The National Party must have been pretty stingy in its negotiations with Winston Peters and New Zealand First.

National came up short, as we know – but on the evidence of yesterday’s coalition agreement announcement, Labour didn’t have to do a whole lot on policy to win the 7 percent party over to its camp.

It was certainly generous in giving away portfolios for NZ First ministers; their four nominees take 11 portfolios plus three associate roles and the responsibilities are ones that matter – State Owned Enterprises, Regional Economic Development, Infrastructure, Forestry and Foreign Affairs are the headline acts.

All parties to the coalition talks kept saying the discussions were rigorously focused on policy. If so, the Labour Party focused hardest.

Many commentators said NZ First leader Winston Peters was looking for a legacy from the negotiations. If so, what could it be?

Labour has allowed him an extra $800 million towards their shared Regional Development Fund. It is unclear what that money represents, other than some funding for regional rail and planting of 100 million trees (something other parties had been advocating). It will raise the Minimum Wage more than it had publicly promised – to a figure Peters had nominated in the campaign,  $20 an hour by the end of the 2020-2021 financial year. 

Either of those things are policy wins. The total of $1 billion on regional development a year sounds impressive on the surface but needs detail to discern what would have occurred anyway under either Labour or a status quo National-led government.

Neither big policy ticks are legacies in the order of Michael Cullen’s Kiwisaver, Cullen Fund or Working for Families, Jim Anderton’s Kiwibank or even Bill English’s successful stewardship of a vulnerable economy through the Global Financial Crisis.

Labour has agreed to sacrifice its water levy on most farmers, agreeing to NZ First’s desire for a royalty on bottle water exports only. And it has increased the exemption for agriculture upon entering the Emissions Trading Scheme to 95 percent, from its target of 90 percent. But NZ First opposes the ETS in any case, favouring a system of carbon charging.

Surely Peters’ legacy could be found in the section on Immigration. Twenty plus years of campaigning against free range immigration had little or no effect in the coalition negotiations. Labour will keep to its policy of reducing the net migration target by up to 30,000, although even then no figure is listed in the document. NZ First gets promised that work visas will reflect genuine skills shortages and that low value international education courses will no longer qualify. But way back in Andrew Little’s day as Labour leader that was the red party’s stance.

So there is little in the policy bag that would seem to have taken the best part of two weeks of talks and then NZ First Board talks about talks. Perhaps that’s why the board and caucus took so long working over the proposed coalition offering. National’s must have been lowball on policy to have lost out to this deal. Labour’s was high on portfolios and what Peters has derisively called the baubles of power but limited on the biggest policy pledges Peters took to the electorate.

Labour will have fewer policy portfolios to distribute to its ministers outside the cabinet than might have been expected but it has absorbed the NZ First changes and those from the Greens with little collateral damage.

There’s no Singapore-style change to monetary policy, just a review of the Reserve Bank Act, possibly along the lines Labour had intended independently of NZ First.

Immigration will be Labour’s policy.

The “feasibility study” on “the options” for moving the Ports of Auckland doesn’t even focus on shifting it to Northport in Whangarei as NZ First had pledged. The northward option will only be given “serious consideration”. In bureaucratic speak that is often where ideas go to die.

There will be an ETS, not a scrapping of the ETS and a carbon charge as Peters’ party advocated..

An NZ Forestry Service will be re-established; but while Peters got there first some time ago, Labour had taken that policy as its own during the campaign and well in advance of the coalition policy negotiations.

In many ways the agreement released yesterday indicates NZ First’s effect on this government will be a “modifying” rather than revolutionising one.

It would be churlish to criticise that. The party won just 7 votes in every 100. Had it wagged the dog in these policy concessions, as it did in orchestrating the weeks of negotiations, it would have been upbraided for having claimed inordinate influence.

There are a grab bag of political peccadiloes. Labour has agreed to Peters’ wish for a Waka Jumping Bill to stop members of parties changing party allegiances mid term. That is a defensive move after a previous NZ First grouping in Parliament fractured. The new government will build a museum at Waitangi to commemorate the Māori Battalion. It will also “record a cabinet minute” about what the parties say was a lack of process when New Zealand helped pass a UN Security Council resolution critical of Israel.  

Labour will be the real change. Its signature health, education, monetary policy, migration, housing and environment policies stand. It will have fewer policy portfolios to distribute to its 16 full ministers and five ministers outside the cabinet than might have been expected but it has absorbed the NZ First changes and those from the Greens with little collateral damage.

The Greens’ agreement, largely leaked days earlier, will see that party score the Climate Change portfolio for leader James Shaw and its plan for a $100 million Green development fund initiated.

Shaw told Rachel Smalley on NewstalkZB that the fact the Climate Change responsibility would be outside the cabinet would not matter – the parties had agreed to form a new cabinet committee on climate change and the environment, which Green ministers could attend to thrash out detail before a cabinet sign-off. 

It will get its Zero Carbon Act and an independent Climate Commission and a set of environmental, social and economic indicators which the Government will mark itself against.

Where NZ First gets an enhanced, smart Super Gold Card for its superannuitant constituency, the Greens win an investigation into a Green Transport Card for low income people and those on benefits.

The Greens have negotiated changes to the way welfare authorities impose sanctions on beneficiaries – a legacy of former leader Metiria Turei’s fateful campaign – and its already publicised referendum on legalising the personal use of cannabis.

Among the portfolios the Greens have secured is Land Information, one central to ultimate approvals of foreign purchases of farm or sensitive land.

The identities of ministers are announced late on Wednesday morning and the new ministry will be signed in by the Governor General tomorrow.

One, last, piece in the collegial puzzle has occurred. On Tuesday evening Peters finally deigned to meet Shaw – at the Green leader’s office. No whisky was consumed. But Shaw says he gave Peters a bottle of the amber stuff. Deal. Sealed.

Tim Murphy is co-editor of Newsroom. He writes about politics, Auckland, and media. Twitter: @tmurphynz

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