The NZ First caucus will meet tomorrow morning in advance of the first meetings between leader Winston Peters and his team and Labour leader Jacinda Ardern and National leader Bill English this week.
Peters has refused to enter serious talks to form the next government, saying he wanted to wait until the results of special votes came through on Saturday but told the Herald he had agreed to holding initial talks later this week. The first talks with both Jacinda Ardern and Bill English are not expected until Thursday.
He is sticking to his October 12 deadline for a final decision and said that included the details of any agreement, despite English expressing reservations about the tight time frame of just five days after the final election results come through on October 7.
English said this morning that it had taken up to two weeks for negotiations and to draw up agreements with its previous support partners, Act, United Future and the Maori Party, even when it had been clear all three would be support parties and they had worked together in the past.
The NZ First negotiations will be more complicated, given Peters can choose between the two and his options range from a full coalition inside Cabinet, a support agreement offering confidence and supply in return for some ministerial posts outside Cabinet, to sitting on the cross benches offering support on a case-by-case basis in return for minimal policy gains. Both Labour and National are likely to push for a greater commitment than the cross benches to ensure stability.
Both Labour and National have been working out what policies and positions they might be able to offer in return for NZ First support and the initial talks will be a chance to test those out on Peters - and to hear what Peters is seeking. The latter could range from personnel changes - Peters is no fan of David Carter as Speaker, for example - to policies on superannuation and immigration. One of the parties could also offer up a "deal" in Northland to help Peters - or NZ First MP Shane Jones - win the seat in 2020 to give it a lifeline to ensure its future should Peters retire. Peters has railed against such deals and is unlikely to want an overt deal.
Peters' MPs will meet in Wellington tomorrow morning and are expected to sort out the negotiating team.
English was first to make personal contact with Peters, calling him yesterday and getting a call back this morning. Peters denied he had ignored English's initial attempt to call, saying he had been in Northland out of cellphone range until late last night. He said he returned the call because it was "the courteous thing to do".
Although English was first to make contact, Jacinda Ardern called Peters soon after he spoke to English.
Peters may wait until Thursday to meet with Ardern and English as he has a funeral to attend on Wednesday.
Peters refused to comment on speculation about the Greens talking to National and whether that was simply an attempt to spook Peters.
"What I think does not matter. That's up for them to think about. We are a freedom party above all things. You're free to write what you think."
Green Party Leader James Shaw appeared to be happy for Labour to lead negotiations, saying only he would wait to see what their approach was before his party made any plans of its own.
It would wait until after the special votes were reported before trying to call or schedule a meeting with NZ First - Ardern has said she would prefer to have separate talks with the Greens and NZ First.
Shaw does not plan to make any approach to National, but has said that he would "hear out" English if he called.
English did not give any indication of whether he would call them, but it would be a "big shift" for the Greens to talk to National.
"Ideally there could be some indication that they could seriously negotiate but we'll see how that unfolds this week."
He said the Greens had consistently said that a vote for them was a vote to change the Government.
"By that I think they mean to a Labour-Greens Government. Now they fell a bit short of that, and I think they are probably in a position that they hadn't quite expected and are trying to work out what to do with it.
But it does look like a big shift would be required from them to be seriously negotiating just with National."
Both National and Labour are yet to set out their final negotiating teams - Labour's will be led by Ardern and deputy Kelvin Davis but Ardern refused today to say who else would be on it. It is likely to include either Michael Cullen - although he is set to go overseas this weekend - or Annette King.
National's is expected to involve English and possibly Gerry Brownlee and Todd McClay.