On The Nation: Patrick Gower interviews Phil Twyford
Labour’s campaign chairperson Phil Twyford says Labour can form a government with the Green Party and New Zealand
First,and there’s no rule that the government has to include the largest party in parliament.
Twyford refused to rule out a referendum on the Maori seats, given that it could be a topic for discussion in coalition
negotiations with New Zealand First.
Patrick Gower: Phil Twyford, how realistic is it that Labour, the Greens and New Zealand First can compile a government
when you’re stacked up against what National got, which is actually – and I’m sure you’ll agree – an outstanding result
of 46%. How realistic is it that you can stack together a government?
Phil Twyford: So, let’s give National a bit of credit. 46% is a strong result, so it was a good night for National.
I’m sure Steven Joyce will appreciate hearing that from you. Are you okay? You’re not meant to say that.
But, Paddy, we’re feeling pretty buoyant about it, actually, because Jacinda Ardern galvanised a huge Labour campaign in
the space of 53 days. She mobilised the centre left and Labour. She got us back in the game and ran an amazingly
positive campaign that inspired huge numbers of people. Quarter of a million New Zealanders came across to Labour in
that space of time. And notwithstanding how the numbers fell last night, National lost two MPs, they lost their
coalition partners and they lost their governing majority. And in spite of what Bill English was saying on the campaign
trail that there’s some kind of rule that the party with the biggest number of votes gets to form a government first,
there’s no such rule. This is MMP. The only rule is that the leader who can command a majority in the House gets a crack
at forming a government. And Labour is on for forming a government; we can form a government with the Greens and New
Okay, so you can form a government with the Greens and New Zealand First. Tell me one policy that you could work
Well, actually, I’d point to the housing crisis, which has been one of the defining political issues of the last few
What’s the policy, Phil Twyford?
There’s a range of policies, from dealing with speculators, getting the government back in the business of building
large numbers of affordable houses, ending homelessness, stopping the sale of state houses.
What’s the policy? They’re the slogans. Tell me a policy that, if you could get a government together – this is a really
important question – where you actually could coordinate with New Zealand First and the Greens right now. Just name a
I just named four policies to end the housing crisis in New Zealand. And I tell you what, there is very close alignment.
And it’s not just on housing. There are broader issues.
Name another policy, then.
Both Greens and New Zealand First share with Labour a commitment to a more interventionist government that’s willing to
be active and hands-on in making markets work for ordinary people.
That’s not a policy.
It’s an approach, and it’s a key underpinning of the approach to government that we would take.
So you’d be happy to have Winston Peters as deputy prime minister in this sort of coalition?
That’s beyond my remit, Paddy. The voters have spoken.
That’s a yes, isn’t it?
The voters have spoken, and now we’re going to try to stitch together progressive and stable government for New Zealand.
Here’s a really important question about that. In stitching together a government like that, do you think the Greens
should be prepared, if they have to, to sit outside a Labour and New Zealand First coalition to, for instance, abstain
on confidence and supply? Should the Greens be prepared to do that if that’s the price of a progressive government?
I certainly wouldn’t want to speculate about that or speak for the Greens. And you should ask James Shaw that question.
I will ask him, all right.
But what I would say, Paddy, is look at all the different configurations of government that we’ve seen under MMP.
There’s an almost infinite variety of minority governments and confidence and supply arrangements, people on the cross
benches, people in Cabinet. It’s all going to be on the table now as we discuss the possibilities for a
Labour-Greens-New Zealand First coalition.
One thing that you need to take off the table, and you need to take it off right now, is a referendum on Maori seats. Is
that off the table if you’re trying to stitch together a deal with Winston Peters?
I have no mandate to say that now. Labour’s position is clear.
Don’t leave it open. Don’t leave it open, because you’ve just won all the seats, so is it off the table or not? Because
you’ve got to look at things. Now, is it off the table or not? Because you don’t want to leave here not ruling out
having a referendum on Maori seats, do you?
Are you coaching us on coalition arrangements?
Well, no, no, I’m actually asking questions on behalf of the voters of New Zealand because it’s really important because
you can’t come in here and say ‘We can stitch together a government,’ and then not lay down some ground rules. So is the
referendum on Maori seats off the table or not, Phil Twyford?
