Thursday, November 9, 2017

Is the NZ Government the result of a personal grudge?

We learned this week that Winston Peters, the 'kingmaker' in the recent coalition negotiations to form the New Zealand government, is suing four National Party members of parliament, including former prime minister Bill English and deputy Paula Bennett, over the leaking of information that he had been overpaid his state pension for seven years. Peters' lawsuit seems to be a fishing expedition with journalists, National Party officials and even the chief executive of the Ministry of Social Development (the government agency responsible for payment of the pension) being served papers.

The most concerning thing about this matter is not the overpayment itself or the speculative nature of Peters' legal action, but the fact that it reveals an obvious conflict of interest in the coalition negotiations. Peters swore an affidavit in support of his legal action the day before the election, meaning that he was involved in the lawsuit when he sat down to negotiate a possible coalition agreement with the very National Party leadership that he was suing. He should have declared this conflict of interest before the election so that voters could have taken the matter into account or, at the very least, prior to the coalition negotiations getting underway. Ideally he should have recused himself from the coalition discussions and decision-making of his party.

In view of this, it is unsurprising that Peters chose the Labour Party as his coalition partner. I have written before about how Labour and New Zealand First don’t even have a plurality in the new parliament and the fact that the National Party, which has more seats than Labour and New Zealand First combined, would be part of a government under any electoral process other than our shambolic MMP system.

The fact that Peters didn't declare his conflict of interest begs the question whether he entered the negotiations in good faith and whether he had any intention of forming a coalition with National. It makes a mockery of the coalition negotiations and casts further doubt on the legitimacy of the new coalition government. Peters may have a legitimate grievance over the leaking of his confidential superannuation details but that doesn't justify him holding the country to ransom and making decisions of constitutional importance on the basis of a personal grudge. The fact that this is even a possibility raises serious concerns about the health of our democracy.

No comments: