PAUL Conceding defeat in the 2008 election, the NZ First leader, Winston Peters, promised 'this is not the end'. And true to his word, he's traipsing around the church halls and community centres of the country at the moment in an attempt to pull off the biggest comeback.. (CHUCKLES) since Lazarus, a comeback that could have a profound effect on this year's election. With less than six months to go, polls have NZ First at, um, around 3%, above ACT and above the Maori Party. So will Winston Peters be back in Parliament come November? The NZ First leader is with Guyon Espiner.
GUYON Thanks, Paul, and thank you, Winston Peters, for joining us on the programme. We appreciate your time. Can I start by asking you how you think the government is handling the earthquake and the rebuild in Christchurch?
WINSTON PETERS - NZ First Leader
Well, I think Gerry Brownlee was being honest when he said things were blindingly obvious. And what the people of Christchurch need, and indeed the country needs, is a decision to be made of some critical importance. And one of those decisions is to ensure that the insurance industry does not have an inordinate say in this matter; and second, that the Earthquake Commission does its duty by the country that owns it. I mean, what I find extraordinary here is the threats by the insurance industry to take the problem nationwide, with massive premium increases, unjustified after 80 years of risk that the NZ people paid for - that includes every business and householder - and second, this Earthquake Commission behaving as if it's some sort of independent body; well, it is, but not where the state's interest is concerned, and I think that the government is being lax here and extending the agony way beyond what's necessary in all the circumstances. I'm not saying that the situation's not difficult, but it's got a sense of delayed vacillation and behind-closed-doors conversation which I think NZers deserve, and the Christchurch people in particular, deserve a better response to.
GUYON OK. Obviously, it's having a big economic impact, um, from this earthquake. Do you accept that, um, politicians, including your own party, are going to have to wind back their spending promises because of this?
WINSTON No. Look, everything that the National Party is saying now they were saying before September last year. Let's not have the people of Christchurch being made the, sort of, scapegoat in this matter, or this Christchurch city.
GUYON So you don't think we have to wind back our spending at all?
WINSTON No, no, no. What I'm saying, everything that they're saying now they said before September's earthquake in 2010. Now-
GUYON OK, well, let's-
WINSTON What it does mean though is, like in every sound economy, how you spend and why you spend is critically important, and that the government is not explaining.
GUYON OK, let's talk about your own policies rather than the National Party's policies. You are talking about, um, expanding and extending Superannuation out to 72.5% of the average wage over time. How much will it cost to do that?
WINSTON Oh, look, we took it to 66%. When it was under National, the promise was 60%. Uh, we brought in a SuperGold Card-
GUYON OK, we've talked about that, Mr Peters. How much will it cost? Simple question-
WINSTON I'm trying to explain to you that the 72% target we've always had-
GUYON Yes, I know, that's the maximum under the legislation. Can you answer that question about how much it's going to cost?
WINSTON My answer is in the 2005 negotiations where, although the promise was 72-
GUYON How much?
WINSTON ..because of economic circumstances we settled for 66 at that point in time. Of course that is our long-term objective. But you see, if you run a failed economy- It's all right for you to throw that back at me, but we were the par-
GUYON Well, our calculations are that it would cost about a billion dollars a year, according to Treasury and Age Concern figures.
WINSTON Yeah, and it's a direct investment straight back into the economy.
GUYON We can afford that?
WINSTON Yes, we can. It's a direct investment straight back in the economy, rather than some of the things that you see in the present government spending, which are not an investment back in the economy.
GUYON Where would that money come from?
WINSTON Well, the reality is if you run a sound economy, you can afford that. This is not extraordinary in any way, shape or form.
GUYON We would have to borrow that money from foreigners, wouldn't we?
WINSTON Well, look, you're borrowing to have tax cuts now, billions of them.
GUYON So you borrow to spend a billion a year on Super, would you?
WINSTON No, no. I'm saying to you- You're defending the borrowing for the rich, and I'm saying I see the need to borrow sometimes for productivity and also for a decent social standard. Yes, I do. And so does every other sound democracy.
