Winston Peters says his negotiations with National and Labour are all about policies. "Let's sort out the things that really matter," he cautioned reporters on Sunday. "Policy is everything. Otherwise it's just about personalities, isn't it. And that's your guys' game." So let's take him at his word. The New Zealand First website contains quite a smorgasbord of policies on everything from banking to the bloodstock industry. Some items are clearly there to entice Labour and the Greens, fewer have been laid out for National.
On transport, for example, Peters' party wants government and council vehicles to have zero carbon emissions by 2026, and wants to build a national network of electric vehicle charging points. It wants to develop fully electrified "railways of national importance" which would include a complete rebuild of Northland's line and reinstatement of the Wairoa-to-Gisborne line. On ports and shipping, besides its wish to relocate the Port of Auckland at Northport, Peters would requite KiwiRail to "purchase purpose-built road and rail ferries and not cast-offs". Is that important?
The manifesto contains many things not many people knew were a problem. The party is worried about airport companies' pricing, so much so that it wants to set a fair rate of return for them and have five-yearly reviews of their charges to airlines. It wants the Government to bank with Kiwibank and guarantee all deposits in majority-owned New Zealand registered banks. It wants to establish a state-owned insurance company and a government-owned KiwiSaver provider that would invest in New Zealand assets and infrastructure. It would direct the Super Fund to invest in infrastructure and buy shares in state enterprises.
Its horse racing policy sets minimum prizes and racing and breeding objectives, presumably involving public finance, that would largely restore the pork Peters delivered to the industry as Racing Minister in the last Labour Government. One plank, for example, promises to "direct police, the IRD and Treasury to respect the spirit of laws passed to assist racing so we do not have specious departmental interpretations of laws that are clear to the industry". That is not the language of responsible public policy. Surely neither major party will listen. Labour will be more amenable to NZ First's proposal to cancel student loans for New Zealanders who stay and work in this country after their studies and abolish parental means tests for student allowances. National will be attracted to NZ First tax reductions, though not to removing GST from "basic" food and council rates. Both major parties could offer Peters the job of cracking down on international tax avoidance if he wants to get his teeth into something.
But pensioners are always Peters' primary beneficiaries. These talks will probably put three free doctors visits a year on the SuperGold card along with discounts on winter power bills. Overseas pensions may no longer be deducted from the NZ Super entitlement.
The policy list is extensive and no items have costs assessed. It is hard to see how much of it can be agreed by Thursday.