Expose: Winston Peters; the 1997 speeches; and neo-liberal tendencies



winston peters no yes maybe who the fuck knows


On Radio NZ’s Morning Report, on 5 September, NZ First leader  Winston Peters, told Guyon Espiner that his party would be a force for major economic change. NZ First, he insisted, would spell an end to neo-liberalism;

“It’s no use having what we’ve had, perhaps you can call it tweedledum and tweedledummer, who have persisted with the neo-liberal experiment. Who have gone along with allowing the foreign banks to dominate New Zealand market for example. Allowed the overseas ownership of our share martket which went from 19% when this experiment started to beyond 70% now.


New Zealand First is not going to swap one side for the other side because they think it’s their turn so that they can carry on the same economic direction they’re going.


You’ve got a group on the Right, with a whole lot of cling-ons. You’ve got an unholy wedding or pre-nuptials on the Left, and we don’t want to be part of either of those things. We’re out for economic change and we intend to be successful.


We believe, if we’ve succeeded in getting our message away then economic and social direction change is a certainty.


And we’re not going to go around starting negotiating pre-election, with parties who have proven since the last 32 years, one started this economic disaster and the other one has continued it.”

Peters’ repudiation of the neo-liberal economic model had been made two months earlier on TVNZ’s Q+A, when he told Corin Dann;

Corin Dann: Do you think globalisation has failed?

Winston Peters: Of course it has. Because, see, it’s not so much about free trade, so to speak; it should be about fair trade, and there’s a world of difference.

Corin Dann: What is the alternative to globalisation if you believe that it’s failed? Is it a return to protectionism, nationalism?

Winston Peters: No, no, it’s not. It’s being like Norway; it’s being like Switzerland; it’s being like Taiwan. It’s being as smart about protecting the interests of the economy you’re trying to build rather than just going along with being told internationally what you must accept. There’s a world of difference, and right around the Western world, there is a coming now rejection of the neoliberal experiment after 30, 35 years. It is under serious challenge now.

Corin Dann: Mr Peters, globalisation has lifted millions and millions of people out of poverty. It’s brought New Zealand great diversity; it’s brought us all of the mod cons that we take for granted – our phones – everything like that. Hasn’t globalisation been great?

Winston Peters: You’re just confusing sound trade arrangements with globalisation. Globalisation in the UK consequence meant they were being told, out of the European Commission – unelected, in the UK Parliament – they were being told how their laws would be. 55% of the laws in the UK were being dominated out of Brussels. Now, no self-respecting country’s going to take that.

Peters’ comments roundly rejected globalisation, free trade, neo-liberalism. He  inferred protectionism when he told Dann, “It’s being as smart about protecting the interests of the economy you’re trying to build rather than just going along with being told internationally what you must accept“.

However, in a speech made in 1997, when Peters was Treasurer in the National-NZ First Coalition Government, he told the NBR Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu Government to Business Forum that he would be pursuing conservative fiscal management; supporting  an “open, internationally competitive economy”; lower taxes; and a de-regulated market.

Peter’s speech is in the form of a hard-copy in this blogger’s possession. It is headed “Office of the Deputy Prime Minister & Treasurer” and is dated 11 February 1997.  It was embargoed till 8.35am for that day, when Peters made his speech at Wellington’s up-market Park Royal Hotel.

TDB Recommends NewzEngine.com

Peters began by saying that there were “four core economic principles at the heart of the government’s strategy;

  • “sound, stable government
  • ensuring an economic climate conducive to sustainable development and growth, more employment opportunities, high quality education and social services, a strong commitment to low inflation, prudent and conservative fiscal management and over time, lower taxes and reduced public debt
  • an open, internationally competitive economy, a strong export sector, and policies to stimulate private sector and individual performance
  • planning for the country’s future, emphasising intergenerational fairness and increasing the nation’s saving”

Later in the speech, Peters reiterated the Coalition’s fiscal policy;

“That is why we are committed to low inflation, prudent and conservative fiscal management, lowering taxes and reducing public debt.”

Peters made clear that those were the core principles of the National-NZ First  Coalition. They  also happen to be core ideological tenets of neo-liberal doctrine.

