Labour leader Chris Hipkins had taken a dig at the length of time it is taking National leader Christopher Luxon to conclude coalition talks.
Announcing that the Labour Party - as distinct from the caretaker Government - would be calling for a ceasefire in the Israel-Gaza conflict, Hipkins said that he had to speak up because there was “no end in sight” to the talks between National and its partners.
Hipkins said it was “untenable” for himself and the Labour Party “to stand by and watch the horrific scenes we are witnessing without calling for a ceasefire”.
“It’s been five weeks. I would have articulated the Labour party’s position earlier, but I have been caretaker Prime Minister,” Hipkins said.
“I conceded the election over five weeks ago. My boxes were packed several weeks ago. We are ready to hand over the keys just as soon as the incoming government are ready to sort themselves out and do that,” he said.
There are a maximum of three issues left to be resolved between National, Act and New Zealand First but Luxon believes he will be in Auckland for the next few days as negotiations drag on.
He acknowledged those remaining issues were “complex” and the parties still had “differences of opinions”, despite having been in negotiations for more than two weeks since the final election result was published.
The National leader emerged this afternoon from an hour-long meeting with NZ First leader Winston Peters, who upon leaving the meeting was coy about whether co-ordination between his party and Act had made National compromise on certain issues.
It’s been more than a fortnight since the final election result was known but Luxon, when asked whether a deal could be struck by the end of the coming week, declined to comment on when an agreement could be reached.
Luxon had earlier stated he would travel to Wellington before formally unveiling the arrangement of the next Government.
However, this afternoon Luxon said he believed he would be in Auckland for the next few days.
He described today’s meeting with Peters as “helpful”. It was the first time he’s used that word to describe a meeting.
For the rest of the day, Luxon would be speaking with the other two parties through “conference calls, phone calls and other stuff”.
”Three or less issues is the way I’d describe it, between National, NZ First and Act.”
The two parties had had no conversations about ministerial positions or who would be Deputy Prime Minister, Luxon stated.
They had been focused on policy and were leaving ministerial posts for the end of talks.
Luxon earlier said he believed that part of the process could be done quickly. He wouldn’t specify how many of the issues were between National and NZ First.
”[The issues] are difficult, they are complex, we have differences of opinion around them, we’re trying to find our way to reconcile a way through those respective issues.
”We’ll continue to work hard at doing that this afternoon, we’ll do that through virtual means rather than in-person.”
Asked why an in-person meeting with Peters was required either side of conversations over the phone, Luxon said: “There just might be a depth of conversation you want to get to that’s easier done in-person around a table than it is actually doing it through the telephone.”
Some political commentators had been critical of Luxon’s inability to secure a deal sooner, particularly following Luxon’s own comments about his experience completing deals while working with Unilever and Air New Zealand.
Luxon indicated he was unfazed by those critiques.
”People can say whatever they want to say but the reality is I’m in the room with the party leaders discussing the issues.
”There’s a lot of commentary, there’s a lot of people interviewing typewriters, coming to a whole bunch of different conclusions. I get it, but at the end of the day, I’m in the room with those leaders so we can deal with serious issues for New Zealanders.”
This morning, Luxon said he had spoken with National’s board and caucus. This afternoon, he clarified he had only spoken with caucus members impacted by matters agreed upon in negotiations.
”What I’ve been doing through the course of these negotiations is making sure that where there is policy that’s in a spokesperson’s area, that we’re aware of commitments that we’re making and they’re aware of the other parties’ positions and we’ve been pulling them in as we need to.”
He also clarified he hadn’t personally spoken with the board - that had been done by party president Sylvia Wood, who had been personally involved in negotiations in Auckland for several days this week.
Luxon said the board had been briefed on the “direction of travel but not detail” of how talks were going.
Given National was yet to finalise policy matters with NZ First, it meant Act was yet to see a formalised deal between its two other governing partners.
Luxon was confident Act would accept the terms National and NZ First had agreed to.
”I don’t think that will be insurmountable with the way we’ve gone about this process.”
Peters earlier emerged from his meeting with Luxon, which lasted roughly an hour. When asked whether a deal had been struck between National and NZ First, Peters said a lot of progress had been made.
