list on this front: “The age of retirement will remain at 65 years,” reads the header in the manifesto. “No ifs, buts, or maybes.”

While they’d be voted down 2-1 by the other two parties on this front – National wants to lift the age of qualification in the 2040s, Act wants to do it in five years – neither places anything like the emphasis on the issue that NZ First does. A handbrake on super changes, together with a supercharged Supergold Card, would be brandished as big wins by Peters.

Foreign property purchase

More traditional NZ First territory, and another chance to apply the handbrake to a central National pledge, by halting the opening of the door to foreign property buyers. It creates a fresh hole in revenue plans, given that National’s tax cuts were in part funded by a tax on foreign buyers, who would be eligible only to buy properties over $2m, but given the questions raised about projected revenue, they may not be too devastated to see it culled.

Given National’s commitments to tax cuts – Nicola Willis has staked her job on the promise – the question would be where the dollars would come from instead. Neither Act nor NZ First is likely to be troubled by tax cuts being revisited in amount or timing.

The regions

If the Provincial Growth Fund wasn’t a raging success, any fault lies with a “Wellington-centric” Labour Party, says NZ First. Its 2023 manifesto calls for a Regional Productivity Growth Fund – “what the PGF ought to have been from day one ie the infrastructure to unblock businesses who invest their private capital and to grow jobs.” If NZ First does get something here, economic circumstances mean it will be nothing like the billion-dollar budget of its forerunner.

The coalition deal with Labour in 2017 also included “a commitment to relocate government functions into the regions”. There are scant examples of this happening (Forestry NZ in Hamilton is one) and NZ First could look to have a go at this again, adding a relocation impulse to the public sector crackdown. 


There has been some speculation that NZ First (and perhaps Act, too) could be eyeing up the energy portfolio as a means by which to exert influence. Peters has spoken repeatedly about energy security, often in reference to Marsden Point, which has disestablished its refining capability. 

There are compelling energy security arguments in a volatile world and global economy to have a refining capability in Aotearoa, including crude oil drilled off Taranaki (which Marsden was unable to refine). For NZ First, a cynic might suggest, there is another factor: the Marsden Point cause has been latched on to by some in the “freedom movement”. 

The culture stuff

“Woke extremism” was a frequent target of a NZ First campaign to hoover up support by targeting everything from transgender bathroom use to vaccine injury claims. It’s not impossible, on the latter point, that NZ First could push to have the scope of the Royal Commission on the Covid-19 response expanded – though that carries with it the risk of upsetting the “mother of all revelations” crowd with things like science.

One option – which might find favour, too, with Act – would be to let loose some sort of “free-speech taskforce”. Or to seek to oblige the Human Rights Commission to put greater emphasis on free expression. Or, to hell with it, add free speech to the Reserve Bank mandate alongside inflation. 

Oh, and the first item listed under “transport” in NZ First’s manifesto? “‘Waka Kotahi’ to become ‘New Zealand Transport Agency’ once again, and end the ‘Boat on the Road’ nonsense.”

Minister for racing

Well, obviously.

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