John Armstrong is the Herald's chief political commentator

John Armstrong: Peters' smoking gun backfires

NZ first leader's promised 'fresh information' on Judith Collins' trip to China last year turns out to be feeble.

'And pick up your smoking gun on the way out." It was quite simply the killer interjection; one containing just the right amount of sarcasm to really get under the skin of its target. Or - more accurately in this case - loser.

You do not usually associate that word with Winston Peters. But his promise to dish more dirt - sorry, fresh information - on Judith Collins, such that she would be "gone by Monday", was a dismal failure in Parliament yesterday.

It must have been especially galling for Peters that the paralysing interjection came from his one-time New Zealand First colleague, Tau Henare. The pair fell out when the National-New Zealand First coalition government fell apart in 1998.

A "smoking gun" is proof that something which was thought to have happened, actually happened.

Henare's point was there was no smoking gun for Peters to pick up on his way out of the chamber, having been ordered out of the House by Speaker David Carter moments earlier.

Prior to Henare delivering his parting shot at Peters - he too was ejected a short time later - a sense of trepidation hung over the Government benches.

Henare and his National Party colleagues were hushed as Peters accused the absent Collins of failing to declare "pecuniary and other specified interests" obtained during her ministerial visit to China last year in the MPs' register of interests .

The relief of National MPs was palpable when it became evident that Peters was referring to accommodation, transport and help with setting up meetings that was provided to Collins by Chinese authorities. While other ministers have declared such assistance received from foreign governments, it is not absolutely clear that Collins should have done so, too.

Read more:
Peters' knockout blow on Collins dimissed as 'pop gun'

Regardless, Collins not declaring such help is not a hanging offence. Other Opposition parties accepted that. But not Peters. The real mystery was why someone of his calibre could not see just how feeble was his so-called fresh information.

One reason might have been that he was suffering from the flu. But that was no excuse for Peters committing the cardinal political sin of over-promising and under-delivering.

The Prime Minister cannot resist any opportunity to tease or mock Peters, especially when the latter is on his high horse.

John Key has promised to apologise to Peters on television if he produced something that forced Collins' resignation from the Cabinet. The quid pro quo is Peters apologises to Key if Collins still holds her ministerial warrant next Monday. Peters says he has nothing for which to apologise.

But yesterday was supposed to be pistols at dawn. It turned out to be water pistols in the early afternoon.

Debate on this article is now closed.

- NZ Herald

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John Armstrong is the Herald's chief political commentator

Herald political correspondent John Armstrong has been covering politics at a national level for nearly 30 years. Based in the Press Gallery at Parliament in Wellington, John has worked for the Herald since 1987. John was named Best Columnist at the 2013 Canon Media Awards and was a previous winner of Qantas media awards as best political columnist. Prior to joining the Herald, John worked at Parliament for the New Zealand Press Association. A graduate of Canterbury University's journalism school, John began his career in journalism in 1981 on the Christchurch Star. John has a Masters of Arts degree in political science from Canterbury.

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