GUYON So you aren't gonna wind back any of your spending promises at all?
WINSTON Look, we always did wind back the promises if the economy did not fit it at the time. We did it in 2005, as I said, when we took it to 66% and brought in the SuperGold Card. That, in effect, extended spending by about 2% itself. So yes, it is our long-term objective.
GUYON Another one is to reduce GST to 10% over three years. That's on your website right now.
WINSTON No, no. With the greatest respect, that's not what the manifesto currently says-
GUYON That's what your website says.
WINSTON Well, it might say that, but that's not a current manifesto statement.
GUYON Well, who writes your website?
WINSTON Well, someone who's not authorised to say that, because that is not our policy, never has been.
GUYON Someone's hacked into your website, have they? Well, on your website it says, 'to reduce the rate of GST to 10% over time'.
WINSTON Our policy was to oppose anything above 12.5%.
GUYON So you're not promising to reduce GST?
WINSTON No. Our policy has always been GST at 12.5% maximum.
GUYON So you would reduce it to 12.5%?
WINSTON Well, of course you'd reduce it to 12.5% if that's your promise.
GUYON OK. How much would that cost?
WINSTON Oh no, we're not going to be living with the National Party's flagrant promises, and you're saying no other party- No, look, Mr Key- OK.
GUYON I'm asking you to fund your own promises, Mr Peters.
WINSTON I can tell you, if you give me half a chance.
GUYON You can't promise something without actually-
WINSTON If you give me half a chance, Guyon, and stop overtalking me, we'll go fine.
GUYON OK, how much is it going to cost?
WINSTON First of all, Mr Key promised not to have 15%; he made it 15. We are still at 12.5% because it's hitting low-income and middle-income earners.
GUYON That's fine, and how much will it cost, Mr Peters?
WINSTON I'll cost the same amount it cost to increase it by way of savings.
GUYON How much is that?
WINSTON Well, that's quantifiable by the economy at the point in time.
GUYON I'll give you a hand. It's about $2 billion.
WINSTON No, no, no. With the greatest respect-
GUYON $2 billion a year. Where is the money coming from?
WINSTON I know your figure's wrong because you can't quantify it, no more than Treasury can on any given day unless you look at the economy as it is now.
GUYON Well, it's roughly 1.1 million for every percentage point you reduce it by.
WINSTON You've just changed your argument, haven't you?
GUYON It's roughly 1.1 billion-
WINSTON You've just changed your argument, Mr Espiner, and I'm trying to say to you-
GUYON Well, it's billions, isn't it?
WINSTON ..that's it's easy to work that out based on where the economy will be at the election in November.
GUYON OK. $500 million fund to help buy back assets, you're promising as well. Can we afford to do that?
WINSTON Of course we can afford to do that. You can support the prime minister and the former prime minister of the National Party, hawking around Australia our energy companies and other assets. We are opposed to it because it's dramatically disastrous for this country, and that's why NZ's on the long-term slide from which we'll never recover.
GUYON Yet you did sell shares in Auckland Airport, including-
GUYON 40% of them were sold to foreigners. I've got the Hansard here.
WINSTON Oh yes, you've got the Hansard?
GUYON July 28 1998.
WINSTON I know you've got the Hansard. Who insisted upon that?
GUYON You are saying that, um, here to Michael Cullen that excluding foreign investors from the offering would have lowered the price that the Crown received from its shares. So why was it OK for you to sell shares to foreigners-
WINSTON It wasn't-
GUYON ..of a public asset, and now you're railing against it?
WINSTON I knew you'd ask me that question.
GUYON Well, give me the answer.
WINSTON Well, the answer's simply this: we, at the time, were caught with a company unable to develop and with high debt. It was a mistake to believe the National Party on this issue, and I said so at the time we walked out of Cabinet-
GUYON Did you make a mistake on that?
WINSTON I did make a mistake.
