A Majority by Any Other Name is Still a MajorityDeputy Prime Minister
Level 7, City Tower, 95 Customhouse Quay
Two words most strike excitement into the heart of a Wellingtonian: Politics and Policy.
It has been an interesting few weeks from both the political and the policy perspective. It is therefore timely to reflect on what has happened and where it may take the coalition as we enter the second half of our first three year term.
The last two weeks have clarified many of the differences between First Past the Post and MMP.
This clarification was long overdue.
On Sunday I called on political commentators and politicians alike, to show a keener understanding of MMP and its environment and to stop judging a MMP Government by First Past the Post criteria.
Take Tuesday's events in particular:
Just because one MP decides that he or she can no longer support the principles and the people of the Party which got him into Parliament, does not mean that the Government is about to fall apart.
By questioning the numbers and the Government's ability to provide stable and forward-looking Government, many commentators reverted back to First Past the Post mode straight away by claiming "how can that be - it's now 60 - 60 in Parliament." Of course, it is not 60 - 60 at all. Indeed, if you add up Labour's 37 seats, and the Alliance's 12, (and that is being generous given that four Alliance MPs have declared their intention to leave the Alliance at the next election or have left already) then you get 49 votes for the Opposition
And I am confident that Neil Kirton will do the honourable thing and support legislation which is in line with New Zealand First principles, and in line with the Coalition Agreement, which he supported when it was signed.
Sure, United's Peter Dunne's one vote, and ACT's eight votes, can be seen as Opposition votes, but their record in Parliament since the coalition was formed tend to favour the Government, and along with their pledge to support the Government on supply and confidence issues, it gives the Government the ability to continue with its programme.
Alamein Kopu has also committed her vote to the Government on supply and confidence.
It does not mean we have to start running off and giving Cabinet positions to every MP that makes that a precondition of for their support.
The public expect these MPs to support or not support legislation based on its merit - not as leverage to gaining increased power or influence.
The New Zealand First Caucus supports freedom of speech.
We are a party that believes in democracy and have made numerous personal and financial sacrifices for this worthy cause.
We have always allowed our MPs to cross the floor if their conscience dictated that they must do that.
MMP requires flexibility - each party has to expect to lose some votes, or to have to amend some legislation so that it will pass through the House.
That is what MMP was, and is, all about. It is not a bad thing. It is a positive result of MMP. It is what the public voted for in the 1993 referendum.
We are in no way complacent, nor do we think that we will always get our way, or that the passage of legislation will always be smooth or a foregone conclusion.
We always knew that MMP was about doing things a different way, about consulting on legislation rather then steamrollering it.
MMP has delivered a new style of governing and it is our responsibility, as the first MMP government in this country's history, to ensure this continues.
We knew this before the events of Tuesday, and we will continue to do things the MMP way, today, tomorrow and right up until the election, as that is the public's wish.
So I urge you here this afternoon not to listen too closely to those who seem to have problems with their political mathematics.
The thing they have to get right is that politics is a numbers game.
That being the case, I can tell you, we have a comfortable scoreline in our favour.
To understand MMP, one also has to understand a very fundamental fact about the first MMP election - nobody won an outright majority.
The public went to the polls knowing that that was a distinct possibility.
They also knew that the probable and constructive consequence of that would be neither coalition partner getting all of what they want - all of the time.
The Coalition Agreement is an amalgam of the policies and the views of two parties who stood on separate platforms at the election. Both parties fought hard to maintain as many of their election promises as was possible under new and previously unseen political circumstances.
We talked long and hard for almost two months nutting out that agreement and necessary compromise did not come easy for any of the negotiating parties.
The way some carry on, we should have just put a Government crest on the top of our manifesto, put a gun to National or Labour's head and whomever didn't blink, told them to sign on the dotted line.
Admittedly, New Zealand First had to concede some ground in the Coalition Agreement, but National also had to concede much too. That in itself highlights the very nature of MMP - give and take, consultation and compromise, by both parties.
It was a question of becoming a part of a coalition Government and implementing some of our election promises or staying on the outside and implementing none of them. Given that choice there was only one fair and responsible thing to do - for New Zealand and New Zealanders.
