Days to the General Election: 28
See Party Policies here. Party Lists here.

Peter Dunne says questions are being asked whether NZ First is reverting to type and is it about to bring about a fracture within the government to allow it to differentiate itself, and perhaps recover its support, in time for the election

Peter Dunne says questions are being asked whether NZ First is reverting to type and is it about to bring about a fracture within the government to allow it to differentiate itself, and perhaps recover its support, in time for the election

By Peter Dunne*

It is often said that leopards rarely change their spots.

On that basis, it will be somewhat of a surprise if New Zealand First manages to survive the current three year term as part of the governing coalition. Staying the distance is simply not in the Party’s or its leader’s DNA.

In 1991, just a year into the Bolger National Government’s first term, Mr Peters was ejected from the party Caucus and dismissed as a Minister. That set off a series of events that led to the launch of the New Zealand First Party in mid 1993, and its success at that year’s election.

In 1998, after 20 months of the National/New Zealand First Coalition Government Mr Peters was dismissed as Deputy Prime Minister and Treasurer and his Party left the Coalition shortly thereafter. New Zealand First was able to regroup and recover its polling strength sufficiently to ensure it survived (just) the 1999 election.

In 2008, shortly before the election, Mr Peters was stood down as Foreign Minister while Parliament’s Privileges Committee investigated allegations of financial irregularities within New Zealand First. Its critical findings contributed to New Zealand First’s defeat at the ensuing election.

Now, with New Zealand First’s polling declining and ongoing speculation of tension within the present Coalition Government, with suggestions New Zealand First calls all of the shots over Labour and its more natural ally, the Greens, the same questions are being asked again. Is New Zealand First reverting to type and is it about to bring about a fracture within the government to allow it to differentiate itself, and perhaps recover its support, in time for the election next year?

Critics are pointing to the confusion over abortion law changes and New Zealand First’s apparently late call for a binding referendum, having not raised the matter during the preceding negotiations on the proposed changes, and its less than enthusiastic support for the government’s position on Ihumatao as evidence Mr Peters may be up to his old tricks again.

While the odds fall heavily on the side of New Zealand First confirming its serial inability to stay the distance as part of a government, Mr Peters, by his very survival to this point, has shown he can on occasion defy the odds. It is just possible on this occasion he will do just that, and that all we are seeing at the moment is sabre-rattling to remind the public and the hapless Labour and Green Parties that he, not the Prime Minister, is in charge and drives this government.

At the same time, he is none too subtly reminding his government partners that without him and the way he wants to do things, there will be no government.  Ironically, he may well survive until the election, not because he necessarily wants to, but because the Prime Minister knows feeding this tiger is the best way to ensure her own survival, at least in the short-term. But, if New Zealand First’s polling does not recover, even the desperation of this modern-day appeasement may not be enough to keep the house of cards standing.

The National Party will be watching these disruptions with a strong sense of déjà vu. They will be delighted to see Labour being led by the nose, as they were in 1996-98 and now equally powerless to do anything about it. But they should not get too far ahead of themselves.

Of course, they would welcome the demise of the coalition, were it to happen. They might even be in a position to form a minority government to lead the country through until the next election, but they would be no better off as such a government would have to pay the price of relying on at least New Zealand First’s abstention on matters of confidence and supply to ensure its survival until then. Even then, given National’s continuing unwillingness to rule out New Zealand First from its electoral calculations, it would have to face the same problem all over again after the election.

Mr Peters’ periodic restlessness is frustrating and unpredictable, and has never provided any contribution to good and stable government. But for him, those are secondary considerations, because his politics are all about putting himself centre stage. While he has judiciously surrounded himself over the years with Caucuses of the timid and the vacuous, they and age are no longer his friends.

People are starting to ask what happens next, once he shuffles on, probably sooner than later. New Zealanders have shown him remarkable tolerance over the generations. Very few people, least of all politicians, get more than a second chance in our society, yet this term of government provides a fourth chance for him to try to stay the course.

