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Agenda Transcript: Winston Peters IV

Agenda Transcript: Winston Peters IV

Rt Hon Winston Peters Interviewed By Garth Bray

Courtesy of TVNZ and Agenda

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GARTH Well despite a pre-election pledge that they would abstain on confidence and supply issues New Zealand First has of course signed a confidence and supply agreement with Labour. A major feature of the deal is that Winston Peters becomes the Foreign Minister.

Mr Peters has built a reputation on some fairly strident anti immigration rhetoric and at one point said that a free trade deal with China would help asianise New Zealand. Well he joins me now and I'd like to ask him a question or two about that.

Mr Peters you're New Zealand's Foreign Minister, why did you take that post?

WINSTON Well there's a very simple answer to that, we had every political party in parliament asking us to change our Rotorua stance in the interests of forming a government and in the interests of stability, that’s what they were all saying in the closing week before the government was formed, they cannot surely now change their idea and their mind about that, and during the coalition talks between other parties and between the communications of ourselves and the present government there was the suggestion of a ministerial post which I could not take because I didn’t want to be in cabinet as such and that’s how it arose.

GARTH But you signed an agreement with Helen Clark to secure benefits for seniors, to make changes to immigration laws. How does being Foreign Minister serve that?

WINSTON Oh well you know that which we used to be criticised for for years by the New Zealand media is now the orthodox thinking of this country. The Minister of Immigration said on the 5th of August this year at a Law Society meeting he said this, that our immigration laws were a dog's breakfast. Now with respect perhaps you journalists should get a fix on it, if our laws are a dog's breakfast maybe the results are a dog's breakfast and that’s why we're having an urgent and comprehensive review.

GARTH And how will you being Foreign Minister and travelling around the world speaking on behalf of New Zealand help fix those, help make those changes here at home if you believe in them so strongly?

WINSTON Because the prescription is already written frankly, if you go abroad you will find every other western nation with a much more rigid immigration policy than ours and if you go to Asia all the way to Turkey they'll be a hundred times more rigid than ours. The only bemusement we have on this issue is not with international bodies or international leaders of any political persuasion but in the minds of the New Zealand media who don’t seem to understand ….

GARTH Well you're right, I'm very bemused why didn’t you become the Immigration Minister if it's such an important part of what you want to do?

WINSTON Well look that doesn’t arise, it's an issue that can be fixed very simply. It's been an issue that’s been fixed by people like Blair, like Howard, like Malaysia, every other country is doing it since September 11, why don’t we get with the developments in the world and understand that our security is important and who comes here should not be abusing and misusing our laws, that is understood fundamentally it's orthodox thinking internationally, why do you think foreign governments would be in any way concerned about that?

GARTH You want to be the Foreign Minister then and that’s your job, can you define that job for us, where does it begin and where does it end? Let's start with Kyoto, are you able to take the government line and defend the Kyoto protocol in international courts when you're back here and your party doesn’t believe in it?

WINSTON Look you're going to have to as a journalist get up with the programme, the government line is in …

GARTH Well if I am so is the rest of New Zealand.

WINSTON No no because you're refusing to tell New Zealand what's going on, there's been a massive change, the government recognises that it may not have a majority in parliament to get a carbon tax passed. The government has recognised that a review of Kyoto is therefore warranted. You know these are things that are in these agreements and I think of this country should know what that means.

GARTH You want a closer relationship with the United States why isn’t there one now?

WINSTON Well what I was saying was that we should ensure that we keep close to all of our former allies, enhance our relationships with them as we're building up new and improved relationships with others.

GARTH But Helen Clark's had six years to build that relationship what can you offer Washington that she couldn’t?

WINSTON Well I'm not saying I can offer anything better or new, all I'm saying is as an aspiration as a vision, we should do our utmost to see if we can put the nuclear issue to one side and I use by way of comparison if the Moroccan government can be offered a free trade agreement with the United States anything is possible surely.

GARTH So you wouldn’t support any change to the nuclear legislation at all then?

WINSTON Well our policy is in line with the government's policy and has been since we were formed.

GARTH So why suggest that there be a referendum or support a referendum?

WINSTON Because Charles Swindells before he left the last ambassador for the United States I think he held out the olive branch an olive branch that we should seek to take up as possible.

GARTH Your anti immigration comments, or your anti Asian …

WINSTON No no sorry, you're not going to get away with calling me anti immigration, I have always believed in immigration to this country, but immigration with a focused planned economic and social outcome. Every other western nation understands that, every other Asian nation understands, that why can't you guys understand that to have a focused seriously planned immigration policy is what every other nation does but ours.

