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September 20, 2010 | by  | in Features |
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Winston Peters: charming the young?

Winston Peters has been a figure on New Zealand’s political landscape for decades. Perceived trouble-maker, one-time king-maker and a charmer of our fair country’s elderly population, Peters visited Victoria University before the break for the launch of New Zealand First on Campus. Salient Editor Sarah Robson talked to Peters about shaking off the perception that New Zealand First is a party for old people and the challenges facing New Zealand.

What relevance does New Zealand First have for young people? The elderly vote that New Zealand First attracts is always emphasised in the media—what is there to offer to students?

For a start, we’ve always had a great number of young people in New Zealand First, despite the propensity of the media to keep on saying that we’ve got mostly elderly people—that’s not the demographic that we know about, but if you are calling meetings in the middle of the day, it is very likely you are going to get older people who are not working, or people who are in shift work. So that’s the character of that. You know we have had the youngest Minister in any Cabinet in any part of the Commonwealth in Deborah Morris, and we’ve got keen young people rising in universities around the country. Victoria University today is a New Zealand First on Campus opening meeting.

What sort of policies leading into the 2011 election are you hoping will attract that younger demographic; what sort of concrete stuff do you have to offer?

I want to share with the young people today just what has happened to their country, and why they’re in the pile of state that they are personally in: with the biggest one-off…educational cost being defaulting student loans [and] the fact that our country is experiencing bright flight because of economic failure for the last 25 years. The pathway that was taken back in 1984 by both Labour then National, is disastrous for this country, our country is broke, but we have got to fix it. I really want to share with [young people] why a generation went wrong, how it used to be when before that generation—we were number two in the world—and the fact that we need some sound policies, and not a repeat of the neo-liberal right wing claptrap that keeps on emitting from Treasury and out of Parliament. Because students have got 45 years as workers, or 75 years—80 possibly—years [of life]—if they’re lucky—because people are living longer in New Zealand—it’s time to take it pretty seriously, isn’t it?

In terms of tertiary education more specifically, we’ve seen Steven Joyce say he’s not going to give universities any more money. How does New Zealand First see that situation, where universities are closing enrolments and denying students access to further education?

How on earth can you prepare a young generation in an age where employment is critically related to skills and education, and economic performance nationally is relative to economic performance of a nation…? How could you possibly be allowing a cap on university intake in this country, leaving out possibly 10,000 students, whilst you allow no cap on foreign students? And that’s why we call our party NZ First and that’s why the National Party should change its name to the International Party.

A lot of your policies focus on the elderly and health care for older people. Do you think there is a trade-off between investing in the futures of young people and then ensuring there is adequate care for older people?

First of all, there are people coming to university shortly who are the beneficiaries for our free medicine for under six year olds. We brought that in, against great opposition, and it has been maintained. Second thing is we’re the first party to ever announce, and this policy remains unchanged, the universal student allowance. And the third thing is we were the first party to announce options whereby you can work off your student loan by doing certain things in New Zealand where there are…critical occupational shortages, so others might borrow that but we announced that a long, long time ago.

Immigration has been one of your big talking points—do you think current immigration policies are compromising opportunities for young New Zealanders?

The immigration policies of this country since 1988 have been a miserable failure. We were promised that if you brought in greater numbers of people, unit costs would come down, productivity would go up. All the scientific evidence, where people have come to it unbiased, points the other way—in fact a paper for the incoming Labour Minister in 2002, and that’s a paper prepared by our own department, spelled out just how it wasn’t working, that one in two were not engaged in the economy. Now, how is it all over Europe they are saying this, the UK, they were saying it in the last campaign, they’re saying it in Australia now, and all around Asia they believe what I’m saying—what’s wrong with New Zealand then? Or have we just got a group of armchair academics and ivory tower specialists so removed from the reality of all human existence, that they think their views are more important? New Zealanders are missing out on jobs and employment and all sorts of things. We’ve got 2000 doctors now from New Zealand and Australia being replaced by third world doctors…Am I on about immigration? Yes I am, but I’m not on about immigrants, that’s a big difference. You know immigration policy is a legitimate discussion in every country, I mean it was from the first time the first boat landed with Captain Cook, it has been an issue and it was an issue with the Maori people before that as well.

