What New Zealand would look like under a National-ACT-UF coalition

What changes would a centre-right coalition government make? Look for more roads, pieces of privatisation, and tougher prison sentences. Then there's bulk-funding...

If National can hold its vote in the high 40s, it will probably be able to form a right-of-centre coalition government in the coming weeks, joined by ACT and United Future. While the media focus has largely been on potential partners and bottom-lines, there has been little analysis of how such a coalition would govern. Each of those three parties are advocating change, but what kind of change do they mean?

Using the extensive research done in preparing our Election Quiz, we here at Pundit have gone through the parties' policy positions, using their own words to figure out what a right-wing coalition government would actually do to change New Zealand, should it come to power in the next few weeks. (Tomorrow we will take a closer look at what we could expect from a left-wing coalition). Remember, National as coalition leader will of course dominate policy negotiations. But it is likely to need support from both its coalition partners to achieve a majority in the House.

John Key has been talking about priorities for his first 100 days, should he win, stressing tax cuts and extending the provision of Herceptin to cancer patients. He has in the past also said reform of the Resource Management Act would begin in that first three and a half months. He should face no opposition from his new partners with the latter. ACT has hotly opposed the RMA, and while United Future has described it as a "necessary" law, it has given itself wriggle room by saying it "can always be improved". United Future, however, does not support National over-riding Pharmac's decision to fund Herceptin for only nine weeks, and the Greens, Labour and Maori Party agree. So Key may struggle to get that policy passed. Tax cuts are a given.

The most controversial moves by this National-led government would likely be the partial privatisation programme that it would embark on. ACT is well-known for its free-market principles, but perhaps less known is United Future's strong belief in public-private partnerships. All three parties would support:

  • prisons being run by private companies
  • more toll roads part-funded by private companies
  • increasing the capacity of the public health sector by using more private providers
  • giving people over-65 tax concessions or rebates to buy health insurance
  • allowing private companies to compete with ACC in some sections of compensation provision

ACT would prefer a competitive health sector, but would likely support United Future's policy to require DHBs to contract work to private hospitals as a way of cutting waiting lists and National's desire to give DHBs greater freedom to supplement public services by using private providers. ACC would certainly be in for a shake-up. While such a government is unlikely to endorse ACT's plan for an "open, competitive" marketplace, National supports "the introduction of competition and choice" into the Work Account (covering employees and the self-employed), while United Future wants to see companies competing to provide workplace compensation.

Bulk-funding could be the sleeper issue in education. John Key has carefully not ruled out supporting bulk-funding, while ACT and United Future are supporters. (Although United Future adds the caveat that support staff salaries would be separated from the general operations grant). Given its past support for bulk-funding, National could agree to its implementation in post-election negotiations.

All three parties are united in their calls for tougher sentences, so National is not likely to have any difficulties getting through its policy of no parole for second-time violent offenders. It may struggle to implement its gangs policy, however. National wants to strengthen provisions in the law that make it illegal to be a member of a criminal organization and make gang membership an aggravating factor in sentencing. ACT however has called policies "wrongly-focused" and "tokenist". United Future is dubious of any impact and wants to wait to see how the South Australian law fares before acting on the issue.

Roads will certainly trump public transport under this government. While National and United Future tip their hat to buses and trains, they have focused their transport policies on building more roads, more quickly, something ACT is passionate about. A reformed Emissions Trading Scheme will pass, despite ACT's denial that climate change is actually occurring. United Future wants more compensation for households, National more for business, so what its final form may be is unclear.

An increase in immigration is also likely. ACT and United Future advocate growing the number of migrants allowed into the country (to varying degrees), while National policy is quiet on the matter, giving it more than enough room to move.

Social issues? The Family Commission will stay despite National's preference for it to be merged with the Commission for Children. It is Peter Dunne's baby and a United Future bottom-line. The legal drinking age will stay at 18; prostitution and civil union policies will be untouched.

TVNZ however, is unlikely to be so lucky. It will probably face changes to its charter; at the very least charter funding will be opened up to other networks as well. There will be a referendum on MMP soon, probably at the 2011 election. Treaty of Waitangi settlements will be pushed through by 2014 and as for the Maori seats, who knows? National and ACT would both abolish them. United Future is also happy with abolition, but only after a binding referendum is held.

In welfare, those on the DPB with children at school can expect to be working or in training sooner rather than later. All parties support such a policy. ACT goes further, saying even those on the DPB with pre-school children should be in work or education.

Where might the tension between these parties come from? Potentially in workplace reform. As a former Labour party MP, United Future's Peter Dunne has maintained a moderate industrial relations policy. ACT and National both want some reform to bargaining laws, although the latter is promising only minor changes. United Future, oddly, has no policy on a three-month probation period for new workers, a scheme National and ACT would strongly support, so expect movement on that issue. Given ACT's belief in ending restrictions on Easter trading, John Key having voted in favour of such a bill, and National's silence on that issue in its policy, that too could be on the government's agenda. For United Future, as for National, the issue is a conscience vote.

KiwiSaver could also cause some arguments. United Future supports the scheme, National wants it trimmed, ACT wants it canned. The future of public sector workers is also hard to read. ACT wants cuts, National a cap, while United Future is opposed to cuts. Superannuation could also cause conflict. Each has different plans for its reform.

What if the Maori Party is needed to get this potential coalition over the 50 percent mark? Frankly, it's hard to see. Most of the plans mentioned above are at odds with Maori Party policy. There are perhaps two areas where National might be able to pull a rabbit from the hat. First, it would have United Future support if it wanted to extend Labour's 20-hours-free early childcare education to Kohanga Reo. Second, it would have ACT's support if it felt able to give the Maori Party its holy grail, by repealing the Foreshore and Seabed Act.

For all the policies that would remain from the past nine years, the policy plan laid out above would represent a swing to the right, but not to the far right. This government's pieces of privatisation and reform would open the door to moving further right in a second term, but it would also keep it tied to the centre, flexible enough to move either way come 2011.