Pitfalls for the Greens and NZ First in coalition discussions


In coming negotiations both the Greens and NZ First will be aware of a downside of going into coalition with one of the two big parties. Smaller parties linking up with Labour or National have always paid a price by losing party votes at the next election. This was the case with United (1996), NZ First (1999), the Alliance (2002), United Future (2005), NZ First and United Future (2008), and the Maori Party, United and ACT (in 2011, then 2014, and finally in 2017).

Smaller parties suffer disproportionately from the unpopular policies of their bigger governing partner, particularly when such policies are at odds with the smaller party’s own policy manifesto. This should worry the Greens and NZ First. At 6-7% of the vote they would not need to lose many votes to be out of Parliament in 2020, as happened to the Alliance in 2002, NZ First in 2008 and the Maori Party this year. ACT and United Future would also have been out, in 2005 and 2011 respectively, if they hadn’t had the lifeline of an electorate seat.

One thing the Greens and NZ First won’t want to repeat is the Alliance experience in coalition with Labour from 1999 to 2002. With Ministers inside the Cabinet, committed to Cabinet solidarity, they had difficulty differentiating from Labour. This frustrated the party’s support base. The Alliance eventually split over the leadership’s support the government sending New Zealand special forces to Afghanistan, a move very unpopular among party members. The Alliance vote dropped from 7.7% in 1999 to 1.3% in 2002.

The Alliance experience is relevant to the Greens today, because while Labour and the Greens now have many policies in common, and policies where compromises can be reached, there are also fundamental differences. The Greens are much more challenging of the establishment, including on the issue that fractured the Labour/Alliance coalition, the sending of troops overseas, to places like Afghanistan, at the behest of the United States. Labour remains committed to the American-dominated alliance (Five Eyes) and its Waihopai spy station, near Blenheim – which the Greens want to close.

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There’ll continue to be a battle over Labour’s commitment to trade and investment agreements (like the TPPA) that challenge our sovereignty, although NZ First might be able to help the Greens counter Labour here. [On other issues NZ First may be worse than Labour and may try to block progressive policies.]

Also challenging for the Greens will be Labour and NZ First’s backward stance on law and order issues. The Clark government, through lengthening prison sentences, is largely responsible for our huge prison muster – now going over 10,000. Currently, New Zealand is one of the most punitive nations in the Western world. There needs to be a reduction in sentences, and a repeal of the Bail Amendment Act 2013, which Labour backed and which has so swelled remand prison numbers.

Thankfully, since the Alliance debacle, the smaller parties have tried more “open” coalition options with Labour and National. Winston Peters being a Minister outside of the 2005-2008 Labour Cabinet allowed him to criticise those Labour policies he disagreed with, and vote against them. Since taking office, National has allowed its coalition partners (ACT, United Future and the Maori Party) the same freedom to publicly dissent, with their Ministers being outside of the Cabinet.

While this arrangement had its advantages for NZ First, ACT, UF and the Maori Party, it meant that they weren’t around the Cabinet table where so many of the key things are decided, including budgets. Perhaps, as a further development of MMP, parties like the Greens and NZ First will be allowed around the Cabinet table but with much greater freedom than the Alliance had to publicly disagree with Cabinet decisions and sometimes vote against them. If not, NZ First will probably stick with its previous stance of having a Minister or Ministers outside of Cabinet (and it may try to get the Greens to follow suit). This could be a tricky issue for the Greens, and I hope Labour under Jacinda Adern will be flexible. I’m sure both the Greens and NZ First can win significant policy gains from Labour. But there would have to be sufficient openness in coalition decision-making for the two smaller parties not to be compromised by the implementation of policies their own members disagree with.


  1. NZF and the Greens need to show some mutual respect for each other grow up and act like mature adults ?

    Otherwise we will have another 3 years of Neoliberalism under National and watch while they systematically dismantle and destroy NZ First ?

  2. I think the point of an MPs job to serve the people has been missed.
    If National stay New Zealanders will suffer greatly, with many more taking their own life at the lack of hope offered to them by a National government.
    The possible coalition parties need to make compromises, take power and stand up for the ‘people’ of this country.
    I do believe anything can be worse than what we have had this past nine years.
    For the people of NZ, negotiate, find common ground, and free us the from corruption and greed of National.

