09 October 2017

Coalition formation & potential Executives

One feature of the continuing coalition negotiations has been speculation about the likely shape of any resulting Cabinet. Now the election result is final there's no such thing as a 'moral right to govern' in the rulebook: the fate of the next Parliament is determined by Parliament alone.

While New Zealand First may choose to sit on the cross-benches outside of Government, it’s more interesting to guess what a full coalition arrangement with shared responsibilities might look like. In these negotiations Ministerial positions are the subject of negotiations along with policy concessions and other appointments, but parties generally receive a number of positions proportionate to their vote. In practice this means that if it goes into a formal coalition New Zealand First could expect to have four of its caucus of nine ending up holding Ministerial warrants, whichever major party Winston Peters ends up deciding to support.

The estimates below are based on a hypothetical Ministerial list of 25 Ministers. While this is smaller than the 27 Ministers under the last English administration (or 28 if you count the non-Ministerial Parliamentary Under-Secretary role created for ACT’s David Seymour), there are fewer minor parties in the new Parliament and an Executive of 28 was arguably too many in a House of 120 members. For the purposes of this discussion I’ve opted to keep things simple with 25, with 20 in Cabinet and five Ministers outside Cabinet. Given the number of tiny portfolios used to flesh out the numbers, a new administration wanting to economise could do worse than opting for an even smaller Executive, but the need to reward ambitious caucus members probably makes this unlikely.

If Peters supports a National-led Government the combined parties would have 65 votes. This would suggest 21 Ministerial positions for National and four for New Zealand First. If there was no major National reshuffle, that would allow all the present Cabinet to keep their warrants, plus Hon Nicky Wagner. Four National Ministers at the bottom of the current Ministerial list would lose their warrants: Jacqui Dean, David Bennett, Tim Macindoe and Scott Simpson. The four New Zealand First members to receive Ministerial warrants would likely be Winston Peters, Tracy Martin, Ron Mark and Shane Jones.

If Peters supports Labour plus the Greens (63 votes), this would suggest a line-up of 18 Ministerial positions for Labour, four for New Zealand First and three for the Greens. While the Green vote (6.3 percent) is only slightly smaller than New Zealand First’s (7.2 percent), it would probably be smart politics to reward New Zealand First with an extra spot. Examining the Labour caucus and list rankings, a line-up of 18 ministers could consist of: Jacinda Ardern, Kelvin Davis, Andrew Little, Grant Robertson, Phil Twyford, Megan Woods, Chris Hipkins, Carmel Sepuloni, David Clark, David Parker, Stuart Nash, Raymond Huo, Iain Lees-Galloway, Su’a William Sio, Damien O’Connor, Ruth Dyson, Nanaia Mahuta and Rino Tirikatene. Four of the 18 have previous Ministerial experience: Parker, O’Connor, Dyson and Mahuta. Trevor Mallard would be given the role of Speaker. The New Zealand First Ministers would be the same as under the National-led administration. The Green Party would receive three warrants, perhaps for their top three list candidates James Shaw, Marama Davidson and Julie Anne Genter.

While the prospect of a National coalition with the Greens excited some comment among National-aligned commentators last week, it’s a toxic option as far as the Greens are concerned. In any case, a hypothetical National-Green administration (64 votes) would look similar to a National-New Zealand First one: 22 National Ministers plus three Green Ministers. Jacqui Dean could retain her warrant and the same three Green members as above would become Ministers.

Of course this all becomes moot if Peters decides to stay on the cross-benches!

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