A policy-by-policy government, with each issue only progressing if there’s a parliamentary majority.
And another election next year if, by Budget 2024, there’s no agreement on government spending.
This is the hypothetical possibility in the confidence-only governing arrangement that Act leader David Seymour is floating if the numbers fall National and Act’s way, but National is unwilling to shift the dial far enough.
There’s a lot that National and Act agree on, such as the law and order space, but there are also substantial differences when it comes to government spending and tax.
So might it transpire that National comes to implement its tax package in Budget 2024 and Act refuses to support it, leading to a new election?
We’re getting way ahead of ourselves.
What Seymour is clear about is that he won’t stop Christopher Luxon from becoming Prime Minister, and, in an ideal world, they would agree on a coalition platform.
“The strong preference is that you actually nut out the outline of what’s going to happen for the next three years in a coalition agreement - and then you keep your word,” Seymour told the Herald.
But if post-election negotiations break down, Act could decide to pledge support for Luxon as Prime Minister but nothing more.
“At the extreme, you might end up with each Budget and each extra initiative requiring a negotiation. Now, that would be painful for everybody. We just make the point that we’re prepared to do it if absolutely required,” Seymour said.
“My sense is that they’re always going to come back to the table. But it’s about getting the best deal.
“If you’ve committed to vote for every Budget unconditionally, then you’ve really given up the chance to be influential, to make sure that the change of government is more than just a change in personnel.”
Act could offer confidence-only and theoretically still be at the Cabinet table, but Seymour said it would probably mean a National minority government.
Minority governments are fairly common in Canada, he added.
“It’s not an unusual thing. This is not wild or radical. We’re just being more transparent about the relationship that we’d like to have on the one hand, and are prepared to have if necessary on the other.”
It could also mean a potential impasse come Budget 2024, says Otago University legal expert Professor Andrew Geddis.
“What Act seems to be saying is, ‘Look, if in that period of negotiation after the election we can’t get what we want, then we’ll let National get in and start governing. And we will carry on negotiating fiscal matters until 2024, when the Budget has to happen. If we reach an agreement by then, great, government can carry on. But if we haven’t, well, we pull the pin’.”
Geddis said not supporting a minority government on supply is essentially a vote of no-confidence in the government.
“At that point, it seems hard to see how you’d have anything but a new election,” he said.
“It’s a very high-risk strategy. It may work. But if it goes wrong and National, in essence, calls their bluff, then they’re faced with either having to back down and looking a bit silly, or alternatively actually taking the country back to the polls.”
Labour will certainly not be unhappy with Seymour’s comments, with leader Chris Hipkins portraying them as a recipe for instability.
But another election would be extremely unlikely.
It would mean the National and Act relationship was so irreconcilable that they’d be prepared to go back to the polls, where they’d be severely punished for failing to put together a workable government.
So some pre-election posturing, then?
Luxon seemed to hint at this by dismissing questions about Seymour’s confidence-only arrangement.
“I just don’t think that’s going to be a reality at all,” Luxon said.
”David Seymour and I have a good personal relationship. We’re going to have a very constructive relationship in government.”
Luxon side-stepped questions about whether Seymour was bluffing, and dismissed talk about a National minority government as hypothetical.
On that latter point he agreed with Seymour, who said: “All of this is ridiculously hypothetical because no one’s even voted yet.”
Derek Cheng is a senior journalist who started at the Herald in 2004. He has worked several stints in the press gallery team and is a former deputy political editor.