The first signal that NZ First leader Winston Peters was happy to dispense with his policy for a referendum on the Maori seats came, ironically, in an interview with an Australian media outlet rather than one catering to the New Zealand voters Peters claimed to be accountable to.

Peters was asked about the policy in an interview with an Australian television network just after he had told New Zealand media he would not be answering any questions on coalition talks until October 7.

He sighed to the Australian network that all he had wanted was a referendum but now that the Maori Party had been driven out of town things had changed and he was less adamant about it.

NZ First leader Winston Peters told the Australian network all he had wanted was a referendum but now the Maori Party had been driven out of town things had changed. Photo / Nick Reed
NZ First leader Winston Peters told the Australian network all he had wanted was a referendum but now the Maori Party had been driven out of town things had changed. Photo / Nick Reed

Peters reply was almost glib, given referendums on that issue and the number of MPs in Parliament formed the centrepiece of his big NZ First Convention speech back in July.

Advertisement

Back in July Peters had thundered that any party which wanted to talk to him about being in government would have to agree to the referendums.

Three months later Labour leader Jacinda Ardern made it clear a referendum was a no-go and Peters' ground rules for talks turned into dust.

Labour Leader Jacinda Ardern says Labour's policy on the Māori seats is non-negotiable, from her stand-up at Parliament.

Peters' explanation for his sudden loss of enthusiasm was that the Maori Party was now out of Parliament.

"The Maori Party itself was one of the things behind us saying it ... It got smashed in this election and is gone. So some of the elements to the environment in which a promise was made have since changed. That's all I can say."

That is effectively a concession the primary purpose of the policy in the first place had been to get rid of the Maori Party - rather than the seats themselves.

But the real reason for Peters' back down is not the Maori Party at all. It is votes. Peters was likely not that bothered about the seats at all - but it has an audience and Peters will say what he needs to scratch out his party's political survival.

The second is that things had also changed for Peters between July and this week. In July, Peters was hovering above 10 per cent in the polls and aiming for 15. In September, he was at seven per cent in the only poll even he could not dismiss as hocus pocus.

There is not much room between seven and the five per cent which leads to political obscurity. NZ First traditionally polls about 11-12 per cent in the Maori seats.

An attempt to get rid of them could result in getting rid of those votes as well - and Peters cannot afford to lose the remaining votes he has.

In the same interview Peters had also revealed that one of the most important issues in his decision-making would be his summation of who could better manage a shock to the global economy.

Peters' reasoning for sharing these pieces of information which many New Zealanders would want to know with an Australian outlet was because he had the pip with New Zealand media, while the Australian outlet had had him on before.

The interview in which he revealed it was with Andrew Bolt of the Bolt Report on Sky News Australia.

That would be the same Sky News that plays on the same Sky TV that Peters and his party have castigated as greedy for hogging major sports events on paid television which the battlers of New Zealand - the people Peters thinks of as his voters - cannot afford to subscribe to. What happened to New Zealanders first?