Former MP laments NZ First legacy

By Lawrence Gullery

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New Zealand First celebrates its 20th anniversary this month but a Hawke's Bay politician and former MP of the party believes it'll self destruct when its leader Winston Peters decides to leave.

Out-going Hawke's Bay regional councillor Neil Kirton was elected to Parliament in 1996 as a New Zealand First list MP and was appointed associate Minister of Health when the party formed a coalition with the National government.

He was one of three former New Zealand First MPs invited to speak on TV3's Sunday morning political programme, The Nation, looking back on the past two decades of the party and its possible future.

After the interview, Mr Kirton told Hawke's Bay Today he stood by his comments which suggested the party had not achieved any "major triumph in political history" which had made a difference to the lives of people today.

"Jim Anderton can lay claim to KiwiBank which has become a huge New Zealand institution. The KiwiSaver scheme by Michael Cullen has made a big difference to people in our daily lives and there is also Sir Douglas Graham's Treaty Settlements.

"So what I am talking about is in the past two decades, very few policies supporting those kinds of initiatives have come out of New Zealand First."

The party's Super Gold Card scheme introduced in 2007 did not rate at the same level.

"The ability to have a free bus ride from 9am to 3pm is not an earth-shattering achievement."

Mr Kirton's policy providing free GP visits and prescriptions for children aged 6 and under passed in the late 1990s and was mentioned as a major achievement.

"There was a suggestion [on The Nation] I claim that. I was its architect but in reality the initiative was not as robust as intended and hasn't had the desired output."

New Zealand's First's longevity came down to Mr Peters' ability to "perform a love dance" with the media to keep his profile in the spotlight.

"He has about five or six approaches and he successfully courts the media, I've seen it in the [press] gallery and at late night drinking sessions where journalists drinking with him are considered in the inner circle.

"He uses that relationship and it is a mutual benefit to him and to the media."

Minor parties still had the ability to make a difference, he said, again referring to Mr Anderton. Mr Kirton believed independent MP Peter Dunne had "made a significant contribution" in government stability over 20 years. The Maori Party was another example.

"I think New Zealand First needs to stop thinking about succession plans and just get on with the goals of implementing policies and initiatives which aim to make a difference in people's lives, the rest [succession] will follow.

"If that's not the case, New Zealand First is finished, when Winston goes, it's all over."

Mr Kirton was an MP until 1999 and was elected on to the regional council in 2001. He was recently appointed chief executive of the NZ Cancer Society's Central Division.

- HAWKES BAY TODAY

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