Do you think it is time for New Zealand to sit down and have a rational, informed debate on…

Population policy. Population policy should be focused on what the country’s economy and society needs, filling in gaps in social needs, such as medical specialists—all sorts of people are required, that’s what we always used to do. And economically, your whole population policy should be built around economics. Why else would you do it? Apart from your United Nations obligation to take so many per year, which I accept…But outside that refugee category, why on earth would you have a policy where the Minister can tell me, “well, ah, we’ve got so many people who are overstayers in this country”…In this modern computer age, here we are, we have no idea who’s here and who’s not here, in fact we’re a laughing stock, we’re ridiculous. It’s one thing to have a soft heart, but it’s no use to have a head to match, because we’re paying for it.

How can you sell the superannuation and savings policy to young people, who are reluctant to put away a bit of money when there are student loans to pay back?

It’s a fair question, but the tragedy is now that with all this mucking around whilst they ignored people that were saying “we’re running adrift here”, and with the misalignment of the taxation—what I’m arguing and what I still want to argue, is that it makes it more difficult to happen. In short I was offering an eight per cent tax cut. So if you were a student, you were getting an eight per cent tax cut and that was going straight into savings, so it would sort of be painless. That was only a packet of cigarettes a week. Not bad you know. A packet of cigarettes a week to have a far better retirement plan than we’ve got now in terms of the amount you’d get. But here’s the point—the game’s up. You students are going to be denied choice now because they’ve wasted their time, now we’ve got to start with much more difficult circumstances and we still have to save because there is no money coming from anywhere…

We’re a perverted, contorted, schizophrenic economy. So why should students save? Well let me just tell you something, the best advice I could give you, I wish I’d saved back when I was young, put eight per cent aside. Singapore’s awash with money, Australia’s awash with money, Chile’s awash with money—they have simple savings schemes, they’re all going down that path.

In the 2008 election, New Zealand First just missed out on making the five per cent threshold required for representation in Parliament. Is it time for New Zealand to look at MMP and look at lowering that threshold and perhaps tweaking the electoral system?

We knew the rules. The argument way back then when MMP first arrived was do we make the threshold four or five? I argued for five because I was concerned about the dislocation of too many parties that you see in some countries. Maybe four is fair or not, perhaps it is, but the last thing New Zealand First is going to say is that…we don’t like the rules. We accepted it, we knew we should have won easily…

You have had a long career in politics, what have you learned in your time?

I’ll tell you what I’ve learned in my time—it’s what I started with, it’s reinforced my view. Politics can be a horrible, dirty, filthy business and it frequently encourages that very type of character to emerge in it. But its saving grace is that it has the capacity to change for the better people’s lives, quicker and in a more enduring way than any other profession I know…And that’s why I’ve always believed in it.

Is there anything you would have done differently?

Yes of course, but you know anyone who regrets that would have never made a decision to do anything in the first place. There are thing that I wished I’d have done. Little things that I wished I’d have seen how significant it was, but there aren’t many of them on the big issues—the inappropriateness of the Reserve Bank Act, and now more and more people are saying it, for an exporting economy and a national savings strategy, and now they’re all saying it. Next thing they’ll say it’s their own. ‘One law for all’, who couched that phrase? We did, and the need to have a Treaty of Waitangi that people understood, rather than just made up by academics and jurists. The need for focused immigration policies, shared now by every country in the world excepting New Zealand…So on those big things, I’m proud of them.

But there are some things I wish…For example I wish that when I was very young that I’d argued for the Kirk compulsory savings regime on the basis that I know it’s defective, but we can fix it. And that’s a long time ago. But you see, nearly all women missed out, and you didn’t get the full benefit until 2028, so that’s a long way to go. But we could have fixed that instead of barrelling it over and wasting all those years we would have more money per capita now than Australia…We are broke.

Regrets—little things when you find out later, why didn’t I think that? I’ll give you an example. One night they rose in Parliament to say we’re not going to go to the Olympic Games in Moscow in 1980. That wasn’t discussed in caucus, up gets the Minister of Internal Affairs—frankly I wished to this dying day that I’d go up there and said, who the hell says so? We’ve not had a discussion, I think you’re talking crap. Just because Maggie Thatcher says it, and Ronnie Reagan says it, doesn’t mean we should. But everyone went along. Those are things I regret.

