Graeme Edgeler: As Long as It Takes, or There are No Hard Deadlines


Government-formation negotiations are ongoing between National, Act and New Zealand First. We do not know how long these will take. Neither it seems, do they.

Importantly, there are fundamentally no hard deadlines on government formation negotiations in New Zealand. It will take as long as it takes. I’ll start by saying that some of the hypotheticals I talk about here are ridiculously unlikely. National, Act and New Zealand First will almost certainly either come to an agreement, or realise they cannot, well before we reach the ones I mention at the end. The point I am making is well-established by them however: there really are no hard deadlines. There is no date by which, if negotiations haven’t resolved anything, there must be a fresh election. Unless they’re still going in 2026, of course, when we’ll need an election anyway.

In New Zealand, a decision to hold an early election is one that is made by the Prime Minister. This power – like all other powers the Prime Minister has – is circumscribed by the caretaker convention. If a Prime Minister has the confidence of more MPs than not, they may exercise the power to advise the Governor-General to dissolve Parliament and hold an election.

If a Prime Minister is operating in caretaker mode, that is, is governing without the clear support of a majority of MPs, the power to advise the Governor-General to dissolve Parliament and hold an election can only be exercised – like all the other powers – if more MPs than not support the exercise of the power.

This means that, no matter how longs things take, there will be no advice from the Prime Minister to the Governor-General to hold a new election unless at least one of the parties involved in negotiations to form a government agrees to the holding of a new election.

There are soft deadlines all the time. There are soft legal deadlines. Saturday 11 November 2023 was one. It was the date negotiations had to be resolved if we wanted to avoid the necessity of having Chris Hipkins reappointed as Prime Minister because the writ wasn’t able be returned within 28 days of the election. But that date passed, and Chris Hipkins was appointed Prime Minister again (to operate within the confines of the caretaker convention).

There are soft political deadlines too. There was a date that things would have needed to be resolved by for Christopher Luxon to be able to attend this year’s APEC leaders meeting by. That didn’t happen.

And there will be others. At some point, if negotiations continue, this becomes the longest-ever negotiation to form a government. But that’s only politically relevant. It wouldn’t mean anything, legally.

TDB Recommends

And there’s also a date that this would have to be resolved by so that Christopher Luxon can be sworn in as Prime Minister before the first opening of Parliament for the swearing-in of MPs. But this isn’t a hard deadline either. MPs can be sworn in before Ministers. The opening of Parliament and the first sitting of the House after the 1996 general election occurred before the swearing-in of Ministers from the National-New Zealand First coalition (albeit, the negotiations had been resolved).

They don’t have to be though. At some point, it possibly becomes politically difficult for National. And if it keeps going, it possibly becomes politically damaging for National. They may decide that the harm to them being caused by negotiating is worse than the harm that would be done to them by being seen by the public as forcing New Zealanders back to the polls. But that’s just politics. If National, Act and New Zealand First are content to continue discussions, and none of them wants a fresh election, the can go on basically indefinitely.

Legal things will crop up. Like the re-swearing in of the old Government Ministers. Like the first sitting of the House. But they will just happen. The House will sit to swear-in MPs and to elect a speaker whether negotiations have concluded or not. But once those formalities are done, the House can just adjourn until next year and the talking can continue. The expectation is that the Governor-General will attend at the state opening of Parliament and give a speech from the throne. That can probably happen, albeit the content of the speech will be subject to agreement under the caretaker principle. There is no need for the House to adopt a reply to the speech before everyone is ready to. It can just meet every so often, and National, Act, and New Zealand First would have the numbers to adjourn. One really big soft legal deadline is imprest supply. At some point in the middle of next year, the permission that Parliament has given the government to spend money runs out. But Parliament exists, and there will be MPs. If they’re committed to making negotiations work, they’d just make sure it happens.

Politically, do I think this is at all likely? No. They’ll agree something at some point, or realise they cannot. There are even halfway houses. If it’s taking ages to resolve, but National, Act and New Zealand First are still committed to resolving it, they could even agree in the interim, Christopher Luxon could be appointed Prime Minister instead of Chris Hipkins, to operate under the caretaker principle. I don’t think that’s likely either.

But anyone who tells you there’s a legal deadline this all has to be done by is mistaken, unless the deadline they’re talking about is 10 November 2026. At that point, Parliament will have expired.


Graeme Edgeler is a Wellington barrister, with a professional interest in constitutional and electoral law. He writes at Democracy Project.


  1. I hope it takes them 3 years!
    The country is ticking over sweet as! The media are starved of oxygen and have given up making up stories! No more ramraids. No more murders. No more mowrees getting up to mischief.

    This is probably the most productive and calm the country has been for decades.

    The politicians and media are the problem.

  2. Thankyou for that explanation Graeme.

    Several bloggers have used the word ‘interregnum’ which is used generally to describe a time lag, counting down the clock for a new monarch or Parliament to be installed.

    Italian marxist Gramsci took it further… “The crisis consists precisely in the fact that the old is dying and the new cannot be born, in this interregnum a great variety of morbid symptoms appear”.

