Peter Dunne on announcing his retirement. Photo: RNZ/ Rebekah Parsons-King

Peter Dunne is the MP who’s been involved in more coalition negotiations than any other – he takes us behind the closed doors to shine a spotlight on what happens after an MMP election. 

On Saturday night, it will all become clear.

There will be winners and losers, hugs and slumped shoulders, smiles both wry and joyous.

But once the confetti settles and the floors are mopped … what happens then, when the parties who win a mandate enter a room together and start to negotiate?

On today’s episode of The Detail, Emile Donovan sits down with Peter Dunne – MP for Ohāriu for more than 30 years, and a support party to both a Labour- and National-led governments – to discuss the dicey business of coalition negotiations.

“I did five [negotiations], which I think is more than anyone by my count, and that was over a period of probably 15 or 16 years,” he says.

“It’s business, so you’re doing a deal. The exciting bit is the consequence: you’re forming a government, or you’re keeping a government in power.”

Dunne’s first coalition negotiations took place in 2002 – a rather unusual year for United Future, whose party vote soared to nearly seven percent following Dunne’s strong performance in a televised leaders’ debate. (The ‘worm’ debate.)

Consequently, he held significant sway when he entered the negotiating room to speak to Labour leader Helen Clark.

“Had I gone to Helen Clark and said we want to be in a formal coalition and we want three or four ministers, she would’ve been very hard pressed to say ‘no’.

“[But] I had a team of MPs who’d all been elected for the first time … it didn’t seem feasible to me to throw people who were inexperienced in Parliament and in government straight into that hot seat. So we went for this intermediate position.”

That intermediate position was New Zealand’s first confidence-and-supply agreement, where a minor party pledges to support the government in motions of confidence (as in, they’re bound to vote with the government if a vote of no confidence is raised by an opposition MP) and vote to approve the Budget – this is the “supply” component.

Dunne has no regrets about his decision, even though the 2002 election was the high point of United Future’s political existence thus far.

“Looking at the way things panned out, at the fact that until 2017 there was no formal coalition, we set the scene – and I suspect that’s what we’re going to see this election.”

For more from Peter Dunne, including an insight into how coalition negotiations are structured, where they take place, balancing policy wins versus ministerial portfolios, and his opinions on Winston Peters’ announcing the ultimate winners of the 2017 election, listen to the full podcast.

Want more from The Detail? Find past episodes here.

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