GARTH But the examples you’ve drawn tend to demonise the people that are coming here, I mean you're a classically educated man you understand what the word xenophobic means, why do you fear people from other countries?

WINSTON With respect, look I've been abroad on behalf of this country, I've been to China and other whole range of Asian countries and not one politician of any persuasion ever thought anything I was saying was adverse to them, because they have policies with between Indonesia and Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore that are a hundred times more rigid than the ones that I am suggesting. That’s the point. Back home here in New Zealand you’ve got journalists writing abroad right now about Winston Peters and then going wow see what the Indonesians think about him, and of course the journalist in the first place is a New Zealander, same in the Australian news but the Australian people are on to it now and know it's a load of drivel.

GARTH Can I ask you the Foreign Minister, you’ve been making suggestions on who goes overseas, what do you think about political appointments to overseas posts?

WINSTON I've always said that you can find in rare cases politicians with the ability to sell the country as good as anyone else.

GARTH Like Philip Burdon and Mike Moore for example.

WINSTON Well I took Philip Burdon and Mike Moore off shore with me twice when I was the Treasurer of this country and Deputy Prime Minister in the interests of expanding this country's international engagement and partly to help Mike Moore head off to the WTO and become its leader. I knew I could show him to Asian leadership and Asian countries and in my small way I'm proud I did that and Mike will acknowledge it. I put politics aside in the interests of this country and having a New Zealander get to head the WTO regardless of one's trade policies I think it was a very very positive step.

GARTH I just want to talk a little bit about the coalition negotiations and the deal that you’ve done.

WINSTON We didn’t have coalition negotiations, we are not in coalition. When will you people tell the public what exactly has happened here?

GARTH Your agreement then, says that there is a potential…

WINSTON It's a government arrangement.

GARTH You said there was a potential for a 57/57 split, a Mexican standoff, but you’ve since said that you doubted that National could count on Peter Dunne, so why did you have to do the deal?

WINSTON Because you people for a whole week said it was a Mexican standoff …

GARTH But you knew better, you knew better …

WINSTON Well no you don’t know better, you suspect better, all your instincts tell you this can be true.

GARTH It became clear to me when I was in discussions with Labour over the weekend that what was in that Brash said it was not a fact, I was told by Labour last weekend Dunne is with us, Brash claimed in the letter he had done he did not, is that an inaccurate quote Winston?

WINSTON That’s a totally correct quote.

GARTH That’s a fact so you knew it so why did you act on it?

WINSTON Because you don’t start negotiations with one side on the basis that they're the only ones who can in effect become a government, at their request and then do a switch midstream which is what I'm being accused of. Simply Don Brash came to me on the Tuesday, asked me whether I'd meet with all these other parties in my caucus room, at which time I might add I was the best thing since sliced bread and could be thoroughly relied upon for any portfolio no matter what it was which tells you just how breathtakingly hypocritical he has become on this issue, and then he sent me a letter – I asked him on Friday to confirm that letter, talks are one thing but putting it in writing is something else.

So when he put it in writing I had further reason to make inquiry of two other parties and I won't tell you which ones they are, and then it became clear to me that this was not true. Now Mr Dunne backs up what I am saying but I didn’t know that until Monday morning.

That’s the day that the government was formed. I also believe instinctively as a party that had won all the Maori seats as we did in 96 that there was no way the Maori Party when it came to the crunch would actually sign a document with National how could they. Even though Dr Brash was prepared to put aside all his Orewa speech and forget about all his promises in the campaign just for the chance to be the Prime Minister, which tells you a lot.

GUEST COMMENTATORS

GARTH Joining us from Wellington is Jonathan Boston an expert in the Westminster Constitution. Jonathan what do you make of what you’ve heard this morning?

PROFESSOR JONATHAN BOSTON – Public Policy, Victoria University
Well we're in a very curious situation, one would have to describe what has been entered into here as certainly innovative in terms of our constitutional history, and I'm a little perplexed and I think it would be helpful if we can try and disentangle some of the issues and make some progress. The first issue I think that needs to be clarified Garth is around what does a coalition mean and what does a government mean.

Now the Prime Minister made it clear in her remarks to you a few moments ago that she regards Winston Peters and Peter Dunne as being part of the executive government, those were her words, part of the executive government. I would completely agree with that, someone who holds a ministerial warrant is part of the executive and that means part of the government.

At the same time she made it very clear and so has Winston Peters that New Zealand First and United Future are not part of the coalition government. Now this is a curious situation. If you were to use the international literature in political science on constitutional matters, a party which is part of the government in a coalition context would be part of a coalition, you would never find a distinction being made between a circumstance in which a party was part of a coalition government arrangement but not part of the coalition.

