New Zealand First leader Winston Peters has hit out at what he says is scaremongering over the pension age driven by vested interests in his speech to his party's annual conference this afternoon.
Mr Peters has been under pressure to clarify his comment before the conference that keeping the pension age at 65 is a "bottom line'' for his party.
With the potential for NZ First to hold the balance of power following the 2014 election, that stance appears at odds with Labour's policy to lift the age of entitlement for NZ Superannuation to 67 gradually over 12 years beginning in 2023.
Concerns over the affordability of superannuation in the face of New Zealand's ageing population have been in focus this ahead of a Financial Services Council report. That report released today recommended significant changes to KiwiSaver including raising employer and employee contributions to five per cent of income, and a Crown guarantee for the contributions.
However, addressing about 200 party faithful in Palmerston North this afternoon Mr Peters said concerns about NZ Super had been "manufactured for the media by the usual suspects and political wannabes''.
"They are using all sorts of scaremongering, false forecasts and spurious demographics to convince you that we have a crisis on this issue now.
"There is no ageing crisis. The pension age and the amount paid is affordable.''
He warned the Financial Services Council's proposal was ''the start of privatisation of national superannuation''.
"If any government listens to the council it will be the start of the end of a universal state pension scheme and the introduction of a means tested pittance.''
However, linking two traditional areas of concern for NZ First supporters, Mr Peters said the availability of NZ Super for recent immigrants was "a serious issue".
"An immigrant can arrive here at the age of 55, pay no direct tax for 10 years and receive full New Zealand super at 65", Mr Peters said.
"A young couple from China, where there is a limit on family size can bring in four elderly parents who don't have to work here in the 10 years before they turn 65, yet they will all receive full New Zealand super."
"New Zealand First is looking very closely at the situation. We believe the welfare of New Zealanders comes first."
Earlier yesterday Mr Peters refused to respond to Prime Minister John Key's challenge that he should rule out a coalition with Labour in 2014 due to the difference between the two parties' superannuation policies.
"We're not going to engage in these trite ideas of having negotiations two and a half years before an election'', he told TVNZ's Q+A.
Mr Peters yesterday said NZ First would not enter into a coalition with a party which had an asset sales policy like National's.
While every political party wanted to be in Government "that doesn't mean you'll go into Government for any reason or at price the country can't afford.''
Policies under discussion at this weekend's conference include a proposal that a future NZ First would support a compulsory government buy back any shares in state owned enterprises sold under National's mixed ownership model at the price the were first issued.By Adam Bennett Email Adam