Winston Peters shows he is in good form as he belts Grant Robertson all over the paddock in his latest innings  

New Zealanders – particularly those in the North  Island – may have been so preoccupied  with other events they may not have noticed it is  election year.

Still, this  week  it may well have come to their attention when Winston Peters  fired a  volley at  the  government.

Few  politicians  can hit the target so unerringly as Peters  does. Almost certainly,  a refreshed Peters, despite his  age, will be a  force to be reckoned with, once again, at the helm of  NZ First.

National’s Christopher Luxon could take some lessons from the old master in how to  deliver some powerful blows  on the  government.

Peters takes aim  at  Labour’s heavyweight Grant Robertson with his  newest salvo.

“Working people can’t afford any more of Labour’s poor-quality spending and woeful delivery”, he writes in the NZ  Herald.

“Having frittered away $14 billion, alongside specious spending on consultants for a cycle bridge to nowhere, a failed ideological merger of RNZ and TVNZ, and ever-increasing fiscal madness of Auckland light rail, we are expected to believe the Minister of Finance’s assertion, in the wake of Cyclone Gabrielle, that new monies raised will see his government ‘clear and transparent about where it’s going’.

“Well, if you believe that in an election year, I have a cycle bridge to sell you”.

This is  vintage Peters.

He recounts how in June 2020, when still in government, NZ First wrote to Finance Minister Grant Robertson in response to his request for spending proposals, as part of a third tranche of Covid stimulus spending.

There was still an unallocated $20 billion in what became a $74.1 billion Covid Response and Recovery Fund.

“We urged the Minister of Finance to keep further spending tightly targeted to meet only the stimulatory demands of the economy, which we asked him to explain.

“Six billion dollars of further Covid-related spending would be allocated out of the $20 billion. We had no issue with it because that spending focused on income relief payments, extending the wage subsidy, extra PPE, and other Covid-related health needs.

“It was necessary spending.We left office in October with $14 billion left in the Covid fund. We argued in our letter for prudent stewardship of public money in the event of a future shock.

“Minister Robertson agreed and, in his public announcement, said the remaining $14 billion in the fund was being set aside for such a purpose. To quote the Minister, ‘The fund is not there to be used for any old project in the never-never.’

“Now, Cyclone Gabrielle wreaked deadly havoc on people, property, and essential infrastructure.  So where is that $14 billion contingency fund set up to meet the fiscal demands of a future disaster? It’s been spent, contrary to what was agreed in Cabinet when it was set up.

“If that $14 billion worth of spending had been solely Covid-related, then so be it, but the connection between the virus and cameras on fishing boats, prohibitively expensive free school lunches, or a billion-dollar-plus ‘Jobs for Nature’ programme, and ongoing cost of living payments and fuel discounts into the never-never, well, is not obvious.The Auditor-General shares my concerns…..

“Given our urgent need to better prepare for future weather events, we can no longer afford the slack, untargeted, and politically-driven spending we’ve seen the past two-and-a-half years as Labour became untethered from the fiscal scrutiny previously supplied by its coalition partner.

“New Zealand First supported the Zero Carbon Act because it accepts climate change. But from the beginning, we argued that leadership in this space should not be international virtue signalling to tone-deaf China, United States, European Union, India, and Russia, but doing New Zealand’s share commensurate with our 0.17 contribution to global warming.

“Events show that we need another hard conversation about where to best direct the country’s scarce resources.

“Yes, we need to mitigate against a warming world, but Gabrielle reminds us that we have to urgently fund an infrastructure transformation greater than anything since the Julius Vogel era of large-scale future-proofing.

“The cyclone has brought the current fiscal and climate change policy settings into stark relief. We can all agree on the ends we seek, but the means are absolutely in dispute because we are no longer the rich, first world country of years past.

“Most New Zealanders feel we’re going backwards, held back by the disastrous effects of inflation, cost of living pressures and in a country increasingly divided about whether it is travelling together as one, or separately.

“Imagine if the $14 billion fund was still there to meet its purpose, helping to pay for a future shock, which, along with insurance monies, would have saved taxpayers from what they now face – more debt or higher taxes.  If past behaviour is the best predictor of future behaviour, there is little confidence the next huge wave of Government borrowing and spending will be either transparent or effective in meeting the huge infrastructure challenges we face, let alone the expectation that all New Zealanders rightly share, of a better, more prosperous life for their children.”

Point  of  Order  had previously  doubted  whether Winston Peters would be staging a comeback—after all, his contemporaries are  fading from the scene, with the latest sadly to go Paul East.

But his attack on Labour’s Grant Robertson proves he is in fighting trim, and will  again draw  the crowds  to his election meetings.

Who knows?  He could hold the  balance  of power  again, after October 14.

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