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About the Author ()

Editor for 2010, politics nerd, panda fan and three-time award-winning student journalist.

Comments (20)

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  1. Huria says:

    Well done Sarah (this time) for your straightup reporting on your interview with WP and not putting spin on it to make it controversial – a refreshing approach. The points about a ‘Universal Student Allowance” and ‘abatement of loans with bonding’ are sensible policies for students, and for NZ. And we certainly need to not restrict entry to Kiwi students while allowing foreign students open entry. For more detail your online readers could go to click on Policies, then Education and scroll down the page for the Tertiary section.

  2. shitkicker says:

    this is why we shouldnt have internet in old folks’ homes

  3. Huria says:

    Kick your own shit! How about some considered debate – after all you are supposed to be intelligent. Or are you about to drop out because you cannot make it, and your only recourse is to make shitty remarks.

  4. shitkicker says:

    you assume i’m a student… which is weird, given that you’re an old troll

  5. Josh says:

    Good interview. I, for one, would welcome Winston Peters’ return to Parliament. Labour and National both sold out a long time ago. The Progressives and UF are all but dead. NZ First is looking more and more like a credible option again. With the probable demise of ACT, and a possible split in the Maori Party, I’d say Peters and his party stand to gain a lot.

  6. Student says:

    This is nothing but a puff piece for Winston. Where are the questions about the $158,000 he owes New Zealanders, or his lies to the public in the 2008 election about donations he was recieving from big businesses? Come on Sarah you are a better journalist than this.

  7. Huria says:

    The lies to the public in the last election is a falacy. The NZF finances were absolutely in order. What other political party has had their finances examined by the Serious Fraud Office, the Electoral Commission and the Police who ALL found NOTHING wrong.
    The publicity was engendered by the press in support of the National Party which was truly dirty tactics which resulted in NZF being pillaried by rumour, and not by fact. Of course the press did not shout about the exoneration.
    It seems that some journalists make their mark by reporting by rumour – something that sells newspapers, but which is truly damaging to the electoral process.
    You watch the shit keep hitting the fan in the lead up to the referrendum about if we want to carry on with MMP. ACT is being shot up, the Maori Party is being given concessions they shouldn’t be. Its about time for the Greens to start being attacked (but they are really keeping their heads down at the moment – and who would bame them – they’re next).
    Some of you are not old enough to have suffered the inequities of ‘First past the post’, where a Govt could govern with a majority of less than the no. of voters, just by the ‘jacking’ of the electorate boundaries. At least the ‘Party vote” we have now is not dependant on boundaries, and it should stay that way.
    And look at the conundrum that FPP has wrought in the Aussie elections.

  8. The Observer of Humans says:

    Is a “falacy” like a lacy version of Fa, the fourth note on the major scale? If a politician can lie to the public in the form of an embellished fourth, I’d like to hear that. That would certainly make this country’s political debate sound more appealing to the ear.

  9. Huria says:

    You just don’t get it do you. NO lies were told! Observe the media why don’t you. Keep an open mind and observe all the evidence.

  10. lol troll says:

    lol old people and their stories

  11. Huria says:

    Now you are just being rude. You are assuming that all nzfirst supporters are old. They are not! Get real and get a life

  12. shitkicker says:

    I hope Winston gets back into Parliament so he stops trolling the Salient site

  13. Ryansway says:

    Will NZ First make a public disclosure about what policies are tradable with larger parties in exchange for coalition? A lot of Maori party voters would have liked to have known about support for higher taxes on cigarettes before they gave their votes away. So the same for Winston, for which extreme left or right policies will he sell-out?

    What is his position on removing GST on healthy foods, and what is his position on NZ’s over-valued and exploited currency? Will he support a move by Labour to implement currency controls and do away with the Reserve Banks dependence on manipulating interest rates as the sole means of controlling inflation?