GUYON On Auckland Airport?
WINSTON I made a mistake in believing the National Party's promise. Because they wanted their cornerstone investor to be foreign, as you well know. That's the percentage you're referring to. And after that I made up my mind we'd never do that again because they couldn't be trusted. The Wellington Airport saw the end of the Coalition, when we would not accept that sale.
WINSTON That's our bona fides.
GUYON In 2008, you proposed floating shares in Kiwibank. Is that still your policy?
WINSTON No, I didn't say that. I said if you want to expand Kiwibank and didn't have the money, and so you were taking, say, from 1 billion to 1.5 billion, floating the second 500 amount-
GUYON You wanted to sell shares in Kiwibank.
WINSTON No, no. Can I answer the question? You've asked me for an economic equation. The public are entitled to it, even if you can't understand it. What I was saying is if you want to broaden its capital base, doing that would not be a privatisation. Its rudimentary. And you're trying to say it's the same thing.
GUYON So selling shares in Kiwibank - you wanted to do that, didn't you?
WINSTON We were not selling shares in Kiwibank; we were expanding the shareholding base to get you the extra capital. It's a different matter from selling the first $1 billion shares. Don't you see the point?
GUYON Well, I see the point very well, which is-
WINSTON Well, thank God. Because, you see, if you haven't got the money, that was a way to ensure still mass public ownership, but having a broader capital base. That's not what Mr Key's saying. Mr Key's taking from the NZ owners, mum-and-dad owners now and from their grandparents' day, and saying, 'I'm going to give to some of the mum and dads.' That is the politics of the few and the very few, and we're utterly opposed to that.
GUYON Can I talk now about your strategy for 2011 election? The last copy of the party constitution I read, section 46b said that a list candidate must first be selected as an electorate candidate. So presuming that you haven't changed your party constitution, you'll have to stand-
WINSTON Which we have.
GUYON OK, so you don't have to stand in a seat?
WINSTON Not the leader and deputy leader, no.
GUYON You won't have to stand in a seat?
WINSTON That's a decision the party's going to be making shortly. But the constitutional change has been made.
GUYON So that you don't have to stand in a seat?
WINSTON So that the leader of the party does not have to stand in a seat.
GUYON And that's you.
WINSTON Well, yes, I'm the leader at this present time. But any leader, that'll be a choice that the party can make at that time. But the constitutional change has been made, and has been made for some time.
GUYON So I presume, then, that you aren't going to stand in a seat?
WINSTON No, that's- Why do you go from black to white? I'm saying to you that this party's making that decision very soon.
GUYON OK, I'll ask you a black-and-white question: are you going to stand in a seat?
WINSTON The party's making that decision very very soon. That's the black-and-white answer.
GUYON Do you want to stand in a seat? Do you have some burning desire to represent some portion of the community you're not going to tell us about?
WINSTON (LAUGHS) Guyon, what don't you get? The party's going to make that strategic decision soon.
GUYON And what's your view on it?
WINSTON Well, I'll make my views known to the party. And, you know, as every other political party handles its decisions that way, so do we.
GUYON OK. In a speech on September 7 2005, you said, and I quote you, 'According to constitutional convention, the party which gains the most seats is the party which must first try and form a government. We will support this constitutional convention in the first instance.' Is that still your belief that there is that constitutional convention, and will you honour that commitment this election?
WINSTON Well, that's the convention, and I outlined it then, and that's the position we took.. back in 2005 after making that speech.
GUYON And hence my question - is that still your commitment this time?
WINSTON Well, the speech still stands, it's authentic, it's authoritative, it's correct.
GUYON So if the National Party, which, on current polling - which I know you have some scepticism about-?
WINSTON (LAUGHS) Oh, your polls are drivel, Mr Espiner. But please don't talk to these people out there where you've got 1000 people surveyed, 250 won't give an answer, you take them out of the equation and you round them up to 100%, and then you go out there and tell them they're authentic.
GUYON I see that you've got one of the polls on your website, coincidentally the one that shows you doing rather well.
