Claire Trevett is the New Zealand Herald’s deputy political editor.

Claire Trevett: Sabre-waving Peters skirmishing on all fronts

NZ First leader Winston Peters. Photo / NZME.
NZ First leader Winston Peters. Photo / NZME.

It has been quite a month of victories for the folk of the RSA. First the attempt to change the flag was defeated. Then a members' bill to exempt RSAs from having to get a special licence to quaff the traditional tot of rum with their Anzac Day gunfire breakfasts was fast-tracked through Parliament in time for April 25. A cynic might suggest this was a wee attempt by the Government to suck up to the RSAs again after the great flag debacle.

Two battles had been won, but the ever alert NZ First leader Winston Peters had spotted another one on the horizon. At the point he spotted it, it was little more than a mirage. But, to quote the recently deceased Andy Grove, "complacency breeds failure, only the paranoid survive". Peters is a survivor.

So Peters had uncovered the great attack on his own baby: the SuperGold Card.

He had developed a multi-pronged strategy. Earlier in the week, he fired a few pre-emptive shots at Prime Minister John Key.

On the discovery New Zealand was involved in the Panama Papers overseas trusts scandal, Peters declared Key had created a "Banana Republic".

He stayed on the theme of republicanism after Key referred to New Zealand as "a British colony" when discussing changes to the UK visa rules. Peters himself is no stranger to pushing the nostalgia button to woo voters. But going back to pre-1907 when New Zealand ceased to be a colony was a bit far even for Peters. In he leaped, declaring Key was "selling New Zealand short". He recalled the Daily Mail's description of Key as a "colonial clot" after his visit to Balmoral Castle. "Just because he behaves as a colonial boy does not make us a colony."

In response, the best - and rather ironic - defence Key could muster up was that his English sometimes fell short.

Having weakened Key, Peters moved on to the declaration of war. This came via a press release which announced WINSTON PETERS DEFENDS SUPERGOLD CARD. The use of caps emphasised the importance. Then he travelled to the front: the Wellington Railway Station. Like the troops of yore, he travelled by train - all the way from Petone - with a phalanx of Grey Power troops wielding enlarged SuperGold Cards.

He claimed the Government was "plotting to kill off" the card, using guerilla tactics: "eroding by stealth".

Such was the transgression that he claimed the transport concessions would eventually disappear altogether. His evidence was the cap on funding for transport concessions at $28 million a year - which he pointed out was only marginally more than the failed flag referendum - and due to be reviewed next year. Then there was the possibility regional councils would have to top it up.

He pointed out former Transport Minister Steven Joyce had muttered about cutting the concessions in the past, but was scared back into his box by the outcry - and now they were at it again.

Never mind that no government would be stupid enough to cut back on the SuperGold Card with an election next year, least of all current Transport Minister Simon Bridges who is also MP of Tauranga - a retirement destination for many.

It is also possible National is motivated less by stinginess than political reality - it is keeping funding injections for the SuperGold Card in its pocket to use as a bauble should it need to lure Peters into a support arrangement.

On that topic, Peters was also engaged in a bit of a civil war. Labour's leader Andrew Little had spoken of the possibility of joint policy with the Greens and NZ First before the next election. Peters was quick to hold back his dance card, responding no such thing would be happening. "We row our own boat."

And the ever agile Peters was simultaneously engaging in a skirmish over the use of overseas trusts in New Zealand. Stung by Newstalk ZB Barry Soper's quip that Peters did nothing to change the trust law when he was Treasurer, Peters issued a press release stating IT ALWAYS PAYS TO CHECK FACTS. The fact was that he was not Treasurer at the time. However, there was one inconvenient fact he was less pleased that people had bothered to check: in 2006 NZ First voted in favour of the law change that put in place the disclosure rules for foreign trusts which Peters now claimed to be so horrified at.

Debate on this article is now closed.

- NZ Herald

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Claire Trevett is the New Zealand Herald’s deputy political editor.

Claire Trevett is the New Zealand Herald’s deputy political editor and joined the Press Gallery in 2007. She began with the Herald in 2003 as the Northland reporter before moving to Auckland where her rounds included education and media. A graduate of AUT's post-graduate diploma in journalism, Claire began her journalism career in 2002 at the Northern Advocate in Whangarei. Claire has conjoint Bachelor of Law/ Bachelor of Arts degrees from the University of Canterbury.

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