Face­less few to de­cide NZ’s fu­ture

The Southland Times - - COMMENT&OPINION - TRACY WATKINS

Win­ston Peters loves a good con­spir­acy. So how’s this for the most ex­plo­sive con­spir­acy the­ory of the elec­tion so far: The next Gov­ern­ment won’t be de­cided by vot­ers - but by a face­less and se­cre­tive board.

True story. Where are you now Win­ston Peters?

This is the sce­nario that Peters is ask­ing the pub­lic to ac­cept with­out ques­tion - in fact, Peters has slapped down jour­nal­ists’ ques­tions about NZ First board mem­bers as ‘‘stupid and mind­less’’.

So why are they im­por­tant? Be­cause Peters says any deal to go with National or Labour will have to be signed off by the NZ First board. And it won’t be a rub­ber stamp­ing ex­er­cise ei­ther, Peters claims - they will be pre­sented with all the op­tions and asked to de­bate the mer­its of both till board mem­bers can reach ‘‘a se­ri­ous con­sen­sus’’.

In their hands the fate of Bill English and Jacinda Ardern rests ap­par­ently. So who are they? Peters won’t say. He re­fuses to name any­one on the board, or even re­veal when they will meet to de­cide. Peters has even is­sued a state­ment plead­ing their case for pri­vacy, since they are not pub­lic fig­ures.

That may have been true of the board be­fore the elec­tion. But they are pub­lic fig­ures now. They don’t get to re­main in the shad­ows when a de­ci­sion as weighty as this rests on their shoul­ders. So what do we know? A list ob­tained by RNZ sug­gests the fol­low­ing peo­ple sit on the board. MPs Win­ston Peters and Ron Mark, along with direc­tor gen­eral Kristin Camp­bell Smith. Party pres­i­dent Brent Catch­pole (a for­mer NZ First MP), vice pres­i­dent North Is­land Ju­lian Paul, vice pres­i­dent South Is­land John Thorn and trea­surer Holly Hop­kin­son.

The direc­tors of the board listed are Claire Ash­ley, Toa Green­ing, Robert Monds, Anne Marie An­drews, Kevin Gar­dener and Sue Sara, ac­cord­ing to RNZ.

For some­one who has made a ca­reer out of delv­ing into the shad­ows it is stag­ger­ing that Peters does not un­der­stand the im­pli­ca­tions of ask­ing vot­ers to ac­cept at face value his ex­pla­na­tion for keep­ing their iden­ti­ties se­cret.

Are they party donors? Lob­by­ists who in­stalled him in coali­tion talks to do their bid­ding and get their pet projects over the line? Are they big busi­ness in­ter­ests, peo­ple with a vested in­ter­est in which min­is­te­rial port­fo­lios are al­lo­cated to NZ First so they can line their pock­ets?

Or are they like the per­son who phoned me the other day claim­ing to be a for­mer NZ First of­fice holder, a man filled with dark and ugly the­o­ries? Prob­a­bly none of these things are true, or even likely to be true.

In fact, what lit­tle we know of the NZ First board mem­bers from other pub­licly avail­able doc­u­ments sug­gests they are prob­a­bly ex­actly what Peters says - or­di­nary Ki­wis who have been thrust into a po­si­tion that most other or­di­nary New Zealan­ders could never imag­ine them­selves in. Be­ing asked to de­cide who should be the next prime min­is­ter.It is a huge de­ci­sion, and one that should - and prob­a­bly will - weigh heav­ily on them. Which is why we de­serve to know not just who they are, but what drives them.

Does Win­ston Peters - chief scan­dal buster, con­spir­acy the­o­rist and dirt dig­ger - know that? Of course he does.

In re­al­ity, it will more likely be Peters and his in­ner cir­cle who will re­ally de­cide - that is how it has al­ways been.

Peters is more likely us­ing the ex­cuse of hav­ing to call the board to­gether as a way to buy him­self time.

But Peters de­mands that we take him at face value on the im­por­tance of the board in his de­ci­sion and so we will.

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