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Patrick Gower interviews NZ First leader Winston Peters

Patrick Gower interviews NZ First leader Winston Peters

Refuses to rule out wanting to share the Prime Ministership after 2017

Says there’s precedent for a Prime Minister coming from a second biggest party in a coalition, in 1932

Says campaigning in the Northland by-election was the one of the biggest challenges he’s taken on

Believes NZ First has led the opposition on many issues this year: “In many ways we have led the Opposition, and there’s no doubt about it.”

Lisa Owen: Well the Northland by-election showed that despite hitting 70 Winston Peters is still a force to be reckoned with. His win was John Key's first defeat since he became National's leader and spooked the Government. Paddy spoke to Winston Peters before he headed off to the World Cup and began by asking just how high the stakes were in his decision to contest that by-election.
Winston Peters: It was an awfully high-stakes gamble. I don’t think people realise that we were putting it all on the line, but we did. We took enormous risks. But then if you don’t have a go, how can you possibly win?
Patrick Gower: So it was high stakes because you could have come out a loser, wasn’t it?
Yes. We could have wasted a lot of money, come out a loser. We were up against a 70,412-vote start to the National Party. That’s how much they had against our vote in terms of a candidate in 2014. So it was a big gamble. But we did our work and we did our strategy and we thought, frankly, that people up there are so neglected that we were certain that they would respond.
And for you personally, I was with you when we went back to Whananaki, and it was a big thing for you personally, wasn’t it, that you still have that sense of personal achievement of winning your home base?
Well, you’re right about it being a massive challenge, probably the biggest one we’ve taken on.
The biggest challenge for you personally in politics?
Possibly in my career, yes. Well, that is a long way starting from behind with only 27 actual days to do it. But we made every one count, and now we’ve got to ensure that Northland is not forgotten.
Has your view of the National Government changed in this year in any way? Do you think they are better; do you think they are worse than before the election?
I’m not being wise after the event, but we campaigned in 2014 about the economic problems this country was facing and the inappropriateness of the National Party’s strategy. I said so on election night. And sadly, it’s coming true. The economic prognosis is not good. Many parts of the country are in recession now. And we think if it wasn’t for massive consumption born of mass immigration – that’s almost 60,000 net a year – this country would be in recession right now.
So what about Labour? Do you think they have stabilised, looking at the other side?
Well, Labour is suffering from far too much change. They’ve had too many leaders and too many deputy leaders in too short a time. So I think it’s difficult for one to make a judgement there.
You can’t say whether they’ve stabilised or not?
Well, it’s too early to say. Only the public can tell you that. It’s only the public perception will tell you whether that’s happened or otherwise.
On that, and looking at roles in politics, are you the leader of the Opposition?
There are many issues in which we have led the Opposition, that’s a fact. Foreign asset sales; the need for the Reserve Bank to be reformed to suit our type of economy; on the question of the flag, every other party joined the committee. We refused to, because we defend our current flag, and we did not think the process was in any way democratic, and we’ve been proven right. So in many ways we have led the Opposition, and there’s no doubt about it.
But do you feel that you, Winston Peters, that you are the leader of the Opposition?
I’ve always thought that under MMP the so-called leader of the Opposition is a total anachronism. Look who we’ve had in the past – Brash, Bill English, we’ve had Goff, we’ve had Cunliffe. None of those, under MMP, was ever the leader of the Opposition, excepting that two old parties refuse to change and acknowledge the chance since First Past the Post to MMP.
So you feel that David Cunliffe wasn’t leader of the Opposition when you were there? Do you feel that Andrew Little isn’t leader of the Opposition now?
Why did I think you were going to ask that question? The reality is we don’t regard there as being a constitutional position where it’s not a jack-up called the leader of the Opposition. Andrew Little is the leader of the Labour Party. I lead a party called New Zealand First. New Zealand First is the party with the swing-shift change in mind for 2017.
On that scenario, do you think you could be prime minister?
Well, you don’t predicate your future – if you want to have a future in politics – on what you want.
But in the scenario where you were the smaller party, perhaps, in a government in some form, does the prime minister have to come from the biggest party?
You know, in 1932 the prime minister came from the second biggest party in the coalition. That’s why Forbes became the prime minister of this country.
So the prime minister could again come from the second biggest party?
I’m saying there is a precedent, yes. I’m just reminding people of the history. And that was before MMP.
So is that something you’d like to do?
I’ll tell you what everyone in New Zealand First is focused on – me, my caucus, everyone in the whole team – and that is to massively grow our vote by using new systems and the best technology possible in 2017.
You’re entitled to do that.
And we worry about that the day after the election.
But do you want to be prime minister one day?
You don’t get my point. In a long career, when have I ever run for that sort of position? Not once. I’ve seen all sorts of people with high ambitions, most falling by the wayside, most never making it, and I don’t want to be one of those.
What about some sort of agreement where you shared being prime minister? Say it was a National government; say it was a Labour-led government. Would you share being prime minister?
I’m not going to be answering those questions, because it’s immaterial unless we get the kind of sign-up and support that we are seeking in 2017.
But it sounds to me like if you do, you would do that. You would share that role of prime minister.
Given that I haven’t answered your question, how does anything sound to you in that context? I’m not being evasive. In a long time of MMP, for the last 22 years, I’ve told you journalists year after year every election year that we are going to decide when the people have spoken. And I keep on getting the kick-back from the media saying, ‘You’ve got to decide now.’ No. The people must decide first. It’s called democracy.
Yes. And I’m asking you one last time to rule out wanting to share the role of prime minister one day.
That’s a very adroit way of asking the same question. And as I said at the beginning, the people will decide the numbers we have in 2017, and everything’s academic until that happens.
So you won’t rule it out. Winston Peters, thank you very much for your time.
Transcript provided by Able.


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