Analysis

New Zealand Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters Hoping Media Will Put Positive Report On Tour

For a politician who has dominated headlines for more than three decades, Winston Peters remains an enigma to most New Zealanders, says Tony Verdon, a former New Zealand Herald political editor Tony Verdon.
28 Feb 2019 12:29
New Zealand Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters Hoping Media Will Put Positive Report On Tour
New Zealand’s Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters (right) while addressing local and New Zealand media on his Fiji visit at the Grand Pacific Hotel in Suva on February 27, 2019. Photo: Ronald Kumar

Winston Peters yesterday looked around and asked “where is the local media?”.

The New Zealand Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs was at Ro Lalabalavu House in Suva to meet Attorney-General and Minister for Economy Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum for talks.

The New Zealand First Party leader was aware of the presence of the NZ media and he knew them.

He must have felt a sense of relief when it was pointed out that Fiji Sun’s deputy news editor, Selita Bolanavanua and chief photographer Ronald Kumar, were also present to provide the balance in reporting the event.

He seems to have this love-hate relationship with the NZ media in his long and turbulent political career.

Former New Zealand Herald political editor Tony Verdon says despite his profile Mr Peters remains something of a mystery.

“For a politician who has dominated headlines for more than three decades, Winston Peters remains an enigma to most New Zealanders,” he writes in a Herald report.

“While most politicians use social media to nurture or soften their public images, Peters positively revels in putting his combative nature on full display, no matter what the platform.

“Yet this is a veteran politician who also manages to nurture long-term friendships and respect from many contemporaries, regardless of their political views.”

Mr Peters, who turns 74 on April 11, comes to Fiji with a wealth of political experience having served with National and Labour in their governments.

As a lawyer he would stick to his position if he thought he was right whether he was speaking in Parliament or facing journalists in a media conference.

After an intensely combative session with journalists in the Beehive in Wellington in a press conference, he was seen smiling and joking with them.

In this Pacific tour as a follow-up to an earlier tour to Tonga and Samoa by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, Mr Peters is expected to lift the level of the Fiji-NZ relationship to new heights.

It comes in the wake of similar moves by Australia and Britain in response to China’s growing influence in the region.

This is one of the questions that journalists are likely to ask his delegation and Fijian Government officials.

Another question is immigration. During last year’s NZ general election, Peters’ New Zealand First party was at the forefront of a campaign to turn off the immigration tap. It reflected a concern about the changing face of NZ culture.

While most  of it is targetting Asian immigrants, the anti-immigration sentiments have also caused anxiety among the Pacific community including Fijians.

At the party’s recent conference, there was a proposal, “Respecting New Zealand Values Bill” , was discussed.

If it goes to Parliament and becomes law it would require new migrants to sign up to and abide by a list of “New Zealand values”, or face potential deportation. But New Zealand First in Government has been quiet despite a willingness from Labour to cut back numbers.

Some have described it as nationalistic and discriminatory against some migrants.

Mr Peters, a consummate politician, is expected to allay any fears by assuring Fijians and their Pacific neighbours not to worry.

And he hopes the media would put a positive spin on it.
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