    And what’s his position on accepting migrants from country’s that are doing very little to encourage common sense and birth control as a means of leveling a sustainable population? How long does he expect the world can continue to take on refugees from country’s that are doing nothing but producing more and more mouths to feed on land that cannot provide the essentials of life.

    The next generation will be facing issues on a planetary scale as the worlds resources thin out and increasing numbers of 3rd world mouths take to the seas and different forms of piracy and crime to resolve what Somali’s commonly refer to as “the hunger”. How does Winston perceive this problem and what immigration policies would he like to implement to preserve the fundamental way of life Kiwi’s should be entitled as a trade-off to their lack of proximity to other industrialized Nations?

    In 50 years when there is no oil this country’s lack of proximity to its trading partners will severely affect its ability to export, so steps need to be taken to make our economy as insular as possible from the shock of currency fluctuations to allow the creation of wealth before that time, and then use that wealth to lead invention and innovation of alternative green energies. What policies would Winston put in place for business start-ups have access to the capital they require to take their innovations to market? Would he support a move by Government to act as guarantors for all new technology start ups in exchange for staying in NZ once they are creating jobs?

    And what about this country’s ACC regime. Will Winston support an act to allow private citizens to sue in cases of medical misadventure or malpractice? We have a lot of misdiagnosis happening in this country because there are no serious reprecussions on medical practitioners. The only way the public can have their confidence restored is by making those responsible publicly accountable and for there to be serious financial consequences that can also help offset ACC’s constant moving of the qualification goal posts to avoid liability. How does Winston view this problem and how does he intended to address it?

    There is also a lack of jobs for qualified workers in New Zealand, and they are now having to compete with a surge of beneficiaries being used by Government serving businesses a seasonal and disposable part time workforce. Employees in this country now have no stability, and since National were so eager to change employment laws to provide stability for Warners, how does Winston view this hypocrisy? Does he support a move to vent this country of the disease in employee rights and relations National have infected this country with in their short time in office? How does Winston perceive the stupidity of a Government forcing the unemployed, sick, and disabled, into a jobs market that does not exist? Does he have any ideas on how the unemployed can be provided greater employment opportunities while allowing them their dignity, without compromising the quality and stability of employment available to qualified individuals?

    Real inflation in this country is being masked by a rapid deflation in the average salary and wage. Householders face annual increases in the costs of electricity, food, and petrol, while they are earning less each year. How does Winston intend to close that gap, will he support a move to permanently freeze the costs of essential goods and services from non competition businesses, such as electricity? Would he support an independent task force to open the books on these non competition businesses to publicly disclose how such high costs have been arrived at, and if senior staff and directors are being overly compensated for the roles they perform to a NZ scale of earnings?

    Finally, what assurances does the public have that Winston won’t go straight back to his old ways of jet-setting the globe before his Parliamentary seat is warm? Will he support a motion to reintroduce transparency of the travel perk that Lockwood Smith threw up iron-curtain to hide from the voting public? Or does Winston think Smiths actions will give him access to even more travel perks and therefore heighten his interest in securing a seat in Parliament? This country’s interests are not served by MP’s taking holidays offshore at the tax payers expense, so would he support a bill to limit MP’s free travel perk to NZ destinations only?

  14. smackdown says:

    ryansway aka the long way through the hills, back through ten tunnels, and four hours lost up a mountain

  15. Miller says:

    I think that’s actually the prologue to Winston’s up-and-coming autobiographical opera.

  16. Miller says:

    In fiiiifty years
    when there is no oil (there is no oil!)
    this country’s lack of proximity
    to its trading partners
    will severely affect its ability
    to export…
    to export!

  17. smackdown says:

    i dont like musicals they make me cross!!!

  18. Ryansway says:

    And one more, Winston, but please use your real name next time you post!

    What is your position on rumors that the National party is cooking up a bill to limit the travel of anyone owing money to the Government, be it fines or outstanding student loans.

    Would you support citizens passports being held until all debts with the state are cleared?


  19. smackdown says:


  20. Ryansway says:

    And what is your view on Nationals “year’s voluntary national service to offset student loan costs”?

    Do you support National trying to boost our military using student labour to appease the US while spending on essential social services at home are subjected to wholesale budget cuts?


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