    • 100% KIM DANDY.


      Winston will be a good lever to stop the aggressive clock on the rampant Neo-liberal clash/burn austerity.

  3. Every article i read from a fellow lefty on coalitions is why nz first won’t go with us. We’re nuts. At our current situation we’d only be able to get a lab / nzf govt with confidence from the greens outside of cabinet maybe minister of environment for shaw but that’s it.

    The greens are insane for threatening not to support an arrangement like that, makes one regret voting for them only to help Jacinda.

    The greens would gladly have a fourth term of national by demanding all this crap the narcism of shaw and Swarbrick is astounding only smart ones are Marama and Sage.

    The only thing I want from a labour led govt is to sort out housing mental health and health care. Everything else becomes easier after this but the far left wanna print money raise inflation and actually by experience dont care about suicide. Disgusting bunch of people who I only just now realized will never win an election and having any connection to is electoratal poison if the greens hurt negotiations then they and nzf ought to be destroyed. ✌

    • Cynical Jester
      You don’t know the numbers. From the political pundits they have said the Nats are likely to lose one, Labour and the Greens are likely to get one each and possibly 2 for one of these two parties. The numbers have a way to go.

      The Greens will not go with National, they never ever would, they know they will lose their support base. I think, although I didn’t want him, Shaw has performed pretty well and he knows and he is not stupid that members, some of them from the early days will leave in droves….

      Swarbrick is the new kid on the block, she is very young and she simply shouldn’t be saying things publicly like this. She needs to grow up I was aware very early on that she supports PPPs.

      • Yep Michal corrct as james Shaw pulled up other ‘new mps’ when they spoke out of tune with his planned way forwards.

        I look at james as another young John key (though of a different political persuasion) James in my mind is a wheeler dealer.

        I think Martyn is correct this coalition is going to be a long two month event to finally iron out a solid enduring coalition between labour/NZ First/Greens agreement to conclude.

    • ” but the far left wanna print money raise inflation and actually by experience dont care about suicide. ”

      Who on earth are you talking about?! Who are these ‘far left’ people? Are they distinguishable from ‘far right’?

      We’ve just had nine years of borrow forever and nothing to show for it. If you want progress on public housing, improved mental health services, and ‘health care’ – just how is it to be funded?

      Do we shuffle the tax regime? Whip down to the pawnbrokers and borrow against grandma’s false teeth? Get the peasants to swallow another dose of ‘pain now, better future one day’? We have had years of lies, fear-making, short cuts and gross under-funding and selling assets that never should have been sold. Years of private gain and letting the losses be borne by the shrinking pockets of the general tax payer who has no means left of ‘writing it off’.

      What’s your remedy? How would you fund it all – even your short list? Even at the risk of inflation. Even with the awful threat of change, possible full employment, affordable education and upskilling.

      If the outrageous of the ‘far left’ can deliver these goods for ALL in NZ, without dogma, ideology, patronising dribble or PowerOver – would they please rattle their collective dags and deliver. We need it NOW.

    • CJ. The myth that Govts printing money raises inflation should be carefully examined before acceptance is granted.

      Private Banks print 97% of new money in NZ and have don’t for many decades. The money flowing off shore through Trans National Corporates haws a far greater effect.

      Why private banks have a privileged granted to them to print money for their own profit but Govt would case inflation if they did it for the good of the country – surely needs to be examined.

      Many Kiwis have been brainwashed by corporate owned media.
      a Govt has every right to print money and also can withdraw the privileged for private banksters to rip off NZ by printing money.

      We have put up with this crime for to many generations.

      The evil perpetrated by these gangsters is not as amazing as the stupidity of those who allow them to commit the evil.

