The ‘strong, stable’ label fable

Twas the month before Christmas, when all through the House

Not a politician was stirring, not even a mouse;

The agreement was sitting on the table with care

In the hope even the deputy PM might be there.

(With apologies to Clement Clarke Moore from 1837).

With just a month to go to Christmas, plenty of yuletide metaphors spring to mind following yesterday’s much-vaunted signing of the coalition government agreement by the leaders of the National Party, Act New Zealand and New Zealand First, Christopher Luxon, David Seymour and Winston Peters respectively.

Messrs Luxon, Seymour and Peters have been busy with parcels to go under the tree in every New Zealand household this Christmas. Underneath the wrapping paper is likely to be a photograph of the triumvirate smiling and promising three years of "strong, stable" government.

The three wise men came bearing gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. But in this case, who is carrying which one?

If you listen carefully, you might catch the sound of a nationwide sigh of relief that we finally have a new government after an interregnum of either 20 or 40 days, depending on who you listen to.

Caretaker prime minister Chris Hipkins has of course still nominally been in charge. But next week, as the new ministers are sworn in, he can start his job as leader of the opposition and begin to rebuild the Labour Party.

It does seem rather unfortunate timing to have the signing of the coalition agreement on Black Friday. Given the growth in popularity in recent years of this very American shopping phenomenon, there is a sizeable risk that many Kiwis are more excited about snaffling a cut-price air-fryer, mattress topper or La-Z-Boy than they are about their new prime minister and his government.

NZ First leader Winston Peters, National's Christopher Luxon and Act's David Seymour in coalition...
NZ First leader Winston Peters, National's Christopher Luxon and Act's David Seymour in coalition negotiations. Photo: supplied
All that aside, incoming PM Mr Luxon, Mr Peters and Mr Seymour looked positively radiant as they arrived late yesterday morning to announce the coalition details against the backdrop of five magnificently folded New Zealand flags.

Mr Luxon wasted no time in announcing the deputy prime minister-in-waiting is Mr Peters, who will have the first 18 months in the role before handing over to Mr Seymour for the second half of the term.

This appears a sensible compromise. Mr Peters’ experience in the role is a good reason to anoint him as deputy. By the time Mr Peters hands over to Mr Seymour at the end of May 2025 he will hopefully have shown his successor how to do the job, or perhaps how not to, given his penchance for irascibility.

Mr Peters will also be foreign minister, while Mr Seymour takes on the new portfolio of minister of regulation, which will enable him to oversee his desired oxymoronic ministry for anti-bureaucracy.

Deputy National leader Nicola Willis will be finance minister and also interestingly associate minister of climate change.

We say interestingly, because Mr Luxon has chosen to appoint two National ministers outside Cabinet: Simon Watts and Penny Simmonds as minister of climate change and minister for the environment respectively. That doesn’t seem to reflect a high priority for these hugely important issues.

In all there will be 20 Cabinet ministers, 14 from National and three each from Act NZ and NZ First, with eight ministers outside Cabinet.

Among the announcements yesterday was that National’s planned foreign house-buyer tax proposal has been scrapped as part of its agreement with NZ First. However, Ms Willis was quick to say the new government was still committed to tax cuts, which will be partly funded through cuts elsewhere.

Act’s desire for a Treaty of Waitangi referendum has been pushed back a step or two, but a policy to remove references to its principles in legislation and for Parliament to consider a referendum to redefine those principles is likely to go ahead.

At the signing, Mr Peters couldn’t resist taking some potshots while wearing his widest grin. As things wrapped up, Mr Luxon said "we are going to go to work".

That is encouraging to hear. But the bigger issue is, is it going to work? Only time will tell how strong and stable this three-headed coalition really will be.