”We’ll see how things develop, we’ve got some things to do, cross-checking between ourselves.” He said while talks had “always been positive”, they were “not easy” and “complex”.
Luxon this morning told reporters he’d spoken with Peters over the phone “very early this morning” ahead of today’s in-person meeting at the Cordis Hotel in Auckland.
”In three or four hours, issues move and things are moving and that’s why we want to close it out with a physical meeting,” Luxon said earlier.
Peters seemed to indicate the phone call between the pair was largely about logistics. Asked whether the two parties had made progress on the remaining policy differences, Peters said: “Well I sure hope so.”
Peters earlier said he and Act’s David Seymour had discussed common interests this morning.
Asked whether National had compromised on those issues following today’s meeting, Peters replied cryptically: “Why don’t we find out.”
Peters was asked about the cost of hiring hotel rooms for negotiations since Wednesday.
The NZ First leader fired back at media, saying it was a minor cost to settle democracy before criticising the $55 million Public Interest Journalism Fund, something he had opposed right through the election campaign.
Ahead of the meeting, Luxon said coalition talks had narrowed “down to one or two issues”.
“I just need to keep working with the parties on the outstanding issues,” he said.
Luxon and Peters had met every day at the Cordis since Thursday. Meetings normally lasted more than two hours but yesterday afternoon, the pair were done in less than 30 minutes.
He and Peters had a short phone call “very early this morning” but Luxon said there was still a need to meet in person.
”In three or four hours, issues move and things are moving and that’s why we want to close it out with a physical meeting,” he said.
Luxon repeated the three parties were in the “final stages”. He had made similar comments for the last three days. Luxon wouldn’t specify whether the unresolved issues had been the same as those discussed for the last three days, nor would he say what structure a potential deal would likely take.
Heading into the talks on Sunday, Peters was asked what he would be raising in the room with Luxon. He replied: “Progress.”
“We’ve been working seriously hard on it [the deal]... we’ll press on, you know. People are waiting for an answer. It’s seriously urgent now, but that’s what it takes,” Peters said. He had to cut short his impromptu press conference after he was shouted over by a member of the public.
Peters confirmed he had met with the Act Party this morning. Peters could not say this morning whether he would have further meetings that day.
Both Peters and Luxon said talks would take as long as they needed to take.
One aspect of the talks that is still unclear is whether NZ First and Act would sign separate deals with National, as has been the case in the past, or whether the three parties would ink one unified agreement.
Alongside phone calls with Seymour and Peters, Luxon said he’d had conversations with National’s negotiating team, the party’s board and its caucus about “key topics”.
Luxon confirmed he would announce in Auckland if a deal had been reached before travelling to Wellington to make a more formal declaration with specifics of the agreement.
Act leader Seymour told the Herald the talks he’d had with National’s Luxon and NZ First’s Peters were positive and his party stood ready to keep progressing negotiations “as rapidly as possible”.
He remained “very confident” the three parties could work together in government, saying relations between the three partners had improved over the two weeks since the final election result was known.
On Saturday, Luxon made assurances talks were “down to the last stages” and conceded the wait for a new government was “frustrating”. It has been more than a month since polling day and more than a fortnight since the Electoral Commission released its final tally of votes.
He said he would not put a date on when he thought talks would conclude, saying it would be “disingenuous”.
“We need to get this wrapped up. We are making progress, it’ll take as long as it takes, but it’s important,” he said.
Luxon and Peters met twice in person on Saturday, while talks between Luxon and Act leader David Seymour were done over the phone.
Peters caught observers by surprise on Saturday, emerging from his second meeting of the day after just half an hour.
Peters did not explain why the meeting had been so brief. His prior meeting that day had been two hours long, a similar time to his meetings with Luxon on Thursday and Friday.
Adam Pearse is a political reporter in the NZ Herald press gallery team, based at Parliament. He has worked for NZME since 2018, covering sport and health for the Northern Advocate in Whangārei before moving to the NZ Herald in Auckland, covering Covid-19 and crime.
Thomas Coughlan is Deputy Political Editor and covers politics from Parliament. He has worked for the Herald since 2021 and has worked in the press gallery since 2018.