'No end in sight': Hipkins criticises coalition talks as negotiations drag on

National leader Christopher Luxon arrives at a central Auckland hotel this morning for ongoing...
National leader Christopher Luxon. Photo: NZ Herald
Christopher Luxon again failed to conclude negotiations to form a new government over the weekend, with talks now dragging into the new week.

Luxon said National, Act, and NZ First were still yet to have conversations about ministerial positions, meaning an agreement could still be days away. Negotiations could stretch until the second half of this week, according to a source close to the talks.

Luxon met with NZ First leader Winston Peters for an hour on Sunday at Auckland’s Cordis hotel. He also spoke with Act leader David Seymour over the phone. Luxon said he had also spoken to his caucus, and that Party president Sylvia Wood had spoken with National’s board.

Whether those conversations were because a deal was close or to explain why talks were taking so long is unclear.

Leaving the meeting with Peters, Luxon insisted that a deal was close, repeating language he has used for the past three days, saying talks were in their "final stages".

He would not say whether the hold-up was over the same issues or whether new issues had emerged. The party’s foreign buyers’ tax and the tax policy it is meant to help pay for remain strongly opposed by NZ First.

"Three or less issues is the way I’d describe it, between National, NZ First and Act," Luxon said.

Luxon described yesterday’s meeting with Peters as "helpful". It was the first time he’s used that word to describe a meeting.

One issue that appears to be contentious is who would get positions like Deputy Prime Minister. National is almost certain to have plum roles like Speaker and Finance Minister, as well as Prime Minister.

This means there is hot competition for the role of Deputy Prime Minister between Act and NZ First. Act, though preferring policy wins to baubles, reckons it would be hard to justify keeping all four big roles with National or giving the deputy job to NZ First, given it is the smallest party of the three.

NZ First thinks the big roles should be divided up in a way fair to the three parties. National may once have thought that it might be easier for it to have the big four roles to avoid a scrap between Act and NZ First, although it appears to have been swiftly disabused of that notion.

Regardless, Luxon, emerging from a meeting with NZ First, said that detailed discussions have not progressed to portfolios or who would be Deputy Prime Minister.

They had been focused on policy and were leaving ministerial posts for the end of talks.

One person who is impatient for negotiations to conclude is Prime Minister Chris Hipkins.

Hipkins briefly took off his caretaker Prime Minister hat on Sunday to make a call in his capacity as Labour leader for a ceasefire in the Israel-Hamas war.

Labour leader Chris Hipkins took a subtle dig at the length of coalition talks yesterday. Photo:...
Labour leader Chris Hipkins took a subtle dig at the length of coalition talks yesterday. Photo: NZ Herald
He said he had sought approval of the National Party to make that call as caretaker Prime Minister, but National had not granted that approval. Ordinarily, the matter would have ended there, but Hipkins said that it was "untenable" for him "to stand by and watch the horrific scenes we are witnessing without calling for a ceasefire".

Hipkins said he had discussed the call with Labour’s caucus, many of whom feel a deep sense of injustice over the conflict.

Despite the international ambit of Hipkins’ statement, it had a strong subtext of domestic politics. Hipkins tactfully criticised how long National had taken to form a government, saying that as there was "no end in sight" to negotiations, he needed to make a statement as Labour leader.

"It’s been five weeks. I would have articulated the Labour Party’s position earlier, but I have been caretaker Prime Minister," Hipkins said.

"I conceded the election over five weeks ago. My boxes were packed several weeks ago. We are ready to hand over the keys just as soon as the incoming Government are ready to sort themselves out and do that," he said.

National quickly shot back, saying they had only been consulted on the ceasefire call on Friday, and were only warned of Hipkins’ press conference four minutes before it began.

A National Party spokesman said the party was approached about the ceasefire on Friday and "asked to see Mfat [Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade] advice on the matter - we provided feedback on that advice and indicated we were open to a discussion with Labour on it".

The spokesman said National supports a ceasefire but that conditions are not yet ready for one.