Business chiefs say Peters and his party have had a moderating effect on Labour, writes Tim McCready.
Business leaders say Winston is in tune with the view of a wide cross-section of New Zealand and understands what the electorate can accept and what it will not.
When business leaders were asked to rate Winston Peters on his ability to influence the major coalition partner (Labour) in government to achieve policy outcomes on a scale where 1 = not impressive and 5 = very impressive, they gave him an impressive score of 3.59/5.
A major wine exporter jokes that "in reality, Winston runs the country!"
Furthermore, most respondents — some 64 per cent — say that Winston Peters and his party have had a moderating effect on Labour within the Coalition that is producing better outcomes for business and farming communities. Only 13 per cent say he hasn't, and 22 per cent are unsure.
"It seems that sometimes Winston is the voice of reason and experience at the Cabinet table," says one chairperson.
Foodstuffs North Island's Chris Quin adds: "NZ First are engaged, seem to be pragmatic and focused on producing better outcomes."
In some ways this is now seen as a strength. At the Red Meat Sector Conference this year, one speaker urged attendees to vote for NZ First for the moderating effect the party brings — joking that we have moved from first-past-the-post to a third-past-the-post electoral system.
When Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern was unable to get the support of NZ First and was forced to reject the Tax Working Group's recommendation to adopt a capital gains tax (CGT), Peters brushed off questions about whether NZ First held too much power:
"Politics and coalitions are difficult to operate. This has been a most successful coalition in an unexpected way.
"It's not a matter of being happy or who won or who lost. What really matters is: have we got the right policy — all of us — that has the support of what I believe is the mass majority of New Zealanders?"
A lobbyist agrees, saying Peters' cunning and ability to understand negotiating gives him a huge advantage — "he also understands middle NZ better than the Greens or Labour".
Peters also has a big role to play as our foremost diplomat and has driven a punishing schedule in recent month with visits to Washington DC to meet Vice-President Mike Pence, to Turkey to meet President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in the wake of the Christchurch massacre, and on multiple trips to the Pacific.
But it is in the domestic arena where CEOs have chipped in.
Respondents also noted the labour law changes and climate change as areas where NZ First is having a notable influence.
Banker Don Brash says the business community owes the partial retention of the 90-day trial period for smaller businesses to NZ First, "and the farming community may well owe NZ First for moderation in the Zero Carbon Bill".
"Yes — and keep it up Winston," says independent director Cathy Quinn. "We do need to see that the climate change legislation allows business and farming to adapt in a sensible time frame.
"I'm not saying we shouldn't reduce emissions in NZ or play our part — I very much believe we should.
But we shouldn't expect business (including farming) to reduce emissions before there are variable pathways to do so. That is unreasonable, unfair and bad for our economy. For example, if we want farmers to cut emissions, we need to look at allowing the use of genetically modified grasses and the like which would facilitate this."
Quips another respondent: "It is a bit of a worry when we all say: thank God for Winston!"
But not everyone was a fan of NZ First moderation. Fulton Hogan managing director Cos Bruyn agrees with the moderating effect, but is "unsure if it is producing better outcomes".
Explains a public sector boss: "I scored Winston as being impressive in his ability to influence because he exercises a veto right over a lot of strategy — however I am not saying that is good."