The logical incentives must be powerful for him to do so, but the old spots are still there. While Labour and National are left helplessly to watch from the sidelines what irrational, Trumpian alarums he will embark upon next to try to recover his support, Mr Peters, true to form, will see that as utterly as it should be, and he will have it no other way.

It is all about him, after all.

*Peter Dunne is the former leader of UnitedFuture, an ex-Labour Party MP, and a former cabinet minister. This article first ran here and is used with permission.

We welcome your comments below. If you are not already registered, please register to comment.

Remember we welcome robust, respectful and insightful debate. We don't welcome abusive or defamatory comments and will de-register those repeatedly making such comments. Our current comment policy is here.


Give me another 10 years, there will be a new party formed in NZ.

The party will not be left or right but forward (quote from Andrew Yang). It will bring NZ and all its people forward!

Join me if you are interested.

I might just need a bribe to do so - 10 million Social Credit Score points?

Is one of the pre-requisites to know nothing about human rights?

I am really tired of your and your kind of human rights argument.

Since when the definition of human rights is solely define by the west and since when the west starts to have this thick skin to call itself a beacon and role mode of human rights??!!!

Do you read history, even modern history?

Human rights as a concept actually does have a good amount of history behind it, true. I'd recommend the book East-West Street as a good starter for where the concepts of "crimes against humanity" and "genocide" came from, for example.

One thing that stands out from the book is the idea - novel at the time but subsequently much more the norm - that people have innate human rights that no state has a sovereign right to overrule or trample. That states are no longer completely sovereign to the point of having right to do with or dispose of their people as they see fit. Something I did not realise used to be considered absolutely the norm.

Another stand-out idea is that genocide has different elements, including efforts to get rid of underlying meanings and identifiers of a group:

Generally speaking, genocide does not necessarily mean the immediate destruction of a nation, except when accomplished by mass killings of all members of a nation. It is intended rather to signify a coordinated plan of different actions aiming at the destruction of essential foundations of the life of national groups, with the aim of annihilating the groups themselves. The objectives of such a plan would be the disintegration of the political and social institutions, of culture, language, national feelings, religion, and the economic existence of national groups, and the destruction of the personal security, liberty, health, dignity, and even the lives of the individuals belonging to such groups.

How does this fit with a CCP that is putting hundreds of thousands to millions of Uyghurs into reeducation camps to eliminate their culture (at the least), and possibly far worse (from testimonies)? How does this fit with the CCP's running of an organ transplant rate above that explainable through willing and able donors?

The very ideas of "crimes against humanity" and "genocide" came from societies that reacted in revulsion to events that had taken place within Western society, so it's fair to point the finger at the West for crimes against human rights. But it also needs recognising that the West has reacted to these events in adopting these concepts that 1) recognise that human rights exist and actually exceed states' rights, and 2) states don't have a sovereign right to do as they please with people.

At least these things are codified and recognised. Governments are meant to be heald to account for transgressing them, and have signed up to this concept even if the UN is imperfect at holding them to account...potentially a problem with who sits on the Human Rights Council, too. The problem at present is that the CCP seems to do neither of these, existing as it were in a pre-WW2 paradigm.

Human Rights is a Western concept. One of the only forms of Western "Intellectual Property" that China has yet to plagiarize unfortunately.

Ok then, give us rundown on what passes for human rights in China.

Let's rename New Zealand to the Big Spratley Islands, "find" an ancient map to prove it was originally ruled by Beijing, and base our policies on Xi's thought.

"But tonight I say, we must move forward, not backward; upward, not forward; and always twirling, twirling, twirling towards freedom!"

But seriously, a legitimately Beijing-tied political party in NZ, which presumaby would force all Chinese connected NZ citizens to vote for it ('remember comrade, the rest of your family still lives in the motherland' etc), would be the fastest way to start an actual race war in NZ.

The idea of a single ethnic group of immigrant citizens banding together to support a political party which advocates for a foreign regime with diametrically opposed interests to the rest of the country... Yuk

"Its people"
Usual feeble phrase suggesting and stating by default that all are in it together and no divisions or competition of power.
Polly-anna land.