  4. I suppose we have to acknowledge that in the first two terms of MMP government this sort of horse trading was very new to our political parties and they weren’t very good at it.
    But 20 years on things are different.
    Bill English has had much more experience at this sort of thing so I guess he goes in with an advantage.
    However Winston kept stressing how a “change” was needed so I’m not sure how such “changes” can be reconciled with a continuation of the National government where changes, if any, happen so slowly you don’t even notice.
    Jacinda Adern might find the election campaign was child’s play compared to the intensive negotiations she will have to lead.
    I can’t help thinking about one of the reasons some people used to say about why they disliked MMP: “smoky backroom deals…”
    Well maybe they won’t be smoky but they will certainly be backroom and cynical me thinks we won’t be told everything when they are all over. It will be on a “need to know” basis – whatever excites the MSM most AND whatever soothes jittery nerves in the “Markets”
    The bad bits we will find out about when it is too late.

  5. Thanks Keith. Well said. I didn’t want to comment, but seeing some comments above … sheesh.

    Do you think NZF would be interested in Preferential Counting reform of Electorate Seats and Party Votes (preferences would be lodged with Electoral Commission)?

  6. Yes, any minor party now going into bed with the Nats, no matter what kind of arrangement, is likely to face loss of support down the line, look at the Maori Party, swept from all Maori seats.

    Winston will be smart enough to get a deal that satisfies him and his party, but as it may be his last term in politics anyway, he may not be overly worried now, about consequences, that is except of leaving some ‘heritage’ behind him.

    For the Greens the only option is to try and form an agreement with Labour and NZ First, but that will be extremely difficult, as there are significant policy differences, while there are at the same time some policies that are similar.

    Winston’s strong anti ‘special race based rights’ for Tangata Whenua stand, from Don Brash’s handbook, will not go down well with James Shaw and the Greens, also not with some in Labour.

    While a Labour – NZ First – Greens government at a low common denominator level is possible, I fear this will only be a one term, Labour led government, and it will spell disaster for the Greens, who may have too little input, which will only disappoint their voters.

    Perhaps let the Nats suffer and sweat in desperation, and let them try to entice Winston, as a poison chalice to do its work.

    NZ First may then be damage, even history by 2020, Nats will be weak also, after a disastrous fourth term, and Labour-Greens will be the only feasible option left for voters. We may even have an early election. It is time to think strategically, not act out of desperation to get into government whatever it takes.

    • “I fear this will only be a one term,”


      But what if it actually works and puts us on a new path where more get to enjoy the goodies?

      Back to the familiar rip-off society and government?

      Or what if…?

      • How will it ‘work’? Through Greens and NZ First watering down policies to become unrecognisable? Through Labour doing the same, to please the smaller parties, to also become unrecognisable?

        Jacinda Ardern did during the election campaign go on about the water levy on water bottlers and irrigators, they wanted to introduce. Last I heard was, it was ‘negotiable’.

        So it seems almost all is ‘negotiable’ now, hence I ask, what was all the talk in the election campaign about? No policy seems anything that voters can rely on, it seems.

        How progressive and reformist will a kind of government made up of Labour – Greens and NZ First actually be, with NZ First having some rather conservative, nationalistic policies, somewhat different to what the first two parties want.

        I continue to have my doubts about this, and consider it will actually turn a lot of voters off, what such a government may look like, and what little it may achieve.

  7. which ever way you look at it
    Housing Immigration Health Education Employment Tax Social development
    Are going to be how this coalition works
    Or if its Nats NZF well it will either fall over in six months or Winston prepared to see his party go like all the other nat partners
    Shocking fact that the 2nd biggest voter group didnt vote
    there is a clue as to how much our politics actually run this country and we do know who they are because there is a register .Who gets to see that data?

  8. I wonder whether Winston has forgiven the Greens for Metiria Turei’s comments about NZF immigration policy. Winston said that there would be consequences. He’s a man of his word.

  9. I think that NZFirst and the Greens have a lot to see eye-to-eye on, actually, Keith, this time around.

    Foreign interference in New Zealand politics, for starters: whether Asian – e.g., Indonesian – or American.

    Lots of examples to come out.

  10. The Clark Govt’s hardline law and order policy, via Phil Goff–where you put right-wing Labour MPs, dead giveaway–outskirted National. The poor and weak paid for it. Wonder where ‘Phil’ puts it on his cv.

    The problem with right-wing Labour MPs is they put, the primary values of My Scots ancestors, ‘getting on’ before ‘the fair go’. Thus, never. When the mortgage is paid you’ll attend to those who need help the most. Not different to Bill English.

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