Peters’ “core principles” are mirrored by the so-called “NZ Initiative” (formerly the Business Roundtable), a right-wing, neo-liberal think-tank;

We [NZ Initiative] are committed to developing policies that work for all New Zealanders, and we believe that promoting such policies will benefit all of our members as a matter of fact. But we are certainly an Initiative that usually prefers Adam Smith’s invisible hand to government’s visible fist.

Most of all, though, we believe that our goals and values are similar – if not identical – to what most New Zealanders want to see achieved:

  • A good education system.
  • Affordable housing.
  • An open economy.
  • A free and democratic society.
  • The protection of our natural resources and heritage.
  • Sound public finances.
  • A stable currency.

The NZ Initiative/Business Roundtable also promotes lower taxes; a competitive, open economy; and prudent and conservative fiscal management – in short all the core principles expressed by Peters in February 1997.

In case his audience did not understand Peters’ commitment to “an open, internationally competitive economy” he repeated himself again, in his speech;

“The key to maintaining an open internationally competitive economy  will be:

  • stable macroeconomic policies;

  • de-regulated, competitive and open market;

  • quality public services provided as efficiently as possible;

  • and the lowest possible taxes”

He went on;

“Another reform… removing restrictions on air services to and from New Zealand is important for reducing barriers to trade and tourism. To this end, the government remains committed to reciprocal liberalisation where possible…


To make the most of the opportunities a global economy provides…”

Not content to cement in an  adherence to a neo-liberal agenda, Peters then attacked the social welfare system in this country – another prime target of the New Right;

“What distinguishes this government is the prominence given to the value of self-reliance… moving people away from State dependence to independence.”

Bear in mind that Peters was giving his speech only six years after Ruth Richardson’s notorious “Mother of All Budgets” in 1991. By the time Peters addressed the Government to Business Forum in 1997, 19% of households were already living below the poverty line and unemployment was at 6.8%. By June the following year it had ballooned to 7.9%.

Peters’ response was to attack and demean the welfare system that  kept many of these people alive as the scourge of neo-liberalism ravaged the country.

Peters’ speech continued, parroting many of neo-liberal cliches that we are now so familiar with;

“We want to create an environment which encourages New Zealanders to move away from welfare dependency to employment. And for those who still need welfare support, we want a move away  from a welfare mentality to a positive attitude  and greater acceptance of social obligations.

It is also about people taking greater responsibility for their futures rather than simply relying on the state.”

Peters was promoting the Cult of  Individualism and cutting back state support – another basic tenet of neo-liberalism.

Next, he took a swipe at families and their “reliance” on welfare;

“A prime area needing attention is the family… this government will create an environment which instils greater levels of parental responsibility.

Our destiny is ultimately in the hands of individual New Zealanders. Breaking the cycle of dependency means taking primary responsibility for our own welfare and the welfare of our families.

This government expects each and every New Zealander to… live up to their responsibilities…”

This speech and it’s conservative message sounds ominously as if the  ACT Party might have given it;

“To alleviate poverty, reduce dependency and shift able-bodied people from welfare to work.”

“To put personal responsibility, self-reliance and work above welfare dependency.”

“Welfare must not put children at risk by undermining the two-parent family.”

“True compassion demands welfare that provides a hand up to work, independence and a better future.”

Source: Welfare and The Family, ACT Party policy, September 2014

In  a later speech by Peters, on 28 February 1997, to the American Chamber of Commerce in Auckland, Peters reiterated his commitment to a free market regime;

“…Maintaining an open, internationally competitive economy, supporting a strong export sector, particularly  by managing cost structures downwards and continuing deregulation and policies to stimulate private sector and individual performance.


The government’s approach to fiscal management is orthodox and consistent


Maintaining an open and competitive enterprise economy is essential because an open and competitive economy drives New Zealand firms to lift their game, and provide a more profitable investment base for our savings.

Let me be clear, this government is not opposed to foreign investment. When it is in the national interest we welcome all investment that boosts employment, productivity and growth.”

Peters was reassuring his capitalist audience; this man was not for ‘turning’.


There is little clear evidence that Peters is hostile to neo-liberalism, whether of the brutal Ruthenasia variety or the more insidious neo-liberalism-with-a-relaxed-face.

