Peters: Andrew Little is on the verge of not even getting back into Parliament
NZ First leader Winston Peters says he's not spending the next nine weeks talking about Labour and the Greens when Opposition leader Andrew Little is at risk of not even getting back into Parliament.
Peters was welcomed to the party's annual convention in Auckland on Saturday with a standing ovation and lots of passionate promises of doubling the current caucus after the election on September 23.
The relationship between the Green Party, which is also holding its conference in Auckland this weekend, has been hitting the headlines after co-leader Metiria Turei accused Peters of "racist" policies in a speech to party supporters in Nelson last weekend.
Turei revealed on The Nation that the attack was calculated and had been in the making for two or three weeks and the Labour Party had been given a heads up about it.
Peters hit back at Turei threatening "consequences" for her remarks and reiterated to media on Saturday that NZ First had passed the Greens in the polls and were "surging".
He says he has polls showing NZ First has more than 14 per cent of the vote and "the National Party do as well".
He told media he regretted having to spend all his time with reporters answering questions about Little - the most recent poll had Labour at 26 per cent.
"If they fall another three or four points Andrew won't be in Parliament."
"The fact is NZ First is going to keep on rising, we're surging in the polls and this time nothing is going to stop us," he said.
People only needed to look to the fact he was the Minister of Foreign Affairs in charge of overseas aid who introduced the seasonal workers scheme in the Pacific, which has been running ten years this week, he said.
"So let's dispose of these racism comments about Winston Peters."
About 300 MPs, candidates and party members have turned up for the convention, though some couldn't make it due to the travel disruptions associated with the polar blast that hit the country this week.
Labour MP Phil Twyford, acting spokesman for the party, said nobody took the suggestion from Peters that Little wouldn't get back into Parliament "seriously".
He said it was "Winston in campaign mode".
"I think when you're on 14 per cent at best it's a bit rich to be saying you should be the leader of the Opposition."
Twyford said it's a "very far fetched hypothetical" that NZ First could end up with a similar chunk of the vote as Labour.
"Last time I checked Winston was not the leader of one of the two major parties," he said.
From their conference in central Auckland, Greens co-leaders Metiria Turei and James Shaw rubbished suggestions Little might not be voted back into Government.
"It's not realistic at all, I don't think there's any chance of that," Turei said.
Shaw said Labour's polling was "well north" of 22 per cent, and scoffed at Peters' suggestion their vote could collapse to that level.
"I think to cast that notion around is just grandstanding."
But the party did throw an olive branch to Peters earlier in the day, when Turei told The Nation the Greens could accept being part of a coalition Government with Peters as Deputy Prime Minister.
At the conference, the pair were at pains to point out there were strong areas of commonality between the two parties.
"Winston's doing his thing at his conference, we're announcing our policy at ours," said Turei.
"We have differences of view about important matters, and we have some things in common.
"Rail is one of those, so is taking care of older people, so is investing in the regions, which our Green infrastructure fund will do," she said.
"So I think what we need to remember as we head towards the election, is that there will be some big differences between us and some other parties.
"But there is a lot in common as well and we need to focus on what is common between us, if we're going to form a Government. But also, be straight about those differences."
THE CAMPAIGN FOR THE REGIONS
Peters has promised policy announcements when he makes his keynote speech on Sunday and says one, in particular, will be "explosive".
"It is something this country critically needs, it's one of the most important things that's going to take this country forward and make this the great country we can be."
The 72-year-old leader and Northland MP has just come off the back of a 15-day tour of the length of the country as he heads into the election with a focus on the regions.
In a campaign video revealed on Saturday, which won't be made public until Sunday, Peters talked about the neglect the regions had suffered with rolling clips of his tour bus pulling into various towns and cities.
The powerful imagery, including Peters drinking Lion Red and watching rugby, shot using drones - with an undisclosed price tag - is not an advertisement, says Peters.
When asked if he'd got legal advice regarding his use of the song, You're the Voice, by John Farnham, Peters said he wouldn't be having an Eminem moment where he ends up in court like the National Party because the video wasn't being used as an advertisement.
As to what it will be used for he wouldn't say.
"We've checked it out....I can ring up Johnny Farnham in Melbourne and I'll ask him...but I only have to do that if I'm using it as a commercial, and I'm not," he said.
"Not one cent of taxpayers' money was used, isn't that great?"
Peters says he's going to "bury our opponents" with 24/7 "activity" and labelled Prime Minister Bill English as not having any "form as a campaigner or leader".
"What I want to do in the next nine weeks is talk about NZ First policies...I'm not going to waste anytime talking about the Greens and the Labour Party."
WINSTON'S BOTTOM LINE
Not well known for revealing bottom lines ahead of an election, Peters has dropped his guard on one, namely, the Northland rail link to Northport.
"I said everybody who wants to deal with NZ First knows full well to not even start arguing about it."
"It's a living symbol of neglect of Whangarei and Northland," he said.
As for KiwiRail, he says the board can expect to be fired if NZ First is in government.
"I'm saying to them, find a new job, because your record is one of unbelievable incompetence."
He said his best informants are the "rail workers of this country" and millions of dollars had been wasted by KiwiRail - for example with the Cook Strait ferries - and nobody has been fired as a result.
Looking ahead to Sunday, the guest speaker is mental health advocate Mike King, discussing an issue that Peters says is very "serious".
"We can't go on like this with the worst suicide rate in the world. Most people would die to live in a country like ours, we've got space, room and everything else. We need to address this issue but we're not and look at the spate of suicides up north."
Peters has also raised questions about what Fonterra is doing around the high number of farmers who commit suicide.
"It concerns me, economically-speaking, nobody has ever asked Fonterra what are you calculating will be your suicide rate of farmers this year? Someone should ask them that sort of stuff," he said.