The negotiation over policy is over for National, Act and New Zealand First and now is the time for haggling over ministerial posts. Audrey Young looks at where some of the difficult decisions will lie and what their solutions could be.
Deputy prime minister
The problem is that Act leader David Seymour has more MPs, New Zealand First’s Winston Peters has more experience and National’s Christopher Luxon wants his own deputy, Nicola Willis, to be the go-to deputy in his absence.
There is also the issue of whether Seymour or Peters could speak for the National-led Government in his absence. Peters managed it when Dame Jacinda Ardern was away, but having him speak for Seymour as well as National, or Seymour speaking for NZ First as well as National when deputising, would be more problematic.
Seymour and Peters are behaving civilly and professionally now but it is not their natural state. They are making a big effort now but under strain, the natural tensions between their policies and personalities could emerge. Making one more senior than the other would accentuate that.
There are two creative solutions: the first would be to follow Fiji’s example and have three Deputy Prime Ministers, Willis, Seymour and Peters, or to give Seymour and Peters half a term each as Deputy Prime Minister.
Neither would work with the individuals involved.
The sensible option would be to make Willis Deputy PM and to compensate the smaller parties by giving them more than their share of ministerial posts or highly coveted roles - such as Public Service for Seymour and Energy for NZ First.
Minister of agriculture
The problem is that there is no standout candidate for the role. While National has been the party of farmers, it ran out of them. Rotorua townie and former Trade Minister Todd McClay ended up being National’s agriculture spokesman. All four of National’s working farmers were elected only this election: Grant McCallum in Northland, Suze Redmayne in Rangitīkei, Mike Butterick in Wairarapa and Miles Anderson in Waitaki.
Act has an experienced working farmer in Mark Cameron and signed up a former Federated Farmers president for its party list, Andrew Hoggard. Then with the return of NZ First came the return of former MP and Otago sheep and beef farmer Mark Patterson. Patterson chaired Otago Federated Farmers for the past three years as well.
One option would be to make Todd McClay Agriculture Minister, along with Trade, and give both Act and NZ First an associate ministerial role in agriculture with the understanding McClay would relinquish the role sometime during the term.
The problem is that the person National earmarked for the post, lawyer James Christmas, was not given a high-enough list place to make it into Parliament. The other problem is that NZ First’s Winston Peters wants the job. That could be problematic for several reasons. It is understood he wants the job primarily to have an impact on judicial appointments. That immediately raises the prospect of politicised appointments.
The other problem is that under the Public Service Act 2020, he would be responsible for the Serious Fraud Office, which prosecuted his party’s fundraising foundation and which is still before the courts under appeal. Peters last practised law in the 1970s but has had regular contact with the courts as the most litigious member of Parliament in living memory.
National has several options, the best being former Justice Minister Judith Collins, who practised law until 2002 and is a former president of the Auckland District Law Society. Other lawyers in the caucus include Chris Penk, Chris Bishop and Tama Potaka.
A creative but vexed solution would be to keep the portfolio with National but to get the approval of Act and New Zealand First for judicial appointments. The trouble with that is it contravenes the appointments protocol between the Attorney-General and the courts, last updated in 2014, which aims to keep appointments at arm’s length from the political arena. The independence of the courts is upheld by an independent appointment process.
The sensible option would be to appoint Collins and keep the appointment process free from political interference. The problems created by the courts in their judgments can be addressed in more specific ways by the Government of the day.
The first issue is whether or not to continue with the portfolio, and secondly, who should get it. The portfolio of Māori Crown Relations was a new one in 2017 in the Labour-NZ First Government and has been held since then by Kelvin Davis.
The Office for Māori Crown Relations - Te Arawhiti sits within the Ministry of Justice. Davis also chaired Cabinet’s Māori Crown Relations - Te Arawhiti committee.
All three parties of the incoming Government, National, Act and NZ First, have issues to address regarding the way the Treaty of Waitangi is treated in legislation, the debate required over the principles of the Treaty, the direction being taken by the public service and related issues such as the naming of government departments. The question is whether the programme of work should be best co-ordinated by a single minister and if so, who.
One option would be to get rid of the Minister for Māori Crown Relations altogether and NZ First’s Shane Jones has mentioned that in interviews. But the issue is then who would co-ordinate its related work. One option would be to make the Minister of Māori Development responsible for those broader duties of co-ordination.
A third and the most sensible option would be to keep the Minister for Māori Crown Relations in place as the co-ordinating minister to address the varied Treaty/Tiriti issues that will be on the new Government’s agenda. That would also include major changes to Te Arawhiti itself, if not its elimination. The person best qualified for that job is Jones himself as someone who walks in at least two worlds. It would require cross-government work and the unit already has well-established relations across the government sector.