.. good luck with that . . Our MMP has been a bit of a failure . .

We need more smaller parties ... the way its heading there's just a rump of Greens & Winston's Party . .

... no TOP . . no Conservatives . .. no Pete Dunne .. no Maori Party ...

Well, we did have a review of it back in 2012, and several recommendations for change were put forward based on public opinion (in other words, what people wanted) and you may recall one Judith Collins just simply assigning it to the bin, it did not even get to be debated in parliament. (Yet another reason I cannot abide that woman)

Past form tells us that NZF rears up for the run in to elections. However the mainstream of the electorate, reflectively, should be thankful that they have been present in government. Calling the shots? Perhaps or is it being more of a safety brake? Bear in mind for instance, the almost obscene haste to fly at dismantling the 90 day probation and three strikes, over zealous and immature politicking reined in by NZF, in the spirit ironically of Mr Lange’s famous cup of tea. The same scenario is likely to pan out next election. National will not regain power on its own. Even Key infinitesimally more popular than this lot couldn’t do it. Mainstream NZ would have severe frighteners about a Labour& Greens government. So who do you call?!


maybe he is doing his job and making sure labour dont go too far left, thats want a lot of people vote for him to do, make sure the party in power does not go too far one way or the other and he looks after them his core surporters first
i did not vote for him but am not surprised by his actions as they are constant, those that are surprise must have very short memories.

hey x-wang, u talkin bout a NZCCP?

Yep, and another Winnie, Winnie the pooh for president.

"Prime Minister knows feeding this tiger is the best way to ensure her own survival, at least in the short-term".

Indeed: the two phrases that spring to mind:

  • Churchill on appeasers: one who feeds a crocodile, hoping it will eat him last - (gendered noun wrongspeak in there but pffft)
  • The dismount's tricky, when one's riding a tiger

Unsaid in the article but implicit is that the PM is being shown up as the feelz-driven and gushingly empathetic yet woefully naive character that she is: by a wily septuagenarian.

Yes and one wonders, when it is all said and done, if another Churchill remark about another Labour leader “ a modest man with much to be modest about “ may not be pertinent, when our current one completes.


To me this just comes off as sour grapes from Dunne: Winston Peters managed to form a stable, long-lasting party that makes real policy gains while in government, whereas Dunne's United Future petered out and never really achieved anything (go look at their wikipedia page, it's embarrassing).


I'm pretty sure we can thank Dunne for the synthetic cannabis epidemic. Wasn't it his son or nephew who got rich importing it as well?

For all this talk, what are the shocking things COL has done in power to ruin the country? I've not heard it. And personally I think with how National are, I'd sooner have whatever 'failings' have gone on under COL.

That is true, but Winston caters to a certain demographic, his time is running out though and it is starting to show. To blindside his own MP this way is and should be unforgiveable. Tracey Martin is NZF best MP, but she is no show pony, so she gets little coverage.

Out of that entire article, there were only two actual points that were raised. 1) That NZF called for a referendum on abortion, albeit late apparently. 2) That NZF was not enthusiastic about the govt's stance on Ihumatao.
Of course both positions are absolutely consistent with NZF's philosophy.
What would the article be about if they took different positions? No doubt Mr Dunne would try and have a go at Peters for changing his position.
What does he want or expect NZF to do? Go against their principles?

Exactly. I do like the NZF principle that matters subject to conscience votes should in most cases go to the public via referendum.

I'm hoping we're a progressive enough society to see both abortion and cannabis legalised by popular vote. But if a public majority says no on either or both issues, I would accept that decision-making process far more than if the representatives say no - lots of them weren't elected members in the first place.

NZF principle. Two words that do not belong in the same sentence.

You echo Groucho, something like “you will enjoy doing business with me because I have principles, and if you don’t like those, well then I have others.”

Sure it wasn't John Key who said that?

