Jason Walls: Is the anti-mandate movement Winston’s final frontier?

Jason Walls,
Publish Date
Tue, 15 Feb 2022, 8:04am
Winston Peters. (Photo / NZ Herald)
Winston Peters. (Photo / NZ Herald)

Jason Walls: Is the anti-mandate movement Winston’s final frontier?

Jason Walls,
Publish Date
Tue, 15 Feb 2022, 8:04am

Amid the waves of condemnation and scorn at the anti-mandate protesters from New Zealand politicians, came one familiar voice of support. 

It’s a voice most New Zealanders have become somewhat accustomed to over the last few decades – that of Winston Raymond Peters. 

He’s not in Parliament; voters booted he and his New Zealand First party out of office at the last election. 

But his considerable years of experience means he’s still a newsworthy figure when it comes to the political landscape. 

For close to a year after departing his 7th floor Beehive office, Peters was relatively quiet. 

He resurfaced at his party’s annual conference last year, taking a few pot-shots at the Government over issues he first started raising on the 2020 election campaign. 

But, with the exception of his complaints to the Auditor General over Covid testing procurement, Winston’s never really found his way back into the news cycle. 

That is until last week. 

Like many others across the country, Peters was paying close attention to the anti-mandate protesters gathering outside of Parliament. 

It took a few days for the protest to gather steam but by Thursday afternoon, it was clear the make-shift campsite on Parliament’s once pristine lawn was here to stay. 

It’s no coincidence that Peters’ first protest-focused press release was issued later that evening. 

 “These protests were avoidable,” the headline read.   

He aligned himself with those outside Parliament, saying they were not violent anti-vaxers – “they are pro-freedom. They are ordinary fed-up kiwis like me and you”. 

And the kicker: “There are many countries around the world that are starting to say that mandates are no longer justified – the reality is they are right”. 

I sent a query to the generic New Zealand First media email address, asking if he was planning on joining the protesters and what his message would be to those gathered. 

Less than a minute later, he called me directly.   

“I would not be giving my message now… I was going to give it next week. They [the protesters] are going to have to wait.” 

Since then, Peters has leaned into the issue heavily. 

“It’s long since time to remove these unnecessarily damaging mandates and give kiwis back their right to work,” he said in a statement, echoing the calls of many of the protesters. 

Peters is triple-jabbed and says he has full faith in the vaccine. 

But aligning himself with the anti-mandate contingency isn’t altogether a surprising move for the former Deputy PM. 

They currently have no leader. No voice to rally behind. No one speaks for them. 

Peters could easily fill that position. He would have no problem railing against the Government. 

There would be no love lost in a war of words between Winston and Speaker Trevor Mallard. 

So what would Winston get out of becoming the face of the anti-mandate movement? 

A new voter base. 

He needs 5 percent of the total 2023 vote to squeeze his way back into Parliament. 

That might be a tough sell, considering 94 percent of eligible New Zealanders are now double vaccinated. 

But that won’t stop Winston. The anti-mandate movement may be his last ticket back into Parliament. 

We might see him on Parliament’s grounds yet.