Winston Peters has refused to say whether Labour's policy of raising the pension age would be a deal breaker should New Zealand First be the kingmaker after the 2014 election.
In a speech to about 200 party faithful gathered in Palmerston North yesterday for their annual conference, he said the cost of paying NZ Super to immigrants was a more pressing threat to its affordability.
Mr Peters, a former foreign minister in a Labour-led Government, has been under sustained pressure to clarify his comment to the Herald last week that keeping the pension age at 65 would be a "bottom line" for NZ First in any post-election talks in 2014.
After his speech, Mr Peters was asked whether NZ First could work with Labour in 2014 if the larger party retained its current policy of raising the age to 67 gradually over 12 years from 2020. "The answer is no."
However, he did not categorically rule out a confidence-and-supply agreement with Labour, saying it was too early to set out NZ First's negotiating position.
Speaking to the conference, Mr Peters said a finance industry report highlighting concerns about the affordability of NZ Super was part of a strategy to privatise it.
"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."
However, the availability of NZ Super for recent immigrants was "a serious issue" for the affordability of the scheme, Mr Peters said, a comment which clearly resonated with party members at the conference.
"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."
He told reporters there were "possibly 22,000" such immigrants eligible for NZ Super in the country now and that number was "rising quite rapidly".
That figure came from "a very senior Chinese source" via a research group in the Chinese community but was not all Chinese nationals, he said. "New Zealand First is looking very closely at the situation. We believe the welfare of New Zealanders comes first."
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