Instead, the evidence from his 1997 speeches is there for all to see. Peters may profess to have distanced himself from the neo-liberal experiment, but his own words betray him.

There is not one monolithic conservative/centre-right party in New Zealand, but two, distinct parties on the conservative spectrum. Just as Australia has the Liberal Party and it’s own rural-based National Party,  we have National and NZ First. Like left-wing voters who have a choice between Labour or the Green Party,  conservative voters in this country have a choice between National and NZ First.

As long as everyone is crystal-clear on this; NZ First’s leader remains committed to neo-liberalism.



The following are scanned images of Winston Peters’ 1997 speech to the Government to Business Forum;


Winston Peters - Government to Business Forum - 1997 (1)


Winston Peters - Government to Business Forum - 1997 (2)


Winston Peters - Government to Business Forum - 1997 (3)



The following are scanned images of Winston Peters speech, on 28 February 1997, to the American Chamber of Commerce in Auckland;


winston peters - american chamber of commerce - 1997 (1)


winston peters - american chamber of commerce - 1997 (2)


winston peters - american chamber of commerce - 1997 (3)


winston peters - american chamber of commerce - 1997 (4)


winston peters - american chamber of commerce - 1997 (5)


winston peters - american chamber of commerce - 1997 (6)


winston peters - american chamber of commerce - 1997 (7)


winston peters - american chamber of commerce - 1997 (8)



All media enquiries can be made to the author at fmacskasy@gmail.com.




Radio NZ: Morning Report – NZ First leader targets youth (audio)

TVNZ: Q+A – Winston Peters interviewed by Corin Dann

NZ Initiative: About Us

NZ Initiative: The Case for Lower Taxes

Business Roundtable (NZ Initiative): Submission to the Finance and Expenditure Committee on the 1997 Budget Policy Statement (March 1997)

Te Ara Encyclopedia: Mother of All Budgets

Ministry of Social Development: Assessing The Progress On Poverty Reduction

Statistics NZ: When times are tough, wage growth slows

ACT Party: Welfare and The Family

Other Blogs

Fightback: Nationalism and the left: A reflection on Winston Peters and the Northland by-election (2015)

The Standard: Can We Trust Winston Peters?

Previous related blogposts

An open letter to Winston Peters…

John Banks and Winston Peters, Apples and Oranges

Winston Peters recycles pledge to “buy back state assets” – where have we heard that before?

Northland by-election – a damning poll and a damnable lie?

The Mendacities of Mr Key # 18: “No question – NZ is better off!”

A Message to Winston; A Message to John Key; and a Message to the Regions







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  1. We need to ask the man himself.
    “Do you, Winston Peters, still hold the neo-liberal views as expressed in your addresses to parliament, while you were Treasurer of the National led government of 1997, sited above?”

    Considering he now says the neo-liberal experiment has failed he would have to reply “No”
    But Winston rarely answers questions directly.

    It certainly is a bit rich of him to site only Labour and National as the “parties who have proven since the last 32 years, [that beo-liberalism has been a failure] one started this economic disaster and the other one has continued it”, when NZ First supported it to the hilt during the 96-99 Nat/NZ First reign.

    If what he promulgates now is what he’d practice if he got the power to, I’d back him to the hilt.
    But who the hell knows?

    • Bob Jones formed the New Zealand Party in 1983 to split the National vote and deliver the neo-liberal Rogernomics Labour Party to power in 1984. Arguably Peter’s formed NZ First for the same reason, using left rhetoric to take votes away from Labour and the Alliance, and keep National in power. Tau Henare, the second NZ First MP, was a National MP from 2005-2014. Clearly, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, and any kiwi voter wanting a change of government in 2017 cannot be sure to get it by voting NZ First.

  2. Same old bollocks then, same old bollocks now, same old bollocks all the time: growth, ‘sustainable development’, prosperity, trade, tourism.

    Not mentioned on this occasion but nevertheless a key component of the Orwellian nonsense churned out by the politicians who continue to sabotage NZ’s future: ‘protecting the environment’.

    As slippery as an eel.

