John Key's Government today faces its first accountability test in Parliament since the November election when Question Time resumes - and it is expected to be a fiery affair.

After a politically charged fortnight, there will be no shortage of subjects on which Opposition parties will grill the Prime Minister. The sale of the Crafar farms to Shanghai Pengxin, the partial sale of state-owned assets, and the Maori Party's threat to pull support from the Government unless it gets the Treaty of Waitangi clause in asset-sale legislation are all likely to be raised.

Mr Key will attempt to show he is in control, despite Maori Party threats to walk, and the high volume of opposition politics dominating the start of the year.

The rivalry between the Maori and Mana Parties is likely to be raw. But there will also be focus on the major opposition parties - Labour, the Greens and New Zealand First - and their degree of competition or co-operation.


New Labour leader David Shearer told the Herald he hoped to get greater co-operation between the parties in a few weeks on Question Time.

"Questions are precious and what we don't want to do is to have the same question asked by different parties to the same person."

He will be put to the test himself today, leading his party for the first time beyond the scripted speech with which he ended 2011.

Some of the attention this week will be on veteran parliamentary performer NZ First leader Winston Peters, who has returned with seven other MPs, six of them novices, after three years in the wilderness. Speaker Lockwood Smith, who took a firm line last term on behaviour in the House, does not believe Mr Peters will be a problem , saying he was an "astute enough politician to see that things have changed".

Labour and NZ First have a co-operative history already. Mr Peters was Labour's Foreign Minister between 2005 and 2008. Labour also backed him in a fierce backroom fight with the Greens in December over House seating plans.

The Greens won the better position, next to the main aisle, but later that week Mr Peters attacked them as fair-weather friends for citing as one of their supporting arguments their prospective co-operation with National. additional reporting Amelia Romanos


Parliamentary poster - A8