Deal close but Willis won't be Deputy PM

National's deputy leader Nicola Willis and Chris Bishop arrive at Wellington Airport on Wednesday...
National's deputy leader Nicola Willis and Chris Bishop arrive at Wellington Airport on Wednesday morning. Photo: RNZ
National MP Nicola Willis has confirmed she's not in the running to be Deputy Prime Minister, with coalition talks now at a point a deal could be signed as early as Thursday.

National, ACT and New Zealand First have been trying to form a coalition since the general election on October 14 and special votes result, and had "done the policy work first and foremost", National leader Christopher Luxon said this week.

"All three parties have made trade-offs along the way and that will be revealed when we make our final announcement, from our point of view all parties are getting the major parts of their agenda away."

Luxon said National shared the two deals with ACT and New Zealand First on Sunday night, another key step in the process.

The leaders of those two parties, David Seymour and Winston Peters respectively, have also been in close communication, meeting and talking on a regular basis.

There were also many areas of overlap, Luxon said, with "all three parties...very determined to grow the economy, make it more productive, make sure that we restore law and order, deliver better public services and strengthen democracy".

Once an agreement has been reached, the proposed coalition deal will be sent to the party's boards for final approval.

Deputy PM undecided

In the last 24 hours, the parties have agreed how they will work together in Cabinet and how to handle potential disagreements. The final matter is the allocation of ministerial positions, including the role of Deputy Prime Minister.

Willis, National's deputy leader, flew back to Wellington after talks in Auckland today and told reporters it was up to incoming Prime Minister Luxon to decide.

"I've made it clear to him I don't have any expectation whatsoever of getting it," she told RNZ today. 

She said she was happy to just "get on", form a government, and do her job as finance minister.

She said was comfortable with either Seymour or Peters becoming Deputy Prime Minister. 

Seymour yesterday made a public pitch for it, arguing that - as the second largest party - there's a case for ACT to get it. He said the same proportionality argument could be applied to the number of ministerial positions given to his party within the new executive.

Peters has been making general comments to reporters outside the meeting venues through the week about progress of the talks, while noting the ongoing need for confidentiality.

He has served as Deputy Prime Minister twice, from 1996 to 1998 (with National) and 2017 to 2020 (with Labour). 

MPs back in capital 

Some of National's top-ranked MPs, including Willis and Chris Bishop, flew to Wellington this morning in further signs a deal for a new government is near.

Willis told reporters at Auckland Airport discussions were ongoing - but, asked what her departure meant, said: "It means that my work here is done".

On landing in the capital, Willis said she hoped a deal was almost there but had no specific updates and there were no plans at this point for the caucus to meet on Wednesday. 

"This is where my family live. I have four children: 13, 12, 10 and eight and they're pretty keen to see their mum."

Bishop, a senior MP and member of National's negotiating team, said his departure was not a sign a deal had been done - more a matter of laundry.

"I've run out of clothes, I'm currently wearing Christopher Luxon's shirt," he told a surprised RNZ reporter at Auckland Airport.

"He lent me a blue shirt," explained Bishop.

His journey did not mean a deal had been signed, he insisted, "it just means I've got to go home, I've been away for three-and-a-half nights and I was up here for one".

In Wellington, he told reporters the talks were progressing well, but said Parliament would be unable to sit next week.

The first sitting days would "depend on the quickness of the governing arrangements being reached, so it's all a bit in flux but it won't be for some days".

"It's not going to be next week because we're, what are we now, Wednesday morning, yeah it's not going to be next week. There's a variety of things that have to happen for the House to sit so it's not going to be next week."

National Party president Sylvia Wood was also seen at Auckland Airport this morning.