COMMENT:

Winston Peters turns 74 next month and if his office hasn't yet decided what to get him as birthday gift, it needs look no further than the local pet shop.

It should have a shock collar and remote control that might assist the Foreign Minister in carrying out his duties, after three occasions in the past few weeks in which he was seen in a state of deep contemplation.

Peters' issue with deep contemplation is not recent. When his former National Party colleagues wanted to wound him most, they would recount tales of Peters dozing off in Cabinet meetings or of him not reading Cabinet papers.

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The difference between then and now is that Peters is under a lot more scrutiny. His rise in political power has coincided with an era in which cameras are everywhere. Big brother has been joined by sister, mother, cousin, aunt, uncle, friend, foe, citizen and journalist.

Peters appeared to nod off during the Security and Intelligence Committee hearing when the spy agency chiefs, Rebecca Kitteridge and Andrew Hampton, were talking about the year in review; and at a meeting with Muslim leaders in Christchurch a day after the massacre; and at an emergency meeting in Istanbul of the Organisation Islamic Co-operation.

Given the importance of the mission to rescue New Zealand's reputation among Muslim countries (and ultimately the safety of Kiwis) it was inexcusable but it was not surprising given that Peters arrived in Istanbul 5.30am after flying overnight, had a full day at the conference and left at 2am.

Peters was away from New Zealand for five nights on the trip to Indonesia and Istanbul but had only two nights on the ground. It was perhaps the most punishing of his punishing schedules in this, his second stint as Foreign Minister.

President Recep Erdogan of Turkey delivers a speech at the Islamic Summit in Istanbul on Friday as Foreign Minister Winston Peters appears to be in deep contemplation. Photo / Supplied
President Recep Erdogan of Turkey delivers a speech at the Islamic Summit in Istanbul on Friday as Foreign Minister Winston Peters appears to be in deep contemplation. Photo / Supplied

Peters has more or less excused himself on the grounds that the mission was successful – many of the 50 or so Foreign Ministers there had been reduced to tears at the video Peters showed during his speech showing the outpouring of grief by New Zealanders after the massacre of 50 Muslims.

The video was prepared by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade and was finished just before Peters took to the stage. And its moving images set to the Muslim prayer in Parliament last week may well have compensated for any offence taken by participants at him dozing off.

Peters' frequent state of deep contemplation is sometimes excused on the grounds that he is getting on in years - but he is not such a rarity.

He is about the same age as the Sultan of Brunei, Aung San Suu Kyi of Myanmar, President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines and US President Donald Trump – and he is in his prime compared with 93-year-old Mahathir Mohamad, the leader of Malaysia where he is now visiting.

Peters appearing to be in deep contemplation again as he and Jacinda Ardern meet with members of the Muslim community in Christchurch. Photo / SNPA
Peters appearing to be in deep contemplation again as he and Jacinda Ardern meet with members of the Muslim community in Christchurch. Photo / SNPA

The frequency of recent events has made it a public issue. Peters has discipline when he cares to exercise it. He cannot afford repetitions, lest he be seen as not fit for purpose.

His next test will be the national memorial service on Friday for the victims of the massacre.

A lapse at that event would be not only letting himself down but he would be letting the country down.