Casualties of the coalition government continue to grow

17:26 pm on 24 June 2020

Labour and Green MPs have given up hiding their growing frustrations with New Zealand First vetoing their flagship policies.

Photo: RNZ /Dom Thomas

In the latest blow, Auckland Light Rail has been given the kaibosh with Cabinet failing to reach agreement on either of the two proposals, meaning the project won't be revisited until after the election.

Once again the confidence and supply agreement between Labour and the Greens has taken a hit.

Justice Minister Andrew Little hasn't had a good run negotiating with New Zealand First in the past.

While he'd work with them again, he also said "I might change the ground rules''.

Auckland Light Rail by 2021 was Labour's big election promise and up until today, the government's official line was that negotiations were ongoing with New Zealand First.

But Transport Minister Phil Twyford confirmed this afternoon the writing had been on the wall for some time.

"They've got different priorities, and different political principles than us,'' he said.

"Whether you're talking about industrial relations reform, or the capital gains tax or light rail - New Zealand First they've got their views about those. I always hoped we'd get them over the line but it wasn't to be."

But despite the project having been put on ice until after the election, Twyford wouldn't go so far as to say he was annoyed with New Zealand First.

"It was clear before we went to Cabinet that New Zealand First were not going to support it.''

Green Party co-leader James Shaw is less forgiving that yet another policy in the Greens' confidence and supply agreement with Labour has been placed on the backburner.

He reckons New Zealand First aren't acting in good faith.

"I have faith in the Green Party's confidence and supply agreement with Labour, yes. I don't have faith that New Zealand First are able to uphold their own coalition agreement.

"Their coalition agreement says that they will act in good faith to ensure all other agreements can be complied with,'' he said.

But NZ First Leader Winston Peters brushed off the accusation.

"We've acted in good faith but the Greens' three hours ago were telling you they're responsible, and then two hours later they had an epiphany and now they're saying we're breaching some kind of agreement to which we were never a part.''

National's Finance spokesperson Paul Goldsmith said the coalition government is shambolic and causing economic uncertainty.

"The light rail was a critical policy and it's been dropped, we've seen the deal to help rent situations with small businesses dropped.

"What we're seeing is that at a time of absolute economic crisis when clarity and leadership is needed from a government, instead we're getting confusion, infighting and instability,'' he said.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said it's just part of being in an MMP system.

The other casualties

Light rail isn't the first and won't be the last casualty in the Labour-New Zealand First coalition tussle.

Earlier this month the two parties reached agreement on fair rent reductions and compulsory arbitration as part of the commercial rent dispute process.

But now Peters is back at the negotiating table claiming what he agreed to and what the legislation says are two different things.

Little has no idea when the legislation might be finalised.

"They've raised a couple of issues, I have to say they're not new, but in any event they wanted to continue discussions so those discussions are continuing,'' he said.

Peters denies he's blocking anything.

"The job of the minister was to go away and write the legislation underpinning the agreement, there was no connectivity between the two.''

Little doesn't agree with that at all and pointed to Peters being at the Cabinet meeting when the final decisions were made and endorsed.

Adding to the list of stalled policy ahead of the election is the rape trial reforms.

And Peters warns it won't stop there.

"We've said from the word go that we were the party of common sense, and common sense is what you're seeing breaking out everywhere now,'' he said.