Jacinda Ardern is as much to blame as Winston Peters for the debacle last week over refugee numbers.

Both the Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister should be admitting to their colleagues at tomorrow's cabinet that they were equally culpable for creating a perception of Coalition chaos, and they should be looking for way to avoid it.

Peters was largely blamed for contradicting Ardern last week over a commitment to double the refugee quota.

In fact, she contradicted him - although that is a minor point.


He was interviewed first by reporters in Nauru and when the reporter substituted "Labour policy" for "Government policy" as though they were the same thing, like Pavlov's dog he went into aggressive denial.

That reaction was then misinterpreted as Peters insisting there was no way he would ever in a million years ever agree to a refugee quota of 1500.

And the aggression to a television viewer appeared aimed at Ardern, rather than the press pack he was addressing.

A short time after Peters' interview, Ardern was asked in Wellington if the Government was committed to doubling the refugee quota to which she foolishly said yes.

They were both unwittingly complicit in setting a trap for the other.

In a perfect Coalition, Ardern's office would have been sent Peters' audio from Nauru, had it transcribed before she held her own post cabinet press conference, and alerted her to the fact refugee numbers were a contentious issue of the day for media.

The lack of communication is not the crux of the problem, however.

It is that the Government can't seem to agree at which point party policy becomes "Government policy."


It has been a recurring problem. Carmel Sepuloni said the Government would be getting rid of sanctions against mothers on the DPB who won't name the father. That is not a done deal.

Workplace Relations Minister Iain Lees-Galloway said the Government would abolish the 90-day trial period for new workers. New Zealand First forced a compromise on that.

Justice Minister Andrew Little said the Government would repeal the Three Strikes law. New Zealand First has slowed down the process and wants to it in the context of wider reform.

Ardern has been at pains to point out that the only Labour policy that is guaranteed to be implemented is in the coalition agreement with New Zealand First or the confidence and supply agreement with the Greens, or in the 100-day plan or in the Speech from the Throne.

Labour's commitment to double the refugee quota was not in any of those documents. Until it agreed Government policy, it is not Government policy.

It was mentioned in a press release as part of the 2018 Budget as well for an upgrade of the Mangere resettlement centre.

While both the Greens and New Zealand First have signed up to everything in the Budget, a line in a press statement is not the same as a negotiated agreement. All three parties of Government have all signed up to the upgrade for the centre, but the numbers is not yet settled.

The negotiations on the quota are under way now as Iain Lees-Galloway drafts a Cabinet paper. New Zealand First may not agree with 1500 or it may do so with conditions.
New Zealand First does not agree to anything for nothing.

Ardern and Peters need to set protocols on "Government policy" that are followed from the top down.

Labour's commitments are not automatically Government commitments. Ardern has made that clear enough to others. Now she has to follow her own rules.