    Lenin went further describing the ‘revolutionary situation’ “ as a condition in which the rulers no longer can rule while the ruled no longer wish to be ruled…”

    Obviously the 2023 NZ Election result–a bourgeois Parliament and Govt. in waiting–is not so dramatic, but it does present opportunities in my view for unions, NGOs, activists of all stripes, and Greens and TPM to get stuck in!

  3. And in other countries negotiations have taken a lot longer. It’s only our media losing their minds over this as they try to find something to report on during the day.

    I’d rather the time was taken to form a stable government, and if it bothers Chippie that much then perhaps next time he’ll win.

  4. Chilling reading @ G.E.
    ” In New Zealand, a decision to hold an early election is one that is made by the Prime Minister. This power – like all other powers the Prime Minister has – is circumscribed by the caretaker convention. If a Prime Minister has the confidence of more MPs than not, they may exercise the power to advise the Governor-General to dissolve Parliament and hold an election.”
    How about we, the seemingly powerless voter instead ” …advise the Governor-General to dissolve Parliament” and conduct a royal commission of inquiry up and in every politician and their business interests and contacts since about, oh, say, 1936?
    The ‘caretaker convention’. What the fuck’s that? Is that like when our politicians are off to their rich mates tax havens in the Cook Islands for a bit of a coke-up and a little how’s-your-father we get a mope to rubber stamp a reduction in health and education spending? Is that it? Is that what it means?
    I got the impression from your Post @ G.E. that we’re powerless while our politicians can lie their way into a position of authority then once there, they can please themselves while we can go fuck ourselves? Am I right?
    Does that fit in a nutshell?
    Ok. So now I know.
    One must ask; Why? Why are the Three Stooges prevaricating? Still can’t decide which plush toys for the play pen? Or could it be that by the time the Stooges become all grow’d up we’ve lost sovereignty of our country and the Governor General’s looking for a job in any Dairy in Otara?
    Can I just say; good on TDB and G.E. for bringing this out into the open.
    @ G.E. Do you know winston peters professionally/personally? When lawyers start shuffling uncomfortably in their leather Eames I get worried.

  5. I really don’t see the problem, day to day parliament isn’t important.

    Besides, govts have been caretakers of neoliberalism for decades anyway. We barely tinker around the edges.

    • ” Besides, govts have been caretakers of neoliberalism for decades anyway. We barely tinker around the edges ”
      Yeah the market governs all.

    • These things are not a problem until they are a problem. The longer it drags on the more exposed we are to risks ranging from the collapse of a bank or major company, civil defence emergency, local council collapse, biosecurity incursion. All of these would require urgent government input.

  6. Another election would prove disastrous for NZ First.Rightly or wrongly the public would blame Winston Peters for scuttling a deal.

  7. Good to know – thanks for the details Graeme.

    Assuming the Port Waikato by election goes National’s way (which it almost certainly will) does National even need Winston at that point? So, does that become a sort of deadline for NZF?

  8. Legalities may not be the way the matter resolves, should formation take longer than a natural consensus decides. If we lack a normal government six months from now, or even when the summer break draws to a close, the first stages of attempts to resolve the matter can be expected.

    In the quiet months before Christmas, there need be no particular hurry to compound idiocy into a vaguely homogenous mass. We will surely see plenty of it before these buffoons are done.

  9. Luxon’s probably dragging things out because he now realises all those retarded comments like “he’s run a business” don’t actually mean anything. Guess what it’s not a business and that sort of stupid thinking has created a lot of our problems

  10. Slymours petulance is holding up negotiations. He is deluded in thinking he should be deputy P.M. Thankfully Peter’s is running things and making sure the immature Slymour is nowhere near things.

    • Ohh my!
      You know what’s happening, or just imagining and wishful thinking Bert?
      Don’t assume, it just makes you look like an idiot….oops, too late!

      • Speaking of idiots, you are the champion of idiots I’m right/Bert! Nice trolling by the way, troll.
        If you have anything intellectual to say then, well, scrub that, that’ll never happen.

        • Not sure who Bert is, he may well be an idiot like yourself Bob, but given your level of idiocy I know he couldn’t get any lower than you. As for myself,well , let’s just say I have a long way to catch you and your retarded comments.
          I was clearly well ahead of you in the deputy PM saga. Willis nowhere to be seen( well she’s not great with a calculator so could not be let loose on the country as 2ic and should stick to having babies) and no chance Winston will ever agree to Slymour filling the role. So dumbfuck Bob, back to politics school for beginners for you. Hehe!

  11. I feel this has already become politically damaging for Luxon. Will be interesting to see if his preferred PM rating has dropped in the next poll since the election

    • Why would you think that?
      He and Winston have been exemplary while SeeMore made himself visible and the media obliged.
      The media is hungry for every morsel tossed their way by the three leaders.

      Soon we will be able to criticise them for the outcomes they create for us.

  12. It was interesting that you provided information on the financing of parliament, I would have thought that we could stop paying them or provide a very limited allowance since they are not actually providing the usual government service, that would drastically reduce the time to form a government.

    • Parliament still exists, they’re probably getting MP salaries. Heck, government still exists in caretaker mode, ministers and a PM exist, they’re probably getting relevant salaries.

      Govt, which still exists, is executive. Things will tick along, emergencies will be handled. Parliament, which exists and doesn’t sit over the xmas break anyway, is the legislative branch, and could still sit and make decisions.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here