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Barry Soper: 40 years on and Winston Peters is the same old firebrand

Barry Soper,
Publish Date
Wednesday, 5 June 2019, 10:31AM
A happy smile from the new MP for Hunua, Mr Winston Peters, (left), as he clinks teacups with junior government whip, Mr D.M.J. (Dail) Jones in 1979. Photo / Herald Archive
A happy smile from the new MP for Hunua, Mr Winston Peters, (left), as he clinks teacups with junior government whip, Mr D.M.J. (Dail) Jones in 1979. Photo / Herald Archive

It was 40 years ago today that a scrapper rose to give his maiden speech to Parliament.

Winston Peters was a scrapper because he'd fought the electoral system to get into Parliament, over none other than the Rogergnome's dad Malcolm Douglas, who won the old Hunua seat for Labour in 1978.

But his 301 majority was challenged by Peters and was overturned by the Electoral Court, giving young Peters a majority of 192.

Winston has been scrapping ever since, although he did spend two three-year spells on the outside looking in. The first came at the next election he fought; the second when John Key said he wouldn't have a bar of him in 2008.

Winston Peters today.

Winston Peters today.

Not a lot has changed about the firebrand MP from the day he rose to first address Parliament. The 34-year-old told the old guard of World War II veterans the greatest challenge facing Western society was an appreciation of what freedom really means.

He railed against the bloated public service, asking when the state controls more than half of our earnings, how many of our citizens could say they were really free?

Peters told Parliament he believed in the welfare state as an umbrella for genuine and deserving needs, but concluded "we're our brothers' keepers, not our bludgers' keepers".

And while he was at it he said in 1979 it was all too clear that New Zealand couldn't accommodate socialism and in attempting to do so it would deny the country and communities freedom of expression.

Move on 40 years and the theme hasn't changed all that much.

As Foreign Minister Peters was asked to comment on an event that took place exactly a decade after his maiden speech, the massacre of pro-democracy protesters in Tiananmen Square in the Chinese capital. Not surprisingly, Peters said it was unforgettable when the Chinese army's guns were turned on the peaceful protest, killing thousands of students.

He reckoned the theory then was that economic freedom or economic liberty would lead to political liberty, and in the case of China it hasn't. In other words he was having a poke at the current Chinese leadership.

Given the current ultra-sensitivity of China to the Tiananmen Square massacre, perhaps the Foreign Minister would have been wise to keep his own counsel but then that's never been his style, even if the renegotiation of our Free Trade Agreement's at a critical point and long overdue.

At least he was able to celebrate with the American ambassador on the 40th anniversary of his maiden speech with a new class of visa for the United States to facilitate business and commerce. Our trade with the US is a third of what it is with China.


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