  3. Interesting reading, and I remember well that Peters was much more overtly right wing in the 1990s. I feel like he started to change tack around the time Brash came on the scene. But even that was now over 10 years ago, and 1997 is pretty much 20 years ago. Two decades immersed in politics is plenty of time to wake up and smell the coffee – perhaps that’s the case.

    Not that it makes Winston any less the same Winston, but two decades later he does after all have a different voter base, and I suspect he’s probably found that where 20 years ago he was appealing primarily to voters disillusioned with National, he’s now dealing with voters disillusioned with Labour as well as voters with a compounded disillusionment with National.

    If a bit of nostalgia for old NZ was on his radar in the mid-90s, how much more so now? I feel like all we are likely to find the more we look is simply a guy with an instinctive ability to play to the crowd and channel the language of the times, stamped as always with brand Winston.

    Ultimately, is there a risk of him consuming some of the left’s voter base with this approach? Only if they neglect their responsibilities, imo.

  4. Nice research Frank.
    I have no idea how people consider Winnie and NZ First to be left-wing.
    We have Mana and the Greens. We should vote for one of those to drag Labour back to it’s roots.

  5. Great work Frank, what this shows is that Winston will say anything that suits his position at the time.
    If he really felt that strongly about the neo lib economy why did he not push this with the Labour led government he was part of.
    Instead he took the foreign ministers job and buggered off overseas, i dont remember him actively pushing for changes to the foundations of the free market economy he now despises.
    Anyone who thinks that Winston supports a left wing approach to New Zealands direction are seriously deluded, he is and always has been a National party stalwart in all but name.

  6. Now why does a stated desire for lower taxes equate to being ‘neo-liberal’?

    This country has an appetite for taxation for ‘vague reasons’ – and we see very little good from it in either the private or public sector.

    A desire to get people off pittances and into ways of earning income that may or may not require ‘a job’ or an enterprise seems like a very good idea indeed. The ‘welfare system’ appears to attract some singularly unpleasant and unprincipled people. It is a huge relief to never have to pass through those portals to hell again.

    I agree with the notion of actually asking Winston, or Ron Mark, what they currently mean by the statements because they have that ‘Mom and apple pie’ sound to them – open to being interpreted any way your own values dictate. Highly dangerous, and we’ve had quite enough of that modus operandi.

  7. Well, is Winston that much different from what Labour spokespersons say?

    And much of what they comment is not that wrong, it depends on how it is all interpreted.

    Perhaps Winston and his party have also “evolved” a bit since that time?

    • Anyone who makes this statement at least deserves to be in parliament…

      “In response, Peters said Finlayson’s conclusion it would breach the privacy of foreign buyers was “balderdash” and could only be ​reached by a “plutocratic officious nerd.”

      “Privacy is of course what money launderers and investors trying to evade their own country’s jurisdiction love the most, and the Attorney-General seems to be right up their alley.”

      “plutocratic officious nerd.” sums Finlayson up beautifully.

  8. Remember that NZ First supported the Clark led government, after the late 1990s. While the Labour government until 2008 can be seen as somewhat moderately neoliberal, with a social democratic touch, it moved away from the line the Nats followed, who Peters joined for a while, with his NZ First party. We remember that did not last.

    Times have changed, Peters may have changed, but that aside, we also know, he can change his tunes, depending on who he considers suitable and convenient to go into government with (possibly not directly part of a coalition, but supporting a government on either side of the aisles).

  9. Well one must admit Peters is the perennial survivor , that that was 1997 , and we now see that neo liberalism has indeed failed completely.

    And in saying that , its taken 32 years for this aberrant political ideology to have run its course and shown enough of its true colours to convince people of its failure.

    So why should Peters be any different in that final realization?… and why also should he abstain from articulating now what his constituents are saying?

    As I said on Chris Trotters post, some cynics would call it populism – others would call it representing his constituents…once again… call it what you will.

    The facts are that he was willing to work with Bolger’s and Clarke’s govt’s ,- and in both cases he was the junior partner in both of those arrangements. And to be fair to Peters as an example ,… does the current Maori party now wag the National party dog?… no. It doesn’t. It is a junior partner.

    You will recall that Peters worked in with Bolger despite being sacked from the National Party…. or rather Peters opted to leave and form his own party…


    Because at that time he disagreed with the extreme elements of neo liberalism. And that was also the cause of friction between him and Ruth Richardson. And later on Jenny Shipley.