That is a very very curious situation and one would say almost defies logic, and I think it would be helpful if we could just clarify how Mr Peters sees things, does he regard himself as being part of the government, if he is part of the government then why is he not part of the coalition.

WINSTON Well I've answered that question before. We are not part of any formal coalition arrangement, but we do have an arrangement on confidence and supply. Way back in 1996 when I was campaigning in my second campaign for New Zealand First you recall I offered a job to Mike Moore as the next Trade Minister should despite that New Zealand First and National go into government.

Why? Because he had the experience, he'd had six years at the job and I could see an opportunity to have a cabinet of talent rather than exclusively a partisan party arrangement made up of sometimes inferior human beings in politics.

I'm saying again we are not in a formal coalition but we have a formal arrangement to support the government on confidence and supply, in all other respects we are able to prosecute our identity and our policies the policies we campaigned on.

GARTH Jonathan in some ways that must be very unsatisfactory though surely because there are a lot of headaches involved there, cabinet committees and you know appearing in cabinet itself and so on, how on earth can this arrangement work in that respect.

JONATHAN Well I think this is a very important question, can I just first of all comment on what Mr Peters has said, I can understand a distinction between the words coalition and government but it does seem to me to be very difficult to maintain a proposition certainly internationally that one is a member of a government and indeed in Mr Peters' case the Foreign Minister of that government, he's representing a party that is not the Labour Party and from the point of view of overseas people they would see him as being part of a coalition government.

To say otherwise would be very odd, I mean it would be very curious indeed to be introduced to foreign ministers in other countries as a member of the government but not a member of the coalition government, or to be introduced as the Foreign Minister but not a member of the government.

But coming to the practical issues I think these are issues which would be helpful again for Mr Peters to clarify. Among the practical issues are will he be attending cabinet in his role as Minister of Foreign Affairs to brief the cabinet, will he be attending cabinet committee meetings?

WINSTON The answer to both those questions is no, I am not a member of the cabinet.

GARTH But that’s where the work's done isn't it Winston?

WINSTON Well no the work's done in the years and the months and the days beforehand and I have someone who is able to take this through cabinet in the form of the Prime Minister, that’s our arrangement.

GILLIAN BRADFORD – NZ Correspondent, ABC

How then Winston Peters do you go overseas with the authority of their cabinet, how do other ministers overseas take you seriously and not want to go above your head to Helen Clark to get things really sorted.

WINSTON Well let's face it, in any arrangement of the type of that which you speak that would be the international approach in the first place. Everybody wants to talk to the Prime Minister first and everybody else second.

GILLIAN But that’s hardly the way you'd like to be perceived though as Foreign Minister.

WINSTON Oh we're not here on some sort of perception trip, we're here to establish a working relationship for the next three years and seeing that we New Zealand First and the Labour Party have such similarity in our foreign policy on Afghanistan on Iraq, on the issue of nuclear weapons, there's not going to be any difficulty.

That’s the simple fact of the matter, but if you ask me who do the Japanese want to talk to or any Asian country for that matter given the way that they are established it is always first the Prime Minister or the top person, who wouldn’t be.

JONATHAN Could I comment Garth that from a practical point of view of course ministers who are outside the cabinet do attend and are members of cabinet committees, the difference between being a cabinet minister and being a minister outside cabinet is you do not normally attend the cabinet, but you certainly attend cabinet committee meetings.

It would be very unusual therefore to have a minister particularly a senior minister such as Mr Peters not attending cabinet committee meetings and that is going to pose some interesting issues in terms of how the government and I would say the coalition government in this case operates.

Other questions of course will be is Mr Peters going to be paid for ministerial services or from parliamentary services, is he going to sit in parliament or as part of the executive. Is he going to have his ministerial portfolio and himself on the government website for the Beehive. Those sorts of practical questions.

WINSTON Oh with respect Mr Boston this is just really – these are issues which can be resolved with the greatest of ease. I read in the paper today that we've got come sort of scandalous situation as to where New Zealand First sits in parliament. This is the kind of media drivel that New Zealand could well do without. The question of parliamentary seating for example, I would have assumed that a part that campaigned with Labour mainly the Greens would want to first sit next to the Labour Party, I was given the choice to do that, apparently that’s something wrong in our approach.

GARTH But both the Greens and National have called your approach ignorant.

WINSTON But that just shows you the kind of hypocrisy about which we speak, the Greens I thought as a matter of courtesy for them would prefer to sit there, if they don’t then fine, but let's not have serious academics and socalled leading journalists wasting the public's time with these sorts of issues, we'll sort it out with the greatest of ease.

GARTH Well where will you sit?

