Winston Peters thinks the next Government needs someone with experience.
In a speech at a hall at the Kapiti Impact Church, in Paraparaumu just north of Wellington, Peters said Parliament needed someone with experience shepherding the economy through the Asian financial crisis of the 1990s, who had experience blowing the whistle on the dubious tax affairs of foreign-owned companies, and who had experience of Māori poverty of the last century.
All experience that looked a lot like the CV of one Winston Raymond Peters.
To a crowd of ex-Sunday Clubbers, NZ First-lifers (well from 1993 onwards), fence-sitters, and electoral tourists, who apparently turn up to any political meeting that will take them, Peters drummed home a message that a change of government wasn’t enough - NZ First had to be in the tent as well.
The voters in the same electorate who urged Christopher Luxon to rule out working with Peters after the election were nowhere to be seen.
The message went down well. The crowd wanted Labour out. But Peters didn’t much dwell on changing the government - that was taken as read. This was a speech about why NZ First needed to be the ones to do it, rather than National and Act.
That’s a particularly tough message to sell.
National and Act have, since their creation, sought the downfall of Labour governments (despite the blended genealogy of the latter), but two of Labour’s most recent three terms in the Beehive have come thanks to NZ First.
“Just in case you think you can swan off and vote for those parties be warned,” Peters wailed, noting that he had stood against the superannuation surtax, and National’s decision to lower the Super rate from 65 per cent to 60 per cent of the average ordinary time weekly wage.
Act arguably got the bigger blasts, with Peters saying that David Seymour and his “accomplices” in the media were pushing to include the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi in legislation.
“The Act party is out there, with the media as its accomplices of course, saying they have got a plan for the Treaty of Waitangi. They’re going to legislate about its principles - there are no principles in the Treaty of Waitangi!” Peters whined to great applause.
Not to be out-snowflaked, Seymour himself took aim at the media later that day, telling supporters the “media is determined not to carry [his party’s] message fairly”, complaining about coverage of his party’s event over the weekend.
Peters has long taken umbrage at the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi, which were developed in the courts and Parliament at the end of the last century and are often used in legislation as a way of ensuring the Crown honours its Treaty commitments, although now legislation tends to refer explicitly to the Maori version, te Tiriti o Waitangi.
Peters has an unimpeachable record of hating the principles, at least recently. In 2005, heading into a racially charged election, Peters had his Principles of the Treaty of Waitangi Deletion member’s bill debated. It would have removed all references to Treaty principles from legislation.
John Tamihere, then of the Labour Party, cussed the bill as the most “pithy, pious piece of paper this Parliament has ever been obliged to discuss”. He also noted Peters had done “nothing” about the principles since they first appeared on political scene after a 1987 court decision “not in 1987, not in 1988, not in 1989, not in 1990, and not in the 12 to 15 years after that”.
NZ First, National and Act all voted for the bill, but Labour and its allies voted it down.
Act has since changed tack. Seymour has proposed explicitly legislating a minimalist definition of the principles, which would be put to a referendum. This would not remove the principles from legislation, but more clearly and explicitly define what they mean and prevent the liberal growth in how the principles are understood and interpreted.
Peters also took aim at Act’s record on co-governance noting it was the driving force behind creating the Auckland Super City.
“I’m the only one with a 42-year [record] … standing up for one country, one people, one nation”.
“The Act Party - they start a super city in Auckland with unelected Māori representation on the super city,” Peters said. The council’s Independent Māori Statutory Board was a result of a 2010 bill amending the super city’s founding legislation, which Act voted for.
For his part, Seymour is very keen not to work with NZ First saying Peters “can’t work with anybody”. “He’s ultimately the person that created all these problems by putting Labour into government. The same person now selling themselves as the solution to that problem? I don’t think that’s credible,” he told TVNZ.
And still the attacks on Act and National kept coming. Peters said he did not believe the claims National would deliver tax cuts by Christmas (National hasn’t actually said it would deliver tax cuts by Christmas - Nicola Willis has said the process of finding cuts to pay for that tax relief would begin by Christmas with tax relief rolling out in 2024).
“They’re promising all these things including they’re going to give you a tax cut before Christmas. Do you believe that’s going to happen? Because I don’t!” Peters said. Howls from the crowd suggested they sided with him.
So complete was Peters’ bashing of National that he sided - in the slippery Peters way of suggesting he sided with them without actually doing so - with the economists who claimed a $2.1b hole in Willis’ plans.
“If you do the fiscals on how they’re going to [do] it - that they’re going to sell all these homes to all these overseas people … they’re going to make all this money but every frontline economist has said ‘Hang on you’ve got a hole of $500m a year’. That’s a hole of $2.1b over four years - how can it pay for your tax cuts?” Peters said.
He reckoned National’s plan could be such a disaster it could force Willis to make room for him as finance minister .
“Sadly, the spokesperson for the National Party said if I don’t give you a tax cut, I’m going to resign!
“Wow - could be a chance here to have a decent Minister of Finance with a bit of experience,” Peters said with a grin.
Away from the crowd, Peters told the press he was “just teasing you guys”.
Although he swiftly corrected himself saying, “Well, I’ve got the experience haven’t I?”.
He said NZ First’s first job was “winning this election and getting the maximum number of NZ First people in”. After that, the allocation of portfolios was up to the Prime Minister . “My colleagues will decide that outcome after the people have spoken,” Peters said.
Finance seemed to be on Peters’ mind. He was incensed at being left out of the ASB finance debate in Queenstown, moderated by Jack Tame (whom Peters has in the past called “James” Tame).
Peters put it down to an effort on the part of “Ned Kelly” Australian banks and the media to cut him out of the conversation, despite the fact that he was the only one who had “ever run the economy in this country” (this forgets the fact that the incumbent, Grant Robertson, has held the portfolio for three times as long as Peters was Treasurer).
“The ASB had a finance spokesperson debate down in Queenstown the other night. Some of you might have seen it. And they left one guy off - the only guy who has ever run the economy in this country.
“I was the Treasurer here, during the Asian financial crisis … I was the Treasurer but I didn’t lose my nerve and we got ourselves out of it,” Peters said. Except that Peters arguably did lose his nerve, crashing out of the Treasurer portfolio in the midst of the Asian Financial Crisis because of his decision to walk out of Jenny Shipley’s Government.
“Here comes the ASB, a foreign-owned bank, holds a debate down in Queenstown [and] doesn’t ask a guy from NZ First who has been there longer than anybody else! Now what do you think of that? Does it sound like it’s fair to you? Did you hear anyone from the mainstream media saying this is crap?” Peters howled.
He had targeted his audience right. Despite his animosity with the Act Party running deeper than the not inconsiderable animosity between Peters and every other party in Parliament, many of Peters’ target voters are on the Act side of things.
Outside the meeting, two attendees, Karen and Briar, were speaking to former Wellington Mayor Andy Foster who is running for NZ First this election. Foster was mayor during the Parliament occupation and told Karen and Briar that he had spoken to occupiers and tried to get people on different sides of the occupation talking.
Karen said she was “still shopping” but had previously been on the Act side of things.
“I’m for personal responsibility and one country and I’m against the push for gender ideologies in schools and the corruption that is going on there,” Karen said. It was being “smuggled into schools - schools are not even aware of it”.
But despite Peters’ entreaties, Karen said she had a “trust issue” after Peters went with Labour in 2017.
“It’s taken me a long time - the trust issue,” Karen said.
Does she trust him now? She hadn’t made up her mind.