PoliticsNovember 24, 2023

‘We don’t answer stupid questions’: Inside the strong and stable coalition announcement


Everything that happened in parliament as Christopher Luxon, Winston Peters and David Seymour signed the final_final_FINAL_2.pdf coalition agreements.

Christopher Luxon chose the Beehive’s Banquet Hall to debut his new government. It has a flash, corporate feel, with views of Lambton Quay’s tallest office buildings. It’s where he gave his first speech as National Party leader. Despite being in the same building, it feels a world away from the Beehive Theatrette, the room where Winston Peters made his coalition decision in 2017, and which has been etched into the nation’s memory as the home of the Covid-19 briefings. 

On the stage this morning were three podiums, all of equal height, with a wooden desk on the side for sitting and signing documents. Behind them hung nine New Zealand flags – no doubt signifying the nine separate pieces of paper on which the Treaty of Waitangi was signed at the birth of this great nation. 

The NZ First MPs and staff arrived first. They greeted the National and Act MPs a few minutes later. Shane Jones gave Chris Bishop and Simeon Brown an impressively insincere hongi, barely touching while still somehow managing to brush a couple of millimetres of nose skin. 

The coalition agreements arrived in our media inboxes 12 minutes before the announcement. There was a literal gasp from the press benches as everyone scrambled to check their email. The two documents were sent as: “National_Act_Agreement.pdf” and “NZFirst Agreement 2.pdf”.

The first big takeaway: there would be two deputy prime ministers. Winston Peters and David Seymour would each have the job for a year and a half. 

Winston Peters, Christopher Luxon and David Seymour at today’s coalition announcement (Photo: Marty Melville/AFP via Getty Images)

After weeks of negotiation, crashed scooters, and journalists hanging around in airports, it was showtime. The three leaders emerged together from the elevator, then strode strongly and stably across the black and white tiles, through the bridge, to the Banquet Hall.

“We’re here not just to form a government, but to form a strong and stable government,” Luxon said, rolling out the greatest hits to a couple of quiet sniggers from the back of the room.

As Luxon ran through the details of Aotearoa’s first-ever three-party coalition government, Seymour stared at his new prime minister, nodding in agreement and doing his best attempt at a blue steel face. Peters kept his eyes down and coughed conspicuously at the mention of the foreign buyer tax, which he had successfully negotiated out of National’s platform. With his notes sufficiently reviewed, he began casting his eyes around like a lizard scanning the desert for prey, intimidating, unblinking. 

Luxon handed Peters the first chance to speak. The NZ First leader laughed and shook his shoulders like he was warming up for a tussle. 

“Thank you very much prime minister, and David, ah… Congratulations…” he drawled, leaving a pregnant pause with just enough room for a four-letter word that starts with c and rhymes with fuck. 

Almost immediately, he turned his withering gaze to the media. “Please don’t be mathematical morons,” he spat, insisting the coalition negotiations took three weeks, and should be counted from the date special votes were confirmed, not the 40 days since the election. 

“Shane [Jones] said 40 days,” NZ Herald’s Claire Trevett heckled.

“Don’t argue about it, it’s not a competition,” Peters shot back. “If you wanna argue with me, you should have been there before the election. Maybe I’d have got more votes.”

“Alright, alright, OK,” Luxon said, attempting to get his strong and stable press conference back on track. 

Winston Peters makes a point (Photo: Marty Melville/AFP via Getty Images)

David Seymour spoke of a “reservoir of trust and belief” between the three leaders and managed to shoehorn his own party slogan, promising “a government of real change”. This prompted a pressed-lip smile/grimace from Luxon. 

The Act leader stumbled over his words briefly when talking about new migrants having the opportunity to “work and play” in New Zealand. He quickly corrected that unintentionally kind phrasing – “work and pay tax” is what he’d meant to say. Then, he turned his attention to the most downtrodden minority group in New Zealand society: “Landlords will be treated with dignity,” he pledged. 

After a brief interlude to sign the final_final_FINAL_2.pdf coalition agreements, the leaders returned to the podiums.

“Righto,” Luxon began, with a deep breath, as he kicked off almost 30 minutes of questions about every part of the agreements, from the pension age (staying at 65), to the Treaty of Waitangi referendum (goneburger, but the government will support a Treaty principles bill through its first reading), to the level of public service cuts (6.5%). 

Peters was the star of the show, relishing his return to sparring with the media. “Please don’t start off this government with your antagonistic attitude. You lost, you lost,” he said, eyes fixed on the Newshub team. “We don’t answer stupid questions,” he jibed when asked if he trusted his coalition partners. “Please understand what real life looks like for adults.”

He bristled at the suggestion he and David Seymour were sharing the role of deputy prime minister. “We’re not sharing it. I’m taking the first 18 months, he’s taking the second,” he said, accurately describing how sharing works. He rested his elbow on the podium, chin in hand, looking upon the crowd with equal parts mirth and repulsion. 

As the final questions wrapped up, the three leaders beamed with pride. “Thank you very much, we’re going to go to work,” Luxon said. He turned to Seymour, weirdly reaching out to touch his right elbow, before looking back to check on his other shared-but-not-shared-co-deputy-prime-minister.

Peters gestured with his thumb to suggest they exit to the left, while Seymour bolted straight for the right. After hesitating for a moment, the other two followed suit. 

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