Can Winston Peters, as he has done so often before, confound his critics? He has been under intense pressure over revelations in Matt Shand’s Stuff reports on donations channelled through the NZ First Foundation Trust.
But Peters insists the Electoral Commission, after investigating questions about loans made to the NZ First Party by the foundation will find that everything is in order.
And even if the commission were to find there has been a breach, could it derail NZ First? Or its leader?
After all, Peters has been here before—and survived.
Here at Point of Order we do not pretend to be experts on the ethics of political donations to NZ First any more than of those to other political parties. Or, for that matter, charging $1500 to those who want to attend a dinner in the presence of the PM?
What counts for the majority of voters when they cast their ballots is what, if anything, politicians have accomplished. Or what they promise.
Dispassionate observers looking at how Peters has performed both as deputy PM and Minister of Foreign Affairs would mark him well.
Last week, Peters was the first NZ minister ever to attend a G20 meeting.
The G20 process brings together some of the world’s most powerful countries, and provides a platform for discussion of the challenges facing the international community including this year a slowing global economy, increased protectionism, challenges to the international rules-based order, and climate change.
As Peters himself noted, it was a distinct privilege to be the first NZ Foreign Minister to participate in a G20 Foreign Ministers’ meeting, and to bring the NZ perspective to the table on the issues that are central to the Pacific region. The invitation was extended in October when Peters visited Japan.
“We have worked really hard to establish a special relationship with the Japanese…I think our relationship is way above whatever we’ve had”
He made the case for countries to continue to reduce barriers to trade, which he regards as essential to continue lifting people out of poverty in the Pacific, and the broader Indo-Pacific. He was also able to underline the importance of collective action on climate change – an issue which is an existential threat to some of our Pacific neighbours.
His performance at Nagoya in Japan enhanced his already extensive range of contacts among his peers. He had a busy programme of bilateral meetings with counterparts from Germany, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, and Singapore. He also met with Spain’s Foreign Minister, Josep Borrell Fontelles, who will soon become the European’s Union’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy.
His performance at Nagoya in Japan enhanced his already high standing not just with the Japanese but also the US, where he is on the best of terms with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
NZ’s “Pacific Reset” dovetails with Japan’s Indo-Pacific Vision. The subtext for both is to try to restrict China’s influence in the region.
But Japan also finds NZ useful as it seeks to ensure the WTO maintains its role in the battle against protectionism, particularly because the Trump administration has sought to limit the powers of WTO dispute resolution.
Displaying the stamina for which he is becoming renowned, Peters returned briefly to Wellington from Japan to chair Cabinet last Monday before – next day – taking wing on an official visit to the United Arab Emirates.
Peters says NZ enjoys a dynamic and wide-ranging relationship with the UAE.
‘The UAE is an important partner for NZ in the Gulf region, our 10th largest trading partner and a hub for air links and trade with Europe and the wider region.The UAE is also a strong supporter of NZd in the aftermath of the terrorist attack in Christchurch.”
Peters is meeting with the Minister for Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, Sheikh Abdullah Bin Zayed Al Nahyan.
“This visit is an opportunity to deepen our extensive cooperation, particularly in the areas of trade, development and security; to exchange views on the political and security situation in the Middle East; and to share NZ’s insights into Pacific issues.”
Peters will meet with Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed Al Maktoum, Chairman of the Expo Dubai 2020 Higher Committee, and visit the NZ Pavilion construction site.
He sees NZ’s participation in Expo 2020 as an unparalleled opportunity to highlight and promote NZ globally as an innovative, knowledge-led economy.
Not surprisingly Peters is much admired by his own officials in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade where he has been instrumental in restoring its morale, not least in eschewing former politicians as candidates for diplomatic roles and instead relying on MFAT specialists to fill key posts, as with deputy secretary Bede Corry being nominated to be High Commissioner to the UK in place of Sir Jerry Mateparae.
So in all his complexity as a politician, Peters has his virtues. Whether these outweigh his faults is a matter on which each of us can make our own judgements.