Sunday, November 16, 2008

National Secures New Zealand Government Coalition Agreement

The National party has secured agreements with the Maori Party, ACT, and United Future to lead a 70 seat majority in New Zealand's 122 seat Parliament. The coalition is limited to supply & support arrangements from the minor parties in return for ministerial posts outside Cabinet and National support or acquiescence on several key policies of the minor parties.

The Maori party will provide supply and support to National in return for two ministerial posts outside Cabinet for Maori Party co-leaders, Dr Pita Sharples and Turiana Turia. Dr Sharples will become Minister of Maori Affairs with associate posts of Education and Corrections while Ms Turia will hold the posts of Minister for the Community and Voluntary Sector, Associate Health Minister and Associate Social Development Minister. Both new ministers will have spending as well as policy responsibilities.

Dr Sharples said the Maori Party had been formed on the basis of getting into government and making a difference.

"It won't be all together terribly easy some days, but it is the opportunity that we sought," Dr Sharples said.

To secure agreement with the Maori Party, National has scrapped its plan to abolish Maori electorate seats without a majority of Maori voters approving of the measure. In return, the Maori Party is dropping its policy to seek entrenchment of Maori seats. A group will be formed to explore constitutional issues including Maori representation. National has also offered to review the controversial Foreshore and Seabed Act to determine how well it is working and whether it might be modified to better meet the goals of multiple interests.

It is only three years since the former National party leader, and former Governor of the Reserve Bank, Don Brash proposed abolishing the Maori seats and called for an end to government funding targetted at Maori as favouritism or undesirable affirmative action.

National's incoming Prime Minister, John Key, has thus reversed the more rightward shift of his party from three years ago on race relations but there will be tensions within the party because of this apparent U-turn as well as in the wider electorate, especially among the more conservative and racist elements of New Zealand society.

Building bridges, however, may be more effective in achieving National's broader policy goals with less conflict or friction with interest groups that might otherwise be expected to oppose National's main policies. This, however, is likely to create some internal pressures on the Maori party in particular.

National's other agreements with ACT and United Future are more straightforward. ACT leader Rodney Hide will hold ministerial roles outside Cabinet for Local Government and Regulatory Reform as well as the job of associate Minister of Commerce. ACT's deputy leader Heather Roy will become Minister of Consumer Affairs and associate Minister of Defence and Education.

In return, National will support legislation for ACT's three strikes sentencing policy for violent offenders - a policy that attempts to ape some of the worst of US criminal politics of recent times - to the select committee stage, so does not guarantee support on final legislation.

Further concessions to ACT include a review of government spending, presumably excluding the substantial increase in correctional facilities required for a three strikes policy (memo to Mr Hide: check US incarceration rates and that country's world ranking for imprisoning its people, mainly the poor and of colour). National has also agreed to establish a taskforce on trans-Tasman flight - of labour, not capital - to Australia. It has also agreed to delay introduction of the Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) but Mr Key reiterated that an amended scheme will proceed by the end of 2009.

The job-retention scheme for Peter Dunne of United Future has been locked into place: three more years as Minister of Revenue & will add Associate Minister of Health to his name tag. National has agreed to retain Dunne's Family Commission and will create a Big Game Hunting Council as part of a national wild game management strategy to get Dunne's one vote.

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