COMMENT:

Like novelty burgers at takeaway chains, we only have the fun of Winston Peters as Acting Prime Minister for a limited time.

This was the fifth week of that six-week period and Peters was making the most of his temporary boost in status by raising all manner of bete noires while speaking as Acting PM.

This week he criticised tobacco taxes, saying things had gone too far and it was leading to dairy robbings. Then he moved onto the flag.

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Following on from his criticism of Australia for its deportation policies, Peters this week demanded they change their flag because they had nicked the design from New Zealand in the first place and now people were muddling the countries up.

He is having such fun that this week he suffered a lapse of humility and announced he was worried Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern would ring him and say she was not returning because he was making the job look so easy.

In an attempt to make it trickier, National have been trying to put Peters in a position of defending Green Party and Labour stances that are contrary to NZ First's.

Last week it was law and order. This week it was the welfare system after figures showed the numbers of beneficiaries facing sanctions for breaching benefit conditions had dropped by 22 per cent under the 'kindness' policy of Labour.

NZ First has traditionally painted itself as somewhat hard-line on both crime and welfare.

When confronted with such situations, Peters' tendency is to avoid a direct answer and instead deliver an infomercial for the $1 billion a year Provincial Growth Fund.

That fund has apparently become a cure-all for all manner of social ailments and the mechanism that will deliver the 'utopia' Peters said the Government was working to achieve.

National prefers to see the fund as a battering ram to try to turn back onto NZ First itself.

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They describe it as a pork barrel, a 'beads and blankets' approach and the NZ First Re-election Fund.

They also merrily accuse the fund's shepherd - Regional Development Minister Shane Jones - of cronyism.

It does not help that Jones either seems to be related to or went to school with everybody in New Zealand.

National's regional development spokesman Paul Goldsmith has made valiant attempts to discredit the fund and Jones with some success.

It is becoming clear Goldsmith was chosen for this job because he has a strong vocabulary so has a chance of understanding at least some of what Jones is saying in reply.

Jones has accused National of "mental dishevelment" and "pettifogging" – focusing on trivial details.

Among Goldsmith's successful hits was the discovery that 60 per cent of the funding so far had gone straight to the Jones' own backyard – Northland.

In response, Jones denied there was any regional bias while scurrying around to sprinkle hundreds and thousands elsewhere in an attempt to address this non-existent bias.

Taranaki suddenly secured a further $1.5 million. The West Coast was showered with $650,000.

The West Coast also got Jones' pledge that NZ First would not allow the mining sector to wither away, whatever the noises Labour and the Greens were making about it future.

Jones' nickname for Goldsmith is Goldfinger after the villain in the James Bond movie.

It is not necessarily an inaccurate moniker, given Goldfinger's 'Operation Grand Slam' was aimed at contaminating the gold reserve at Fort Knox with a dirty bomb. Goldsmith's aim is to contaminate Jones' gold reserve with a dirty bomb.

Jones presumably sees himself as Bond in this scenario for the fund has had the unfortunate side-effect of further inflating Jones' ego.

Those who believed it had already reached its maximum loading were sorely mistaken.

He is already known to refer to himself as the Three Billion Dollar Man and Billion Tree Man.

When he returned from the West Coast he went into Parliament to deliver a Homeric ode about the travels and great deeds of Jones.

He told his fellow MPs he had returned "something of a hero."

"I am a lion in the regions, I am a lion in the House," he told Goldsmith.

He went even further a bit later: "In Hokitika, Westport, Greymouth, busts are being created of my good self."

Alas, the overriding impression was more Homer Simpson than Homer the ancient Greek poet.

We can all just hope he does not go so far as to wear his underwear outside his trousers.