Many of the changes that Peters has proposed could be workable, says Fran O'Sullivan.

What does Winston want? It's the question that has occupied the negotiating teams for National and Labour, who had their first meeting with New Zealand First's negotiating team this week.

It has also been occupying the business sector.

The policy agreements that are made between NZ First and the party which ultimately becomes the lead player in the next Government will have an impact on business settings.


But it is important not to become hysterical over the eventual deals. Business will adjust - as it always does - and get on with things. If policies are perceived as detrimental to various interests, there is always the ability to lobby Government to modify them.

Importantly, if Labour and the Greens had emerged with more than 50 per cent of the vote at the election, there would have been substantial change to a number of settings - among them immigration, environmental rules, the Reserve Bank Act and taxation.

Although National had to swallow some dead rats when Jim Bolger and Peters formed the first coalition Government, the former National Prime Minister said recently that it was workable.

Peters was Treasurer, and with the able assistance of former National Finance Minister Bill Birch, presented some relatively orthodox Budgets. It remains a pity that his superannuation initiative was scuttled. It was ahead of its time.

Likewise, Peters played a credible role as Foreign Minister in Helen Clark's Government, particularly in helping to restore working relations at a senior level with the United States.

Formal negotiations are expected to get under way after today's release of the results of the 384,000 special votes, two weeks on from the September 23 election. They comprise 15 per cent of the total vote, and Peters has said he wanted to see how they impacted on the final seat count for National, Labour and the minor parties before beginning talks.

Special votes have tended to favour left-wing parties. If the Labour-Greens bloc increases its total seats to 54 - as many pundits expect - that will leave it just two seats behind National on 56 seats.

Expect a pause in immigration. All parties want to limit immigration numbers. National went down that route prior to the election with a policy which raised the bar for migrants to New Zealand. This was later modified after firms and farmers pointed out how it would harm their own ability to conduct business.

Winston Peters wants to slice 60,000 off the 70,000 or so net migration increases.
Winston Peters wants to slice 60,000 off the 70,000 or so net migration increases.

The big increase in net migrant numbers has put pressure on infrastructure and contributed to rising house prices. But it has also been a vote of confidence in the NZ economy.

Peters wants to slice 60,000 off the 70,000 or so net migration increases which have taken place annually in recent years.

This would be extreme. But there is room for some targeted Kiwi short-term visas to ensure business gets the skilled workers and labourers it needs without killing the golden goose.

Expect also a commitment to look at modifying the Reserve Bank Act.

Labour already wants to do this. Peters has been concerned about how persistently high exchange rates harm exporters returns. Coupled with an initiative for a special tax break for exporters, this could be welcomed by that sector.

It would be a step away from the orthodoxy of the past 30 years. But it will be on the table nevertheless.

He is also keen to deliver a regional development scheme for Northland.

Currently, this takes the form of a special economic zone in Northland; relocating Ports of Aucklands operations to Northport; and building a rail link to that port.

This legacy project is not really within the realm of either National or Labour to grant.

Ports of Auckland is owned by Auckland Council - not government. Northport is 50 per cent owned by Port of Tauranga.

It would require special legislation.

KiwiRail would have to be recapitalised to build the Northport rail link that Peters wants.

It is a transformational project but there are many fish-hooks that would have to be addressed before this has an even chance of getting out of the blocks. Particularly whether it is economically feasible.

Foreign investment is another major issue.

Both Labour and NZ First want to see a ban on foreigners buying residential houses in New Zealand.

This is difficult to achieve given New Zealand's free trade agreements, which in some cases would be an impediment to legislative moves. But stamp duties could be applied.

Peters also wants to establish a foreign buyers register for land acquisitions. Again, this is not unreasonable and arguably should have happened years ago.

The final key issue is superannuation.

Peters has proposed a super Super Card - essentially combining a range of services including transport cards. This would be popular with superannuitants. He wants to restart payments to the NZ Super Fund and for the Government to stop taxing it.

Keeping the retirement age at 65 years might pose an issue (NZ really does need to start recognising the demographic imperative). But it would not pose a problem for any party wanting to achieve office.

There will no doubt be surprises when the new governing arrangements are unveiled.

But a good deal of what Peters has proposed is workable. Perhaps not at the extremes, but it is not going to collapse business or the economy.