Tell you what, most of those getting behind NZF on this, hoping for a referendum, will be antis, I would bet my left arm on it. This is not a subject for religious zealotry.

Labour will need Winstons support to enact a Firearms Register. Watch this space!

Which I hope he will not give. The Canadians spent over a billion dollars on gun registration then gave up. Epic waste of money

Spot on

In case you hadn't noticed, we are a bit smaller than Canada

Then pro-rate it! Any way you cut this registration sandwich, it is STILL a shit sandwich and a massive waste of money that will not make New Zealanders safer by any measurable amount.

Message to Winston : the abortion reform is gonna be a conscience vote ... it's not predicated along party lines ... so pull your head in , and stop bleating about referendums and about it not being a part of Labours pre-election manifesto . ..

A year out from the election it is hardly surprising NZ First are distinguishing themselves from Labour. The bigger questions for me are:
1, How do the Greens distinguish themselves... they seem to be simply a left of labour patsy party?
2, How does Labour and National ensure NZ First is not left in the Kingmaker role again?
3, Can ACT become a viable coalition partner for National to get them across the line?
4, Could National seek to splinter the Green party and take some of the former Green MPs (prior to the Turia debacle) and their policies.... could a National Party with a credible environmental policy kill the Greens and govern alone?

I think number 4 is a 'goer' - if the Nats are smart enough to see it..

4. You mean a pretend Green party, because with the Nats money will always triumph over the environment

No.. I mean a credible Green policy with clearly some principled Green MPs who have shown they will walk on principle if they disagree with the direction of the party.

The Nats will always be about growing the size of the economic pie (as opposed to focussing on how even the slices are) but if their economic growth agenda can be suitably positioned to ensure the environmental externalities of growth are properly considered and costs borne by those creating them then I do think it is viable.

There seems to be this dogma that economic growth is anti-environment. It doesn't need to be.

I think that NZ First are shot now which ever way way they go.
If they play the pull the government down stunt again, especially over a minor or engineered issue, surely the public will turn their back on them for good.
As things stand they have well and truly overplayed their hand. Far too much swagger and disproportionate exercise of it's power over the government. As the poles suggest, the public are not blind and getting pretty sick of them.
The only way that they could rescue the situation would be a leadership coup and a distinct change in the NZ First behavior for the remainder of the term.
Tracy Martin seems a sound and sensible woman. Ron Mark seems a sensible and down to earth bloke. Shane Jones you probably still want him in parliament, but on a leash. Winston - time to retire, if he had any sense he would announce his retirement next election, stand down as leader now and allow a new leader to prepare for the next election and rebuild their popularity.
Hey maybe there are moves to engineer this behind the scenes and this latest outburst is his nuclear reaction???

Might be right. They've also not acted on some key things they campaigned on, whilst they appear to have for all intents and purposes kowtowed to Sanford and Sealord re fisheries, cameras on boats etc. Not things your average recreational fisher or NZ First voter would necessarily be happy about.

I don't know about other issues but that is not fair on Sanfords. They take great pride on their environmental responsibility. They have in fact voluntarily put cameras on some of their boats and have publicly welcomed any move to make them mandatory. Look at it from Sanfords point of view. If they are being responsible and every one else isn't then, Sanfords are being disadvantaged and the cowboys are damaging the fish stocks and thereby Sanfords future.

Interesting, thanks. It's hard to get a completely clear picture from various coverage, e.g.

I'd like to find more good info on it.

I think that the new guy is totally different from the previous. He has a strong international grounding in the industry. Previously the management appeared to be well meaning but financial accounting focused, so with the best will in the world in the world it is always going to be hard to keep authoritative tabs on what is going on with the troops. There were also a couple of environmental mishaps back then that revealed that management were not really on top of things. Their board are still a worry, full of accountants lawyers, bankers and MBA types. Little to distinguish them from the board of a bank, legal or accounting firm. But then how many other NZ companies are much different. One of our major problems unfortunately.

Days to the General Election: 28
See Party Policies here. Party Lists here.