Winston Raymond Peters (born April 11, 1945) is a New Zealand politician and leader of New Zealand First, a political party he founded in 1993. On August 29, 2008, he stood down as Foreign Affairs and Racing Minister pending a police investigation into accusations that he failed to declare a series of political donations received by his party. On September 23, 2008, Peters was censured by the Parliament for "knowingly providing false or misleading information on a return of pecuniary interests" over a $100,000 donation made in 2005.
Peters has had a turbulent political career since entering Parliament in 1978. He served as Minister of Maori Affairs in the Bolger National Party Government before being sacked in 1991 and losing party endorsement for his Tauranga seat. He returned to Parliament as an independent. As leader of New Zealand First, he held the balance of power following the 1996 election, enabling the National Party to form a coalition government and securing for himself the positions of Deputy Prime Minister and Treasurer.
New Zealand First suffered a collapse in support in the 1999 election, leading to the defeat of the National-NZ First coalition. In Opposition, Peters became an outspoken critic of New Zealand immigration policies. He was defeated in his Tauranga seat in 2005, but remained in parliament as a list MP and was given the Foreign Affairs, Senior Citizens and Racing portfolios in the Labour government.
Peters was born in the northern town of Whangarei. He is of mixed ethnicity, his father being Māori and his mother being of Scottish descent. His iwi affiliation is Ngāti Wai and his clan is McInnes. Two of his brothers, Ian Peters and Jim Peters, have also been MPs.
After attending Whangarei Boys' High School and Dargaville High School Peters studied history, politics and law at the University of Auckland and graduated BA and LLB before working both as a teacher and a lawyer. He was a member of the University Rugby Club in Auckland and captain of the Auckland Māori Rugby team. He also played in the Prince of Wales Cup for the Māori All Blacks. One brother, Wayne, played rugby for Otago and North Auckland in the then National Provincial Championship and was in the Junior All Blacks while another brother, Allan, represented Wanganui in rugby.
Peters successfully ran again in 1978 but only after winning in the High Court an electoral petition which overturned the election night result for the seat of Hunua (an electorate in the Auckland area) against Malcolm Douglas, the brother of Roger Douglas. He lost this seat in 1981, but in 1984 he successfully stood in the electorate of Tauranga.
He became the National Party's spokesperson on Māori Affairs, Consumer Affairs, and Transport. In 1987, he was elevated to National's Front Bench, acting as spokesperson for Māori Affairs, Employment, and Race Relations. After National won the 1990 election, Peters became Minister of Māori Affairs in the fourth National government, led by Jim Bolger.
Peters disagreed with the party leadership on a number of matters, and frequently spoke out against his party regarding them. This made him relatively popular with the public. However, his Party colleagues distrusted him, and his publicity seeking behaviour made him increasingly disliked within his own party. While National may have tolerated his difference of opinion, they were far less willing to accept his public criticism which they determined was undermining the party. In October 1991, Bolger sacked Peters from Cabinet.
Peters remained as a National backbencher, continuing to criticise the party. In late 1992, when the National Party was considering possible candidates for the elections in the following year, it was decided that Peters would not be allowed to seek renomination for Tauranga. Peters unsuccessfully challenged this decision in the High Court, and in early 1993, he chose to resign from the party and from Parliament. This prompted a by-election in Tauranga some months before the scheduled national elections. He stood as an independent and won easily.
Shortly before the 1993 election, Peters established New Zealand First and retained his Tauranga seat. Another New Zealand First candidate, Tau Henare, unseated the Labour incumbent in Northern Māori, helping to convince people that New Zealand First was not simply Peters' personal vehicle.
In the 1996 elections, the MMP electoral system delivered a huge windfall to New Zealand First. The party won 17 seats and swept all of the Māori seats. More importantly, it held the balance of power in Parliament. Neither National nor Labour had enough support to govern alone. Neither party could form a majority without the backing of New Zealand First, meaning Peters could effectively choose the next prime minister. It was widely expected that he would throw his support to Labour and make Labour leader Helen Clark New Zealand's first female prime minister.
After over a month of negotiations with both parties, Peters decided to enter into coalition with National. Michael Laws, the party's campaign manager, later claimed that Peters had already decided to join forces with National and used his negotiations with Labour simply to win more concessions from Bolger.
Whatever the case, Peters exacted a high price for allowing Bolger to stay on as prime minister. Peters became Deputy Prime Minister and Treasurer (senior to the Minister of Finance), the latter post created especially for him. Initially, there were concerns about whether Peters would be able to work with Bolger, the National prime minister who had previously sacked him from Cabinet, but the two did not seem to have any major difficulties.
Later, however, tensions began to develop between Peters and the National Party, which only worsened after Jenny Shipley staged a party room coup and became prime minister. After a dispute over the privatisation of Wellington International Airport, Peters was sacked from Cabinet again on 14 August 1998. He immediately broke off the coalition and led New Zealand First back into opposition. However, several MPs, including deputy leader Henare, opted to stay in government and leave New Zealand First. It later came out that Henare had tried to oust Peters as leader, but failed. None of the MPs who opted to stay in government retained their seats in the next election.
