By AUDREY YOUNG and FRANCESCA MOLD
Prime Minister Helen Clark yesterday paid tribute to the Act party for ruling out working with New Zealand First.
And she took the opportunity to categorically rule out a potential coalition deal with Winston Peters - something she has not done before.
"I have been saying for some time that working with NZ First formed no part of our preferences because of offensive and daft policies," she said.
Asked if that was the same as ruling out the party, she said: "I have ruled out a coalition with NZ First. I have been ruling it out for days for anyone who cared to listen."
Data obtained from a Herald-DigiPoll survey this week shows that most NZ First supporters do not want to go into coalition with Labour anyway. The survey of 1148 voters found that almost 49 per cent of those who had chosen NZ First as their preferred party wanted it to stay out of coalition and support the Government on important issues. Nearly 30 per cent favoured a coalition with National, compared with almost 20 per cent who wanted Mr Peters to strike a coalition deal with Labour.
Mr Peters has consistently said he wants to wait until voters indicate their preference on election night before making a decision.
"On 28 July, we'll all have our answer from the people of this country," he said.
He was not concerned by Helen Clark's attack. She had "lost the plot" because she was worried about Labour's vote eroding to NZ First.
Mr Peters said his party had supported Labour on a number of occasions over the past 2 1/2 years "when their policies had made sense".
"If people are asking, can we work with Labour, the answer is yes we can, and we have," he said. "We know that she likes us deep down."
But Mr Peters has refused to discuss whether he would consider joining with National. Yesterday he said National was in "freefall" and irrelevant to the campaign.
National leader Bill English has not ruled out a possible coalition that would include NZ First. He would govern with the support of "like-minded" parties.
Act has said it would not sit around a Cabinet table with Mr Peters. But it has not ruled out giving support on votes in Parliament.
"I want to give Act some credit, they ruled out working with Winston Peters," said the Prime Minister in Masterton yesterday.
"My reading of the public mood is that people want to see the Government returned and what people are focusing on in the countdown to the campaign is who it will work with."
Helen Clark described a call by Mr English for small-party voters to return to National as "pretty desperate stuff".
She did not believe it was feasible for National, New Zealand First, Act and United Future to work together.
A snap Herald-DigiPoll conducted over the weekend indicated that those parties might yet gather enough support to govern together.
The poll found Labour on 40.8 per cent, National on 23.6 per cent, New Zealand First at 10.2, Act at 8.1, the Greens 6.9 per cent and United Future on 6.6.
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