Justice Minister Andrew Little has accused Winston Peters of mis-characterising his position on rent relief for businesses hit by Covid-19 and mocked NZ First's own proposals for the area as "laughable".
While the former Labour leader claimed the coalition was in good shape, he blamed NZ First for a delay in reaching an agreement which he claimed was close to the one he originally proposed in April.
On Thursday morning Little announced that the Government had reached a deal which would allow qualifying businesses which could not agree to rent relief because of Covid-19 disruption to force their landlord into compulsory arbitration.
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The plan will only apply to businesses which can demonstrate a "material" drop in revenue, are New Zealand-based, have not reached a deal over rent relief already and which have 20 or fewer full-time equivalent staff per lease site.
When the deal was announced, NZ First leader Winston Peters quickly claimed that his party was responsible for ensuring the new rent relief was "fairly applied".
NZ First's statement said some businesses were struggling due to fixed costs such as rent as a result of the Covid-19 lockdown.
"However the solution to this problem is not to alter Contract Law for ALL existing lease arrangements, which is what our coalition partner wanted," a statement from Peters said.
"This would've been poorly targeted policy and affected many landlords who've sensibly adapted to the changed circumstances brought by Covid-19."
Little said this was not an accurate characterisation of Labour's position. The proposal which was circulated in April - which NZ First refused to back - always included exclusions.
Not only was the proposal always going to exclude businesses which had reached an agreement with their landlord, Little said, businesses which were able to operate with staff working from home without a material loss of revenue would also be excluded.
Little said that after NZ First refused to back his proposal, it promised to come up with its own counter proposal.
"The first time they provided an alternative proposal was last Friday," Little told the Herald on Thursday.
"I'm not going to go into the detail of it. It was frankly laughable. Within a day, they withdrew it," Little said.
Little said it was up to NZ First to disclose the proposal, but "it wasn't going to achieve a solution for anyone".
Peters has said the party's position was partly driven by the sanctity of contract law.
Little said Parliament often put limits on contract law, particularly commercial leases.
"The Property Law Act in particular includes a number of implied provision in commercial lease agreements. That is the nature of a lot of statute law covering this sort of thing".
Little said: "the package we've announced is very close to the package I proposed on the 30th of April" with the only change a limit on the scale of businesses which would qualify.
When asked if NZ First had negotiated in good faith, Little said: "When we actually did some negotiations they were excellent. I'm not sure why it took as long as it did for them to provide a counter proposal, but it did take that long, and in the end, they're going to have to answer for that."
Peters has been approached for comment.
Little said the situation reflected the approach to the election.
"The state of the Coalition is fine, it's very strong. But I think we can all see the closer we get to an election the parties, in particular the parties in Government, want and need to distinguish themselves."
While he said that he had no problem with that generally, in this case it had led to a delay in finding relief for tenants.