He's back: Peters still packs a punch

17:00, Aug 29 2009
winston
Winston Peters

NEW ZEALAND First leader Winston Peters yesterday used his political comeback speech to attack the Maori Party and what he sees as the push to establish a "separate system for Maori".

In a rallying address to party faithful at New Zealand First's annual meeting in Hamilton yesterday, Peters said it was inconceivable "that we should give up" and declared that he and the party will fight "to take back our country" at the 2011 general election.

He told the Sunday Star-Times he intended to stand at the election but that ultimately that was a matter for the party organisation to decide.

The speech, notable in that it barely mentioned immigration issues, was nonetheless vintage Peters, sprinkled with military metaphors and Churchillian fighting words.

Until yesterday, Peters had kept the public, media and party supporters guessing about his political intentions since being ousted from parliament at last November's general election.

While he took aim at the Key government over its handling of the economic crisis, unemployment, the Auckland super city and privatisation, Peters' address echoed Don Brash's Orewa speech of 2004, when the then National Party leader talked about "the dangerous drift towards racial separatism in New Zealand". But Peters told the Sunday Star-Times he had always been opposed to separatism and it was Brash that had stolen his ideas.

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Peters did not hold back, accusing Maori separatists of believing in one New Zealand only if it meant getting their hands on taxpayers' money. He believed Prime Minister John Key would rue the day he entered into a pact with the Maori Party which was "made up of professional Maoris, not Maori professionals" who were not advancing the interests of Maori "at the bottom of the ruck".

The government and Maori Party's reopening of the foreshore and seabed issue would divide the country. "For the Maori Party, every concession won at whatever cost to other New Zealanders, including most Maori is a platform to demand more," Peters said. "History tells us that appeasement seldom pays because every concession emboldens those who are pressing their demands.

"The foreshore and seabed issue had already been resolved as coastal tribes like Ngati Porou had so clearly accepted. Yet, the government has chosen to poke a stick into a hornet's nest to appease the Maori Party."

He said an official Maori flag, giving Maori easy access to university and building prisons specifically for Maori would be disastrous for Maori and the country.

"It is dangerous for the future of this nation to create another flag," he said. "The idea of this `official Maori flag' is taking us further down the road to two nations. New Zealand First strenuously opposes this insidious creeping, crawling, dissolving of the bonds the symbols that unite us as a nation. Thousands of New Zealanders have died under our flag, and many were Maori.

"Tell me who voted at the last election to set up a separate system for Maori? The only area where these separatists are prepared to tolerate a `One Country' concept is their fervent embrace of other taxpayers' dollars. They don't discriminate where the money comes from."

Peters confirmed his intention to stand at the next election, by which time he will be 66. "We are not a party of quitters," he said. "This is not the time for despair, nor doubt.

"Let me tell you here today that we are not going to quietly fade away into the background while most New Zealanders are sold down the river. We are gathering and reorganising our army, ready for the big battle of 2011.

"Over the next two years our task is to mobilise a political force to take back our country. And this time there will be no mistakes, missed targets, or casualties from friendly fire. We will head for the high ground and we will take it."

Peters said there was nothing wrong with Key's national cycleway vision but seeing it as an effective job creation scheme was laughable, while the Jobs Summit hype was a "pitiful" stunt.

"The worry is that the National government is taking an almost fatalistic approach as it watches the tsunami of unemployment engulf the country. On this critical issue what is the Maori Party response? Well, it is simple dish out revenge to the Labour Party for settling the grievance on which the Maori Party was formed, and ignore rapidly rising Maori unemployment for boutique issues that will not economically help one Maori. Soon, many of their constituents will be choking on their hangi in disgust."

Peters was comprehensively trounced by National MP Simon Bridges for the seat of Tauranga last November. He lost the seat by 11,742 votes. Worse, New Zealand First failed to reach the 5% threshold to enter parliament without winning an electorate seat.

Peters' campaign was marred by scandal. Parliament's privileges committee found he knowingly misled the house by failing to declare the $100,000 billionaire Owen Glenn paid toward his legal bills in December 2005. Parliament censured him as a result. Peters insists he knew nothing about the donation at the time.

The Serious Fraud Office investigated whether a $25,000 donation to NZ First by Sir Robert Jones was used for the purposes he intended, and whether cheques from the wealthy Vela family reached their destination. The police cleared NZ First of any wrongdoing.

Sunday Star Times