Winston Peters back on the NZ campaign horse


Winston Peters is back on the campaign horse - quite literally - and has announced himself as a force in the New Zealand election, vowing to return to parliament at the October poll.

The wily veteran's New Zealand First party is polling above the five per cent threshold in most polls, putting it on track to have a big say in the makeup of the next government.

The indefatigable Mr Peters, 78, is an enduring presence in NZ politics.

First elected in 1979, he has been a major figure in three governments including twice as deputy prime minister.

This time around, he has ruled out supporting Labour for a third term, citing misgivings while serving in coalition with Jacinda Ardern's government from 2017 to 2020.

In 2023, his pitch to Kiwis is multi-faceted.

On one hand, Mr Peters offers himself as a voice of reason and a guiding force within a National-led government under political newcomer Chris Luxon.

This much is displayed in a new campaign ad where Mr Peters pats and mounts a horse as a western-themed soundtrack plays.

"To govern a country you need experience," he says, before turning to camera.

"And this is not our first rodeo," he adds, trotting away, smiling.

On the other hand, Mr Peters has adopted many non-mainstream or provocative views in an attempt to woo fringe support.

Such commitments include compensation to people who lost their jobs due to vaccine mandates during the COVID-19 pandemic, and stripping "woke virtue signalling" Maori names from government departments.

Mr Peters is also courting the anti-transgender vote, pledging to block trans people from using public toilets of the gender with which they identify, and revising sex education in schools to "remove gender ideology".

In his trademark fashion, Mr Peters has also promised major projects to many regional Kiwi communities to maximise his share of the rural vote.

After holding public meetings around the country in recent weeks, Mr Peters returned to Wellington on Tuesday, delivering a speech at Business NZ's conference full of one-liners.

He accused opposition parties of "tossing money around in his election campaign like an eight-armed octopus" and lamented Auckland as not the city of sails but "the city of snails".

Mr Peters said Labour's policy of offering more prison diversions was akin to a fishing practice of "catch and release", railing against the government's record on immigration, infrastructure and indigenous rights.

In a hugely inflammatory comment, he denied official statistics that showed 17 per cent of Kiwis had Maori ethnicity, saying only six per cent did.

He also attacked journalists for ignoring him from their coverage, saying "as the famous singer Phil Collins said you're entitled to hear both sides of the story and let's hope in the next few weeks you start hearing it".

New Zealand First are possible kingmakers after the October 14 election.

The conservative bloc of cent-right National and right-wing libertarians ACT have a polling edge, but if NZ First return to parliament, they are likely to need Mr Peters' support to govern.

Mr Peters and ACT leader David Seymour are famously untrustworthy of each other, with Mr Seymour ruling out a cabinet partnership saying Mr Peters "can't work with anybody" and had "screwed it up so many times before."

Mr Peters offered a conciliatory tone to journalists after his speech.

"A you know, I'm a kind, nice guy, forgiving in the extreme and I can work with anybody ... except the Labour party," he said.

He declined to talk about his relationship with Mr Luxon or what policies he would seek in a possible coalition, but said his internal polling showed NZ First was "way past five".

"Our numbers makes us very, very confident," he said.