PM marks Peters' report with 'pretty good effort'

By Audrey Young

Prime Minister Helen Clark yesterday rated Foreign Minister Winston Peters' performance at the Commonwealth meetings in Malta a "pretty good effort".

She said the controversy over his role was "water under the bridge".

"From the time he made it clear he was interested in the job, he said he wanted to take it very seriously," she said.

"We've had a settling-in period. The media is interested in the arrangements. I think he is getting on with the job and taking it pretty seriously."

Mr Peters left yesterday for meetings in Britain but, before doing so, had clearly forgotten what he had told New Zealand reporters the day before. TV3 last night showed Mr Peters denying he had asked for "a second chance".

But as a tape recording showed, he had told reporters the day before: "How about giving Winston Peters a second chance."

Helen Clark said Mr Peters had given her "a coherent account" of what had gone on at the Foreign Ministers' meeting ahead of the Commonwealth summit this weekend.

Mr Peters talked trade, aid and terrorism with other foreign ministers in Malta, the first time foreign ministers have met ahead of the leaders' meeting.

"The scene is now set for a successful Chogm," Mr Peters said in his own statement.

"At the Foreign Ministers meeting I emphasised the need to provide assistance to vulnerable small states, and to develop effective international strategies against terrorism.

"I also highlighted the vital importance of concluding the Doha [WTO] round negotiations."

Mr Peters had bilateral meetings with several Pacific counterparts including Fiji, PNG, Solomon Islands and Vanuatu. He also talked with counterparts from Bangladesh, the Maldives, Pakistan and South Africa.

"It is clear from my meetings this week that New Zealand's contribution over many years to international organisations like the Commonwealth is held in high regard," he said.

Mr Peters has had a rocky relationship with the media over his role as Foreign Minister outside Cabinet, while as leader of New Zealand First he can criticise the Government in other areas.

National MPs questioned in Parliament how he could lead a debate on immigration at Chogm when his party had strong views on limiting who could enter New Zealand.

Mr Peters said yesterday he had not led the debate and said the error arose because of a concurrent Commonwealth Business Forum which considered long-term strategies to deal with mass migration difficulties.

"I am looking forward to returning to New Zealand in a week's time in order to assist the understanding of the media and members of the National opposition of my role and responsibilities as Minister of Foreign Affairs," Mr Peters said.

Earlier he asked to be given a fair go at being Foreign Minister.

"The idea of belting a guy around before he even gets to start the job is not going to go down big with what I understand to be the fair-minded attitude and views of New Zealand society."


Baublewatch

Foreign Minister Winston Peters said during the election campaign that he did not seek the petty baubles of office in any future government. Mr Peters  accumulates the following in his role outside the Cabinet:

* 1 Entitled to official residence in Wellington.
* 2 Security systems at all residences.
* 3 A television, recording equipment, facsimile and pager.
* 4 Entitled to self-drive car at own residence.
* 5 Flew business class, upgraded to first class, to Europe (passengers flying first class on Lufthansa get seats that convert to a 2m bed in which they can snuggle in their airline-supplied pyjamas and slippers).
* 6 Gala dinner, grand master suite, Hilton Hotel, Malta.

Previously noted

* 1 Base salary up from $120,000 as a minor party leader to $171,600 for minister outside the Cabinet.
* 2 Access to ministerial cars.
* 3 Qualifies for a VIP diplomatic passport.
* 4 Overseas trips to Korea (last week) and Malta and the UK (this week).
* 5 A trophy photograph for his wall of him in the background of an international line-up with US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

- NZPA, additional reporting Audrey Young

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