I can’t say that now, and I won’t, because the coalition discussions are going to start today. I think all of those
issues are going to be on the table, and our position is very clear on that. People know where we stand on the Maori
seats. We support them. We think they’ve been instrumental in delivering a strong voice for Maori.
Okay, but you won’t actually rule that out after you’ve won all seven.
That’s not very helpful for those voters. Steven Joyce could not name one person that could actually negotiate or work
with Winston Peters. Can you name someone from your side?
Well, I think there are three key issues that are going to affect the coalition negotiations. One of them is the
Have you got someone there that’s got a line to Winston Peters, respect for Winston Peters, that you can tell New
Zealand ‘We’ve actually got someone that can deal with Winston.’
Well, there are actually a bunch of people in the Labour caucus.
So, David Parker’s close to Winston. Peeni Henare and Kelvin Davis from the north — there are strong connections and
friendships there. But look, Winston worked with Labour very successfully. He was successfully under Helen Clark’s
government. He was a damn good Foreign Minister. There was a respectful and constructive, successful relationship there.
Can you trust Winston Peters?
Yeah, I think so. Absolutely. Look, I think as well as policy alignment and the relationships, I think the other thing
that’s going to be in the background of these discussions are whether or not the majority of New Zealanders who voted
for change, whether or not the country’s going to have a government of the past or the future, whether we’re going to
have drift or action, and I think that’s going to be critical.
Sure. Looking at your result — Labour’s result — you came in lower than expected, didn’t you? You’d agreed with that.
We’d certainly like to have been a bit higher than we’ve ended up. But look, 384,000 specials, Paddy. I would expect
that could deliver one or two seats from National’s side of the ledger to ours when the specials come in.
Sure. And one of the issues was the attack from National on tax and their lies, in effect. Now, why didn’t you call them
Look, there’ll be plenty of time for post-mortems. This morning is, I think, a time for reflecting on the fact that the
people have spoken, and the next step is forming a government.
But do you look back now and go, ‘We were relentlessly positive, but we let their relentless negativity come in too
much.’ Do you look back now as you wake up and go, ‘Oh, we should have called them out earlier.’?
I’ll say this to you, Paddy — Jacinda Ardern is the leader who came out of this campaign with her integrity enhanced.
But where was her junkyard dog? Where was someone— If she was relentlessly positive— And, actually, I’m going to call
you out here — were you personally too late? Do you take some responsibility for not taking on Steven Joyce and letting
him get away with what he did?
Well, all of that stuff will come out in the wash after the campaign.
But we’re talking person-to-person here. Do you feel now that we were a little slow, that you let the team down? It’s
not the end of the world to admit it.
Yeah. Look, we’re very proud of the relentlessly positive campaign that Jacinda ran. People want that.
When you see Steven Joyce sitting over there a winner today, did you think, ‘Man, I should have got in there earlier and
taken him on head on.’?
Why do you say he’s a winner? This is MMP. The party with the most votes on the night is not necessarily the winner. The
winner is the party that leads the next government, and I’m confident that Labour is in a position a deal with both
Greens and New Zealand First.
Yeah. So, Jacinda Ardern last night rang Bill English and conceded that he had the most votes. Wasn’t that a sort of
symbolic hint — and all of the symbolism last night to New Zealanders, including going way back, the fact that you
haven’t been able to cooperate with the Greens for the last few weeks, doesn’t that not show symbolically that National
is in the box seat here?
Not at all. I think that if you want to read any symbolism in to the call that Jacinda made, I think it’s a clear
recognition that, yeah, National got a good result last night with 46%. But, actually, the number of seats in the house
for one party doesn’t mean that you’ve won it. And Bill English made the statement on the campaign trail that somehow
the incumbent government or the party with the most seats would get first crack at forming a government. There’s no
There’s no convention. That’s not now MMP works.
Yeah, we both agree on that, and we’ve got to go to the break, but I’ll give you one last question. Name one thing that
a Labour-Green-New Zealand First combination could give Winston Peters that National can’t.
That’s going to be something that’s going to be on the table in the coalition discussions, Paddy, and I’m not going to
be putting that out here this morning.
But do you actually know? Just name one. I mean, it’s not like you’re ruining the negotiations. I’m just wondering if
you don’t know any.
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