The Coalition Government is now presenting a united front on the "three strikes" law debacle, with New Zealand First leader and Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters backing Justice Minister Andrew Little "to the hilt".
After a series of statements that seemed at odds on Monday and this morning, New Zealand First and Labour are refusing to be drawn on the detail of conversations around Little's decision to pull a Cabinet paper on repealing the three strikes law.
"I have a lot of confidence in Andrew Little in terms of his reform capacity when it comes to the justice portfolio which is seriously in need of reform and I back him to hilt. I'm not going to get into a scrap on a petty little sideshow like this," Peters told reporters on his way into Parliament today.
Peters, who was standing in for Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern in the House today, would not comment on previous conversations he or his party might have had with Little ahead of his announcement last week that he would take a paper seeking to have the law repealed.
Earlier today, Little refused to go into detail about conversations with New Zealand First that might have given him the impression it was onboard with any decision to repeal the three strikes law.
"That's irrelevant. The point is that they got to the point last week where they said they weren't prepared to support the repeal of three strikes at this point," he told reporters.
The New Zealand First caucus met this morning to discuss its position on the proposal to repeal the law.
Law and order spokesman Darroch Ball said the law, officially known as the Sentencing and Parole Reform Act 2010, provided a firm framework to deter recidivism and sent a clear message to the most serious offenders.
"While New Zealand First agrees with the need for legislative changes to prevent the moral failure and fiscal burden of an ever growing prison muster, 'three strikes' is not the priority in this necessary reform effort," Ball said in a statement.
Little said publicly last week he would take a paper to Cabinet on Monday on the repeal but yesterday announced he had dropped the paper.
Calling the law the "high water mark of policy stupidity", today, he acknowledged that it must stay for now.
"When you change laws you've got to have the numbers to do so, that's the nature of parliamentary politics, and in a coalition government it is even more so," he told RNZ.
Little indicated he had the support of New Zealand First while the paper was being prepared but it had changed its mind.
"In order to get a proposal ready to go to Cabinet you go through a variety of hoops ... I'd gone through every one of those hoops. More recently New Zealand First had reconsidered their position, which they're quite entitled to do."
The party had told him last week it would prefer to consider a broader justice reform package together and not individual elements.
Peters has confirmed in the House that Little followed proper process in consulting coalition parties before announcing he would seek to repeal the 'law.
Peters, who answered questions on behalf of Ardern in her absence, confirmed to National leader Simon Bridges that Little had followed Cabinet process.
"Is the position quite clear then, from the Prime Minister's perspective, that this went through good Cabinet processes and consultation with support parties and they simply changed their mind," Bridges asked.
Peters, for Ardern, said: "The reality is that in this Government, when people have heard all the facts, they do sometimes change their mind."
The proposal was "off the table for now," Peters said.
Outside the House, Act leader David Seymour said the right decision had been made.
"Even if you disagree with three strikes, the idea that you would take 242 convicted violent and sexual offenders and say 'hey the next one's on us' is just madness. It was the right thing to retain it."
Bridges earlier today described Little's handling of the issue as haphazard and incompetent.
"What we still don't quite understand here ... whether ultimately this has been Andrew Little's complete process failure and inability to do the basics around Cabinet and consultation with support partners or whether in fact it's the New Zealand First party having second thoughts, having been through actually acceptable process."
National's justice spokesman Mark Mitchell said the entire coalition Government had to take responsibility but Little had been stabbed in the back by New Zealand First. He believed New Zealand First must have supported the proposal initially before vetoing it after gauging public opinion.
Under the law, which was passed by the National-led government in 2010, a person with three warnings after serious violent, sexual or drugs convictions must be sentenced to the maximum jail time without parole unless the sentencing judge believed it would be manifestly unjust.