WINSTON Well if the Greens don’t want to sit there then obviously we're gonna have to reconsider, but I haven’t even seen a floor plan yet, that’s the point, I mean I'd have thought there were major issues of health and other things in this country about which we should be concerned rather than where the parliamentarians park themselves in parliament. On that issue if you were serious you'd look at the configuration of the parliamentary floor plan, it is not designed for MMP, I said so back then that we needed to change the seating plan of parliament to reflect MMP, I was ignored but perhaps I'm right now.

GARTH How are you going to behave in parliament though?

WINSTON In the responsible professional way I always have Garth.

GARTH No doubt but you will be able to question government ministers, you'll have to take government questions as well won't you or opposition questions?

WINSTON Of course but you have read the arrangement haven’t you that on issues of …

GARTH I've read it but it just seems like such a schizophrenic relationship that I can't imagine how you'll handle …

WINSTON Oh well but you're talking about the kind of tribal politics that has far too long dominated this country. Why can't a back bench Labour MP get up and ask a minister a question? Why shouldn’t they be able to put them to the sword if they want to as I saw once on a question on a Wairarapa drought where a man called Ben Couch attacked the then Minister of Farming. My point is it actually improves democracy to have democracy.

GARTH So you'll be asking supplementaries of the government.

WINSTON I would imagine I do ask supplementaries now and again yes.

GARTH Of the coalition government not the government of which you are part of.

WINSTON That’s right.

JONATHAN Well the issue of seating first of all, how parliaments organise themselves around the world varies, in Sweden for example the members of parliament sit in regional groupings not on the basis of their party.

In New Zealand we sit on the basis of our party and we traditionally have the opposition on one side and the government on the other, unless we're going to change that in my view that is the way things should persist and because in my view Mr Peters' party is in effect part of the government he should sit with the government rather than opposing the government, but the issue that concerned me yesterday was the statement by his deputy leader that New Zealand First was an opposition party not a government party. Now I think this is really pushing the limits of logic.

You cannot have the leader of a party representing the country internationally as the Foreign Minister, claiming at the same time that it is an opposition party. The only way you could realistically maintain that position would be to decouple the leadership of the party from the party, that in effect would mean Mr Peters leaving his party.

GARTH Well that’s pretty much what happened to the Alliance shortly before they self destructed didn’t it, but I imagine that you don’t want to go there. I'd just like to bring in Gillian Bradford again on this point, you’ve been watching this as an interested Australian observer and although we're not on perception trips here as Mr Peters said perceptions do matter don’t they?

GILLIAN Well and also the reality is that the talking and diplomacy is behind closed doors and it's what people are saying behind closed doors that matters. You're going to be as Foreign Minister coming up against those defence and trade and immigration and climate change issues behind closed doors, they're going to perceive you speaking out of both sides of the mouth.

WINSTON I think your 100% wrong, even as you speak the various international agencies that I will be involved with are aware of our position. I don’t think it's very conceptually difficult to understand at all, they know that there are evolving and different relationships world wide, not every government is the same after all.

GILLLIAN But China are such a huge relationship for New Zealand one that this government wants to build a free trade relationship with, it's just not feasible is it as Foreign Minister to oppose that?

WINSTON What I said was that it is a matter for the Minister of Trade to conduct, it always has been, always will be in our case, he will be the person who will be signing off if there is an arrangement, but I have said that my party and I have campaigned on it and have for years, is not in support of a free trade agreement with low wage economies that could act against us.

I'm not saying anything other than I've been saying for a long time and I do not intend to prosecute our position on that issue at this point in time because my position is very very clear. That’s for the Overseas Trade Minister to work on.

GARTH But if that is the defining issue between New Zealand and China at the moment that trade deal and you're the Foreign Minister what on earth do you have left to talk with when you go there, is it off your radar?

WINSTON It is hardly the defining issue in total as you say and there are bigger issues to do with long term economic and social security of Asia itself, of the world, China's a country that has a much bigger radar screen than was contemplated in that question you're asking.

GARTH So you'll still be visiting China you'll still have things to say…

WINSTON The person who went to China in February of 1998 to secure the visa for Chinese students to come here was actually myself, despite the presentation perception that you people brand me with, but I do remember the Chinese government asked me when we had got the visa arrangement for students to come here organised, they asked me to give a solemn pledge on behalf of my government that we would when they graduated would send them home. I've kept my word there others have not and my country has not.

GARTH Just one last point you were sixty this year, are you here until 2008 and beyond.

WINSTON And beyond yes, and we're gonna make sure it works for three years and surprise some of you people who are pouring cold water on the idea even though just a week ago you would have been ready to accuse me and New Zealand First of being derelict in our duty in having a hung parliament and probably a snap election before Christmas.

GARTH Thank you very much Winston Peters.

ENDS


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