Some were less comfortable with some aspects of the Coalition Agreement than others, but there is no denying the fact that they all knew the contents of the Agreement at the time it was signed.
If they had any problems with it, the honourable thing to do was to speak up then and there, and if they could not live with its contents- leave the party at that stage.
But the fact is that we got a lot of our manifesto commitments into the Coalition Agreement, and some pretty big items at that - e.g. more funds for health and education, a complete rethink of the rights as well as the obligations of those receiving state support, free health care for all under sixes, a new heart unit for Christchurch hospital after literally years of fighting for such a facility.
That is why we can claim to be the human face of Government.
Some MPs have claimed that these achievements were solely due to their efforts.
That is not, and never was the case. They were the result of a willingness to listen to those concerns and to do the right thing for New Zealand. They were the result of a shared concern by all members of the New Zealand First Caucus - reflecting the concerns of our wider party members and average New Zealanders throughout the country.
Events of the last few weeks provide a timely reminder to all MPs of who put us here in the first place and under what political system we were all elected.
That awareness was something the New Zealand First team all signed up to as recently as last week's Caucus.
For, under MMP, more so than First Past the Post, it is not tenable to have divided loyalties with respect to those that you represent.
The List MPs and the constituency MPs rely on each other and a huge number of loyal party members, to boost the profile of the party and get the message across - neither would be there without the other - that is the reality of life as an MMP Member of Parliament and it behooves us all to remember it.
It is about team work and all putting the nation's interests above mere personalities.
That is why we insisted last week that all New Zealand First MPs pledge their loyalty to the principles of the Party and what it represents - which is all New Zealanders, regardless of gender, background, geographic location or ethnicity.
Recent events point to New Zealand First's strong influence on the Coalition Government's policy direction.
I am talking about the release last week of the Government's Industrial Relations package and the completion of the sale by way of a peoples float, of the Government's stake in Auckland International Airport.
Both polices came about due to negotiation between my Party and the National Party and would not have happened without New Zealand First's presence in Government.
There is no doubt that some in the National Caucus would have preferred a trade sale of Auckland Airport, and there is certainly no doubt that my Ministerial colleague, Max Bradford wanted more from his Industrial Relations policy than he was finally able to announce.
He understands that that is how MMP works. No one gets everything that they want but you do eventually get some of what you want if you are prepared to consult, talk and listen.
He also understands that on the outside, you get nothing - your policies remain just words on a page.
He knows that you get nothing and you change nothing.
Other examples in the future will arise, such as:
Tariffs - National want to go with reductions faster, we want to do so in line with our major trading partners and consult with those industries that will be most affected. There will be some compromise. Neither of us will win everything but at the end of our deliberations New Zealanders will be the winners.
Roading Reform - New Zealand First was not having a bar of the RAG report, National had doubts about it. We will work through the issues and get an agreed position on roading, which will take into account existing concerns.
That is what we have done since day one, with the Coalition Agreement as a constant reference point because that agreement represents our commitment to New Zealand for three years.
Now is not the time to panic, or grandstand, or make unreasonable demands.
Now is the time to confidently go forward and implement this Government's social and economic vision for the country.
The sale of Auckland Airport to tens of thousands of ordinary Kiwis is a recent example of what MMP can deliver.
I have told the Prime Minister privately, and I can restate here today that New Zealand First has always fronted up with our votes when it mattered in this Coalition and we will continue to do so.
If you read the mathematics properly, (and it is not rocket science, by the way, although the way some commentators carry on Einstein would have difficulty with it) our 16, plus National's 43, will see legislation passed.
Well you ask yourselves - are ACT really going to vote with the Alliance on anything? Is Peter Dunne really going to re-jump back into bed with Labour?
Perhaps on some minor pieces of legislation, or some clauses of legislation, but where it matters we are confident we will have the votes.
The voting record over the last 18 or so months proves it.
It is going to be a stable, business-as-usual second half of this first term in Government.
I am reminded of a quote by Roman philosopher Lucius Seneca:
"Our plans miscarry if they have no aim. When a man does not know what harbour he is making for, no wind is the right wind."
In short, in a sea of uncertainty this Government knows where it is going and how it will get there.