Peters looks to be deadly se­ri­ous this time

Weekend Herald - - VIEWPOINTS -

owards the end of his talks this week Win­ston Peters looked un­like I’ve ever seen him. Se­ri­ous. Not the an­gry se­ri­ous that has been the trade­mark of his long, strange ca­reer. This time he looked lost in thought as he faced a camera, al­most pen­sive.

I don’t re­mem­ber him look­ing like this when he went into coali­tion with Na­tional in 1996 or with Labour in 2005. When he was sworn in with Labour at Gov­ern­ment House he looked awk­ward in his pin stripes, like a guest at the wrong wed­ding. This time could be dif­fer­ent.

He looked like a man who, at 72, sud­denly knew this is prob­a­bly his last shot at do­ing some­thing worth­while for all those years in pol­i­tics.

His roles in those pre­vi­ous gov­ern­ments had been cer­e­mo­nial re­ally. Na­tional let him be “Trea­surer” to read Bill Birch’s bud­gets but Birch in­sisted on NZ First hav­ing an­other as­so­ciate fi­nance min­is­ter be­cause he knew Peters wouldn’t do the work. As For­eign Min­is­ter with Labour he was kept well away from trade ne­go­ti­a­tions han­dled by Phil Goff.

This time he sounded gen­uinely less in­ter­ested in his per­sonal po­si­tion than the poli­cies he wants.

Gen­uine is not a word I have pre­vi­ously used for Peters. I met him when he came into Parliament in 1984. As a re­porter, I didn’t en­joy deal­ing with him. He made him­self Parliament’s best- known muck- raker. Peo­ple would send him scan­dals real or imag­ined and he knew how to make news, usu­ally by darkly sug­gest­ing he knew more than he did.

He’d wear the an­gry face on TV but when you in­ter­viewed him off camera he’d make the same ac­cu­sa­tions with a know­ing smirk. I found him false.

He gets along well with re­porters, by the way. The oddly ag­gres­sive way he re­sponds to their ev­ery ques­tion is an­other cha­rade he does for the pub­lic. It also con­ceals a de­fi­ciency. His mind is just not quick enough to pro­vide him with safe and sen­si­ble an­swers on the spot, an es­sen­tial skill in a Prime Min­is­ter.

So I can be­lieve he is less in­ter­ested in a po­si­tion this time than poli­cies. This is not a com­fort­able thought.

It has been a joy to live in a coun­try open and con­fi­dent in the world, with a strong, sta­ble econ­omy that is at­tract­ing our chil­dren back home. I like im­mi­gra­tion too. Our pop­u­la­tion was stag­nant for the last 25 years of last cen­tury and it is only in the last five years that we’ve been at­tract­ing record num­bers.

Peters is prob­a­bly go­ing to be able to put a stop to that. He’s likely to do much more. He wants to put the clock back 33 years to July 14, 1984, when he thinks the coun­try went off the rails. He said as much on RNZ shortly be­fore the elec­tion.

Bill English was aged 22 in 1984, Steven Joyce was 21, both old enough to have known the econ­omy Peters would like to re­store. Grant Robert­son was 12, Jacinda Ardern was four. I shud­der to think of them ne­go­ti­at­ing eco­nomic pol­icy with our liv­ing fos­sil of Mul­doon­ism.

When Peters re­turned to Parliament in 1984 ( he’d been briefly there un­til 1981) he was 39. Un­like most of Na­tional’s younger MPs, he was not at­tracted to free mar­kets. Na­tional was a lib­eral con­ser­va­tive party and Win Peters, as he was known then, was def­i­nitely on the con­ser­va­tive wing. He knew what he had been taught and didn’t trust new the­o­ries. He liked the coun­try he grew up in and saw no rea­son it should change. He didn’t like the new Maori think­ing ei­ther.

To read the NZ First man­i­festo for the re­cent elec­tion was like wan­der­ing into a mu­seum. There were poli­cies to re­vive man­u­fac­tur­ing, re­store ex­port tax in­cen­tives, change the Re­serve Bank to take its fo­cus off in­fla­tion and man­age the ex­change rate, block for­eign own­er­ship of land and some as­sets, di­rect the NZ Su­per Fund to buy back pri­va­tised as­sets and is­sue great deal of or­ders about pric­ing and in­vest­ment o air­ports, sea­ports, Ki­wiRail and to banks and fi­nan­cial ser­vices.

There was also some un­char­ac­ter­is­tic en­vi­ron­men­tal and en­ergy planks writ­ten for the Greens, and plenty of hand- outs for horse rac­ing and more ben­e­fits on the su­per gold card. Doubt­less I will get free doc­tors’ vis­its I don’t need.

It has been galling to watch good peo­ple such as English and Ardern pay re­spects to Peters. “Re­spect” has been their by­word since elec­tion night. Truth usu­ally gets dis­torted when he is on the scene. The truth is, MPs on both sides of the house have al­ways had more re­spect for the other than for Win­ston Peters.

Now he gets to choose our next gov­ern­ment. I’ll be on leave in Aus­tralia when it hap­pens next week, I hope I’ll come back to the same coun­try.

Pic­ture / Chris Tarpey

An aerial view of a large slip that has taken out a carpark be­hind the Birken­head shops on Auck­land's North Shore.

John Roughan

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