New Zealand First was severely mauled in the 1999 elections, which saw Labour oust National from power. The party suffered for the rash of party-switching. It collapsed to 4.3% of the vote, and would have been shut out of Parliament had Peters not managed to hold onto Tauranga by a slim margin. This only allowed New Zealand First to win five seats. Still in opposition, he continued to promote his traditional policies, but also became more noticeably concerned about immigration policies.
In the 2002 election, Peters performed well once again, campaigning on three main issues: reducing immigration, increasing punishments for crime, and ending the "grievance industry" around Treaty of Waitangi settlements. This message regained much support for both Peters and his party, especially from among the elderly who had in the past backed Winston Peters, and New Zealand First won 10% of the vote and 13 seats. Peters seemed to hope that Labour would choose to ally with New Zealand First in order to stay in power. However, Clark explicitly rejected this possibility, instead relying on support from elsewhere. This appeared to anger Peters considerably.
In a speech at Orewa in 2005, he criticised immigration from Asian countries as "imported criminal activity". In July 2005, Peters said New Zealand should err on the side of caution in admitting immigrants until they "affirm their commitment to New Zealanders' values and standards." On the same occasion, Peters claimed to know that Muslim extremists were regularly entering New Zealand, and accused Islam in New Zealand as "having two faces a moderate face and a militant underbelly". However, he refused to identify the person or the source.
As the 2005 general election approached, Peters did not indicate a preference for coalition with either of the major parties, declaring that he would not seek the "baubles of office". He promised to either give support in confidence and supply to the party with the most seats, or to abstain from no-confidence votes against it, and that he would not deal with any coalition that included the Greens. He pledged to keep post-election negotiations to under three weeks following criticism of the seven week marathon it took to broker a deal with National in 1996.
In the election, some of New Zealand First's traditional support moved to National. Peters himself narrowly lost his longstanding hold on Tauranga to National MP Bob Clarkson, but New Zealand First did well enough to receive seven seats (down from 13 in 2002), allowing Peters to remain in Parliament as a list MP. Soon after the 2005 election Peters launched a legal challenge against Clarkson. The case alleged that Clarkson had spent more than the legal limit allowed for campaign budgets during elections in New Zealand. This legal bid ultimately failed, with a majority of the judges in the case declaring that Clarkson had not overspent.
In negotiations with Clark after the election, Peters secured the ministerial portfolios of Foreign Affairs and Racing in the Labour-led government, a move which apparently lay at odds with his earlier promise to refuse the "baubles of office". He is a member of the Executive Council, although he is outside cabinet. He may criticise the government in areas not related to his portfolios, which experts say is an unprecedented situation. Considering his previous comments relating to immigration, there were mixed reactions from overseas commentators.
In October 2006, Peters affirmed that he would continue to serve as leader for the 2008 election.
Considerable debate has centred on how to classify the politics of Winston Peters. He is commonly described as nationalist and populist. He says he distrusts the corporate world a fact sometimes used to label him as left-wing but exhibits strong conservatism in his social policy, a right-wing stance. Perhaps his most notable policy in recent years has been his campaign against immigration.
Peters has a generally confrontational and fraught relationship with the media, handling media questions with ill-concealed contempt. Peters attributes the hostility of the media to the alleged control by foreign-owned business over the New Zealand media.
Peters has campaigned in previous elections for compulsory superannuation schemes for all New Zealanders. He has cultivated support amongst the elderly in particular, and his support has been concentrated among New Zealanders over 60 years of age.
In 2007, Peters was bestowed with the chiefly Samoan title Vaovasamanaia, meaning "beautiful, handsome, awesome, delighted and joyful."
Peters attracted media attention in 2008 over controversial payments for legal services and party donations.
In 2005, Peters received $100,000 to fund legal costs to challenge the election of Bob Clarkson to the Tauranga electorate. The money came from Owen Glenn, a wealthy businessman based in Monaco. Under parliamentary rules anything that is deemed to be a gift to MPs that is over the value of $500 must be relinquished. Peters denied knowing about the source of the money but this was not corroborated by his lawyer Brian Henry. Glenn has contradicted this testimony.
The Vela family, prominent in the racing industry, had donated $150,000 to Peters over a four year period. The payments were made in sums of $10,000 in order to remain within rules governing political party funding.
The Dominion Post published details from New Zealand First sources that before the 2005 election $25,000 had been donated to the party from Bob Jones via the Spencer Trust. The Trust is administered by Wayne Peters, a brother of Winston Peters. Jones confirmed that he had paid the money to the Spencer Trust and was asked by Winston Peters to make the donation. Peters denies that he had asked Jones for a donation to the party. The donation was not declared to the Electoral Commission as required by law.
On 29 August 2008, Peters offered to stand down from his portfolios as Foreign Affairs and Racing Minister, pending an investigation by the Serious Fraud Office as to whether the donations from Sir Robert Jones and the Vela brothers reached the New Zealand First party as intended. On the evening of 10 September 2008, Winston Peters gave evidence to the Privileges Committee of the New Zealand Parliament in an attempt to refute evidence given by Owen Glenn. The Privileges Committee returned a report on 22 September recommending that Peters be censured for "knowingly providing false or misleading information on a return of pecuniary interests". Parliament passed a motion censuring Peters the following day. All but three of the parties in parliament (New Zealand First, Labour, and Progressives who abstained) supported the censure.