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New Zealand PM Ardern to crack on with govt, won’t comment on Greens alliance

New Zealand's Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern gestures as she departs following a gathering for congregational Friday prayers and two minutes of silence for victims of the twin mosque massacre, at Hagley Park in Christchurch on March 22, 2019. Thousands of New Zealanders gathered in Christchurch on March 22 to honour the 50 Muslim worshippers killed one week ago by a white supremacist, with a call to prayer broadcast around the country and a two-minute silence. Marty MELVILLE (AFP/Marty Melville). Sketched by the Pan Pacific Agency.

WELLINGTON, Oct 18, 2020, SMH. Jacinda Ardern’s Labour caucus will meet on Monday to “crack on” with forming government, but the re-elected Prime Minister has ducked questions about whether she will form a coalition with the Greens, The Sydney Morning Herald reported.

And Ardern has played down concerns about a new community case of the disease – the first since September 25 – declaring the rapid detection of an infection in a high risk port worker showed “the system is working”.

The Prime Minister claimed Labour’s largest victory in more than 50 years on Saturday night, with the party on track to win 64 seats – a gain of 18 seats – in the 120-member Parliament.

If that number holds, Labour will be the first government since the mixed-member proportional representation (MMP) system was introduced in 1996 to be able to command a governing majority without entering into a coalition with another party.

Ardern governed in coalition with the Greens and deputy prime minister Winston Peters’ New Zealand First party from 2017 to 2020. In this poll, the Greens increased their seats by two to 10, while NZ First lost all nine of its seats.

At present, the Greens hold several ministries but Ardern would not be drawn on whether they would hold onto those portfolios now.

“We clearly have a mandate on behalf of New Zealand to crack on with government formation. I have said that I want to talk with the Greens and we will do that next week, but as I say that mandate does exist for Labour,” she said.

While it would be unusual in Australia for a government to enter into a coalition arrangement when one is not needed, coalition governments are the norm in New Zealand and numerous political analysts have suggested such a move is possible.

“We do need to look at what was the message that New Zealanders – particularly those New Zealanders who may have voted for Labour, who haven’t done so before – what were they endorsing and asking for?” Ardern said.

“I think they were endorsing the work we have done on COVID already and I do think they were endorsing the plan we have to go forward.”

“There are some areas that we do want to crack on with, we want to make sure that we are working on things like that flexiwage [wage subsidy scheme], small business loans schemes, things that really aid our economic recovery quickly.”

The announcement of a new COVID community case on Sunday was a rapid reminder of the huge challenges posed both in containing the pandemic and reviving the economy.

Ardern said that at this stage there was “nothing to suggest the need to move any of the restrictions levels”.

“That’s of course because this was already an individual who was considered to be working in a high risk area [on the electronics of cargo ships that arrived in port], hence the fact that he had been tested multiple times, routinely.”

The port worker who tested positive had last returned a negative test on October 2 and had sought a test on October 16, the day he was due for his next routine test, within hours of feeling symptoms.

Heath Director-General Ashley Bloomfield said the man may have been infectious on October 14 and 15 and his close contacts had already been contacted and were in isolation.

“At this point in time we think there is a low-ish risk of further community transmission,” Bloomfield said, because the man had had relatively little contact with other people on the two days prior to his test.

Meanwhile, Judith Collins of the National opposition said she expected to remain leader of the party she took over only in July and that she hoped and believed she would lead it to the next election.

National were the biggest losers on the night with 21 seats gone and 35 seats held, while the centre-right ACT picked up nine seats and the Maori party is likely to re-enter Parliament with one seat.

Collins conceded National had been complacent following the 2017 poll, given they had won the most seats but had been unable to form government.

“I think that’s something that will come out in the [election] review, but I also think too you’ve got a reasonable point there. Having come in with a very large caucus into opposition, with 44 per cent of the party vote, and against a Labour Party that had 37 – but not being in government – you can actually start to think there is some complacency”.

James Massola is south-east Asia correspondent based in Jakarta. He was previously chief political correspondent, based in Canberra.

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