WINSTON Mr Espiner, this is not going to happen, because in this campaign- In the last four campaigns this medium, TVNZ-
GUYON I am not going to have a diatribe about the polls, Mr Peters.
WINSTON Well, I can see why because you don't like what I've got to say about them.
GUYON OK, we'll come back to my question.
WINSTON But please don't tell me about 3% polls when I know this party's polling 7% to 9% as we speak, on the only authoritative poll that analyses the undeclared vote. That's the difference. You're misleading people in the last four elections-
GUYON You're talking about an Internet poll run by Horizon that anyone's allowed to sign up to, aren't you?
WINSTON No, I'm not, I'm not.
GUYON That's the one that's on your website.
WINSTON I can tell you the National Party's poll says that as well.
GUYON OK. I'm not going to argue about polls, I'm more interested in your-
WINSTON Don't go and lie to the people about the polls; they're not true. Look, you were out by 1000% in 2002, 500% in 2005, 475% in 2008 where NZ First is concerned, and yet you keep on repeating it. It's not true. If you were selling shares, you would be guilty of fraud.
GUYON OK. So in other words, whoever gets the most seats in Parliament, you will allow them to form the government in the first instance?
WINSTON I didn't say that. I said you'd negotiate with them in the first instance. Didn't I?
GUYON OK. Just a few minutes-
WINSTON I'd like you to be a bit accurate about these quotes cos they are important.
GUYON Well, it's entirely accurate. You can check the speech; you wrote it.
WINSTON That's what it means, isn't it.
GUYON What have you been doing since you lost power in 2008? What have you been doing for a job?
WINSTON Well, I've been working for myself. I find myself very reasonable to deal with.
(LAUGHTER FROM PANEL)
GUYON In what respect?
WINSTON I formed my own company, and it's going fine.
GUYON You don't argue with the other people in the company?
WINSTON (CHUCKLES) No, I think you get the point.
GUYON This is- What does the company do?
WINSTON It, uh, it helps people to complete ventures they have difficulty with.
WINSTON Well, I'm not going to discuss my private business on this show. I mean, if you want to go and become a shareholder or buy an interest, I'll tell you. But you're not entitled to make those investigations here just because you're TVNZ, any more than I'm entitled to look at your private account.
GUYON Who's been funding your campaign?
WINSTON We have been - the party, from the rank and file in the, uh, villages and streets and towns of this country. We've had meeting after meeting all round NZ. Our membership is growing very very strong. We're very confident going into our convention at the end of July. In fact, I'll give you a bet that we'll probably be the second-strongest political party in membership, come election date 2011. The fact that you guys haven't covered these speeches is neither here nor there, but it's-
GUYON How many members have you got?
WINSTON We've got thousands and thousands.
GUYON Have you been using the free parliamentary travel to fund your campaign?
WINSTON No, I haven't.
GUYON It's all been membership-based?
WINSTON Well, you know, somebody's paying for it, and that's probably me.
GUYON Last time, you weren't terribly upfront about who was paying. That's why-
WINSTON With the greatest respect, you made allegations back then that were false, baseless, and three inquiries found them to be baseless. Why are you repeating them?
GUYON I think that might be a subject for another interview.
WINSTON Well, you know, let's have it out now. You just made a statement, and I'm saying to you three investigations over five months found the party to be blameless.
GUYON No, I just said you weren't very upfront about it. I was at the Parliamentary Privileges Committee which showed that you lied.
WINSTON No, we were as upfront as the law- No, no, it didn't say that at all. Oh no, it didn't. What the kangaroo court said was, 'We haven't got a law against Winston Peters, but we'll write one and apply it against him retrospectively.' That sort of law stinks. In contrast, of course, Nick Smith had the same fund; no one investigated him. What do you think of that? And you sat there in Parliament and put up with that sort of bias. I don't.
GUYON Thanks very much for your time. Appreciate it.
WINSTON You're welcome. We're still relevant.