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Lazy Herald reporting gets the facts all wrong

Rt Hon Winston Peters
Minister of Foreign Affairs


22 June 2006
Media statement

Lazy Herald reporting gets the facts all wrong

Foreign Minister Winston Peters says a weekend story alleging acute sensitivities between himself and Trade and Defence Minister Phil Goff is a typically lazy piece of New Zealand Herald journalism that has at least 14 inaccuracies in it.

"It is such a pitiful piece it is worth covering off the inaccuracies and lies – all of which could have been avoided if the journalist had the decency to attempt to check her facts with either myself or Mr Goff," Mr Peters said.

"Firstly, I have always said that I would attend Cabinet and Cabinet Committee meetings when required – and that is what I do.

"In particular, I make a point of attending External Relations and Defence Committee meetings when foreign affairs issues are on the agenda. It is not a matter of not wanting others to put papers through for me – I have always been clear that when I am not available the Prime Minister, who is a member of the committee, would present papers on my behalf.

"The only furore involving Alexander Downer and myself was the one created by the media for their own benefit. As Mr Downer pointed out to media when he was in New Zealand earlier this year, he had no concerns about the arrangements. Why are people not prepared to take him at his word?

"I have no trouble with Phil Goff talking about East Timor at a Select Committee. He has considerable experience on the issue so it makes sense for him to talk about it. His recent trip there is not a sensitive point for anyone, so why is the Herald trying to create a difficulty when there isn't one?

"The Prime Minister never made any such decision that I could be the first Minister into East Timor, on the basis that Mr Goff was the first into the Solomons. It's a totally baseless allegation.

"Mr Goff did not seek a change in any plan – there was no plan. When it became obvious that an opportunity had arisen for Phil to go directly from Singapore to Timor with his Australian counterpart, Dr Nelson, he consulted with my office and me. I knew about and agreed with the trip in advance, so the assertion that I only learned about it in Vanuatu is a demonstrable lie.

"It is absurd to say that the Prime Minister had agreed that I would be able go in to East Timor first. We never discussed that. The question of timing was always a matter of priorities for me – I did not want to go to Timor until our troops were on top of the situation, and my visit would not be an unwelcome diversion of resources for them.

"Saying that Mr Goff went to the Solomons first because he came home first is completely wrong. He was at home. I was in Europe at the time – it was quite a long way to have to come back at short notice. The same situation applied for East Timor – Mr Goff was in a next-door country (Singapore) and so it made perfect sense for him to go.

"Where did my commitment to bilateral talks with the Singapore PM come from? The only talks I was involved in were the collective ones Mr Lee held with Cabinet.

"To claim that by rights I should have answered select committee questions on both the foreign affairs and trade budgets is wrong. Phil and I worked together on the trade component of the total foreign affairs budget bid, so why should he, as the Minister of Trade, not speak to it at the select committee?

"Suggesting that we should have appeared before the Select Committee together was asking for a logistical impossibility. I was in Auckland that day.

"The assertion that the select committee had a vote to split the ministerial responsibilities is also totally false. No such vote took place.

"Finally, as for not welcoming a joint photo opportunity, there have been plenty of occasions for such photos to be taken. It is just that the Herald cannot be bothered taking them because it doesn't suit their approach.

"Since the arrangements for this government were announced in October 2005, for its own reasons the Herald has decided to constantly attack me for holding the foreign affairs portfolio.

"The fact that I have been around politics longer than any of their political journalists seems to have escaped them. The cowardly and anonymous editorials that they write attacking me have had no effect. Such attempts to undermine my work have never worked and never will.

"It seems the Herald is happy to construct a series of lies without ever bothering to get off their backsides to check for accuracy with either myself or Phil Goff. It is just tired, indolent, slothful journalism, but frankly I am not surprised," Mr Peters said.

ENDS

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