Long schooled in the defter arts of Opposition, the Old Master is finally back in his happiest hunting ground. For now, the would-be Apprentice can only watch and learn.

The first day of the new parliamentary year yesterday had Winston Peters handing out a couple of free lessons on how to be effective on the Opposition benches.

In contrast, the question-time debut by Labour's new leader found David Shearer largely banging his head against a John Key-erected brick wall.

Rather than going after National - as Shearer was doing - Peters' target was the Maori Party, whose MPs were strangely absent from the House.


It was classic stuff from the NZ First leader. He used his party's sole question to probe Key on an alleged misuse of money allocated to the Maori Party's treasured Whanau Ora scheme.

This promising questioning spluttered out after the Prime Minister replied that he was simply unaware of what Peters was on about.

No matter. Peters could justifiably look well-pleased with himself. He knew he had asked enough questions to guarantee the media would follow the matter up.

Not so Labour's attempted fireworks which rapidly turned into damp squibs as the Prime Minister easily batted away Shearer's pre-scripted questions on Government stability and whether the Maori Party would continue to be bound to the Government on confidence and supply.

On this front, it was Peters who secured the real nugget of information.

Had the Maori Party raised the issue of the Treaty clause in asset sales legislation during negotiations last year on the formation of the Government?

"No," replied Key.

In other words - Peters did not have to spell them out - the Maori Party had failed in its duties.


Shearer says he wants greater co-operation among Opposition parties when it comes to putting Cabinet ministers on the spot during question-time. But getting the likes of Peters, the Greens and Hone Harawira to agree with Labour on a co-ordinated and sustained line of attack on the Government would be tantamount to politics' equivalent of herding cats.

That was amply demonstrated yesterday as the Opposition parties squandered the long-awaited opportunity to hammer the National-led Government on several fronts, from Treaty clauses in asset sales legislation to Government approval of the purchase of the Crafar farms by Chinese interests.

For example, the Greens used one of their two questions to probe Foreign Minister Murray McCully on New Zealand's response to the slaughter in Syria.

Labour used one of its questions to seek the latest estimate of the cost of the clean-up that followed the grounding of the Rena.

Labour, however, has plenty of questions each day to play with. The other Opposition parties do not.

It might seem then that it is in everyone's collective interest to co-operate.

The reality is those parties are competing for votes. Shearer is consequently dreaming if he thinks he can get co-operation.