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New Labour-Greens MoU falls short of coalition

Tuesday 31st May 2016

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The Labour and Green parties have signed a memorandum of understanding in which they commit to "work collaboratively to change the government", in a move intended to demonstrate an alternative government-in-waiting while forcing New Zealand First to declare its hand on propping up a National-led government.

Described as "historic" and signed at a joint press conference attended by most of the Labour and Green caucuses in Parliament's Legislative Council Chamber, the MoU says the two parties "have agreed to work together on matters of mutual interest."

It notes that "the non-government parties collectively are supported by more New Zealanders than the government parties", tacitly acknowledging that change to a Labour-led government would require support agreements, if not coalition arrangements, with both the Green and NZ First parties, based on current polling.

NZ First could, however, form a government with the National Party on current polling, which consistently puts NZ First as the fourth most supported party after National, Labour and the Greens. Its leader, Winston Peters, has been a Minister in coalition governments led by both the National and Labour parties.

In effect, the MoU does no more than to formalise the existing increasingly close coordination occurring between Labour and the Greens, who have also been coordinating parliamentary tactics with NZ First. The MoU includes formal "agree to disagree" and "no surprises" clauses and offers the potential to announce joint policy platforms and to campaign jointly.

Labour leader Andrew Little characterised the agreement as an expression of the changes in leadership in both parties, which saw Little take over from David Cunliffe, who led Labour to defeat in 2014 and James Shaw become co-leader of the Greens following the retirement from politics of his predecessor, Russel Norman.

Greens co-leader Metiria Turei cited the 2014 manufacturing inquiry and 2012/13 campaign against state asset sales as examples of the two working together successfully in the past, although no mention was made of the one jointly announced policy, Power New Zealand, which remains on Labour's books but may yet be abandoned.

Both indicated some potential to reach accommodations to support one another's candidates in general electorate seats.

In comments immediately after the announcement, New Zealand First leader Winston Peters ruled out his party playing either "third wheel" or "second fiddle" to a Labour-Greens coalition when NZ First was polling ahead of the Greens.

But he skirted questions about whether NZ First was committed to "changing the government", saying NZ First's successes next year would have "a devastating effect" on the National-led government of Prime Minister John Key, whom Peters said was doing a good job on his own of ensuring a change of government.

"We're campaigning to maximise the votes of the fastest-growing party in this country - New Zealand First," he said. Labour and Green supporters should be "scratching their heads" wondering which of their parties' policies were up for compromise.

Today's announcement follows months of political polls in which Labour has struggled to maintain 30 percent support, let alone the 35 percent it probably needs to have a credible shot at forming a government after elections scheduled for late 2017, while the Greens have been polling above 10 percent and NZ First just below. However, in all scenarios, NZ First consistently emerges in a "kingmaker" position.

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