    Come the time for Helen Clarkes govt, … was Clarke in a hurry to dismantle the neo liberal edifice?…. no.

    She tinkered with it and chose instead the ‘ steady as she goes ‘ route.

    And was quite happy to include Peters .

    There is only so much a coalition partner can demand in any arrangement. It would appear that Peters, like many among the public , were learning just what the term ‘ neo liberalism’ entailed. The very fact that it took some time to even garner a label shows that there was a time lag between understanding just what it was and how it operates and then being able to decide if it was a good thing or a bad thing. Particularly in the public’s mind.

    Yet the Bolger govt and the Clarke govt are long gone. Brash is gone. And Key was only moved in place to provide a softer face for public consumption of what is a very anti public spirited ,anti sovereign agenda.

    It is only lately that certain politicians are starting to display a tentative yet distinct opposition to neo liberal largess,… with Peters being one of them and earlier on than most . And certainly more assertive than just being a little ‘ tentative’.

    Answer this : was there a Jeremy Corban or Bernie Sanders style voice in either England or the USA or even in NZ in all those decades? …in 1997 ? … again the answer is no. At least ,not really. They were always there to but to gain the type of traction we see now is more a recent development.

    Was there a Brexit in 1997?… no.

    And so again, I would say that Peters has evolved with the times, – but yet so have the general public – not just in NZ but in the West as a whole. But I will say that Peters was among one of the early whistelblower’s in this country. You may be right in saying there is some part of the old right wing there ,… but it would be wrong totally to say it hasn’t been tempered with the ample proof and evidence against neo liberalism over time.

    He and his party may not be the sole and total answer in taking this country back to a more civilized ,fairer, and prosperous social democracy ,( no one party or individual is currently- and that by the way is what MMP is all about ) but he is certainly , – whether we like it or not , – along with others an important figure in helping to facilitate that slow groundswell and movement away from the destructiveness of the neo liberal failure and to a more equitable redistribution of wealth .

    And this going to take some time to achieve. It wont happen overnight , – neo liberalism has had 32 long years to dismantle the democracy and wealth of the commons,… why should we think it’ll happen some time next year???

    3 generations have been indoctrinated with its pernicious argument. It will take at least 10 years of solid , reconstruction and leading the way for the public to refute it as an erroneous social and economic doctrine.

    In summary I think if we only dwell on statements from 1997 , and deliberately ignore more recent statements and actions, … and fail to appraise in historical context the political climate of that time we do not only the subject a disservice but also ourselves.

    Peters cant just come out and say what side right or left he will go with – as much as we would like him too,… they are , frustratingly so at times ,… a centrist party. Many of their policy’s swing towards centre left however. If Peters went with Key , it would be interesting how the Maori party would fare…frankly I would prefer both the Maori party and NZ First to forsake National.

    The collective guilt , deceit , lies and incompetence of the Key led govt and his front bench – and any other strains of political party’s or individuals with neo liberal inclinations – needs to be firmly stamped out into history and done away with before this country can be released to prosper again in the true sense of the word.

    And in that I think we are far better off with NZ First as an ally than a foe.

  10. I’ve nerve trusted Peters since 1996 and I see no reason to change my opinion of him now.

    At least with Key you know what you get, a lying, self-serving, manipulative ass.

    With Peters, his deception runs deep.

  11. Winston has never been a supporter of neoliberalism and State Asset Sales, we have sold $24.6 Billion of State Assets since the 1980’s which would now we worth $100-$200 Billion and we are now $120 Billion in Debt these State Asset Sales was a wasted exercise as we are now even deeper in the shit?

    • I think Frank has proved conclusively in the documents supplied that Peters was a spokesperson for neo-liberalism. Just compare the quotes Frank pulled from Peters’ speeches with the quotes from the ACT speech and the NZ Initiative policy platform. Unless you’re saying they never supported neo-liberalism either?

      Perhaps you’re right that Peters never supported the *privatization* aspect, but to be sure, we’d have to check that he never voted in favour of any legislation that enabled privatization. Are you willing to put money on that? Perhaps Frank and his shockingly thorough research skills can settle such a bet for us?

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