Politics

‘Words do mean things’: Highlights from Guyon Espiner’s brutal interview with Winston Peters

The best interview of the election happened today on Morning Report, when Guyon Espiner made Winston Peters look like his race was already run. Duncan Greive recounts the 10 greatest hits.

Winston Peters is the most reliably unflappable interview in New Zealand politics. He should get royalties every time someone brazenly answers a completely different question to the one posed. He has a world class collection of 18th century ad hominem insults, and generally operates on a spectrum running from mild amusement to mock indignation that he never, ever leaves.

Until this morning. Morning Report’s Guyon Espiner had been reading NZ First’s website, apparently a lot more than Winston Peters. He asked, mostly, what its content would cost. He did it over and over and Peters almost never had an answer. For a man who was, until recently, subject of semi-plausible speculation about his potential to be prime minister, he appeared astoundingly ill-informed.

Over and over Espiner honed in on what these big, blustering populisms would cost, over and over Winston dissembled and guessed (almost always incorrectly, sometimes by upwards of a $1b on a single policy). But the interview became an instant classic less for what Winston didn’t know and more for the pure entertainment value it contained.

“Which camera should I be looking at?” he asked on entry, and never really recovered his balance, blundering through the recovery of an ancient document he happened to have in the boot of his car, an incoherent ramble through his plans to nationalise our energy companies and all the uncosted policy. My colleague Don Rowe kindly transcribed all 5,000 words – below are the ten best moments (some have been mildly abridged for clarity, because this thing got loose at times).

winston peters, finally feeling his age

1. THE DOCUMENT

Where he tires of Espiner saying he’d been fired from three separate cabinets and had a staffer retrieve an ancient piece of political parchment.

Espiner: How come you’ve been sacked three times?

Peters: Can I just say, I’ve got a document in my bag downstairs that says what you just said is a lie.”

Do you want to go and get it?

I can go and get it. I’ll ask my colleague to go and get it out of the back of the car right now, it’s in the back folder, you know what it is, it’s a letter from Helen Clark stating the circumstances.

Ok we might be able to come back to that before –

Wonderful, thank you for asking me, now I’ve got three answers for you –

I’m looking forward to seeing it –

That you have misled the public on for so, so long.

I’m looking forward to seeing it.

I’m going to enjoy this conversation.

This is going to be fun. We’ve got another twenty minutes, so it’s going to be good.

2. WHAT WILL IT COST #1: THE WHOLE PACKAGE

Where he desperately tries to avoid costing his policies in aggregate, finally settling on a figure which covers the deeply non-specific and arbitrary “about seven or eight years”.

I’m wondering have you costed your own policies?

Yes I have.

What do they cost?

My party’s costs are out 30, 40 years in terms of some of these projects.

No, no, over three years.

Well we think there’s probably, if you’re talking about investment and borrowing, it’s probably 10 billion.

10 billion dollars over three years?

No, no, much longer than that. You can’t build a –

So on an annual –

Can I just clarify, you can’t build a port in Whangarei in the space of three years, but you can begin it.

Ok so you’re saying 10 billion dollars over how long?

It’s over about seven or eight years.

3. WHAT WILL IT COST #2: GST OFF FOOD

Where he admits that his website is out by over 2 billion dollars on a key policy.

You want to take GST off food.

No. Off basic food. There’s a huge difference you see. Our food, you get a huge bill off basic food, you’re talking to somewhere in the zone of 600-700 million dollars.

But it’s a 3 billion dollar policy. It says that on your website.

No, no, it’s a 3 billion dollar policy, somebody costs it out they way they’ve costed it, it’s GST –

But that’s what it says on your website.

No, no.

No, it does.

Well it might say that on our website, it should have been corrected, but I can tell you now –

Aw come on.

Excuse me.

Come on mate. How are voters supposed to know when they look at your website and they see it there?

Well I admit it’s a mistake and I had a discussion with my team about two days ago about correcting that because they said ‘is it on food?’ and I said ‘no, it’s on basic food’.

winston peters pretending to be happy

4. WHAT IS BASIC FOOD ANYWAY?

Where he argues about biscuits.

Well it says most of the food an average family puts in their trolley.

I’m saying for the umpteenth time, basic food, and I said –

I’m quoting your own policy

If you have difficulty understanding it, ask your grandmother, because usually your grandmother would know what basic means.

…ok well I’ll ask you. So if I put a packet of chips or a packet of biscuits from the supermarket in my trolley, do I pay GST?

Chips aren’t basic food.

Biscuits?

No. Biscuits aren’t basic food.

Bread?

Yes it is.

So who decides what basic food is? We ask our grandmothers? We go up to the till and say what?

It will be listed by people who are your every day, ordinary people who understand common English.

5. WHAT WILL IT COST #3: CUTTING CORPORATE TAX

Where he over-estimates the cost of his corporate tax cut by over a billion dollars (my estimate : $1.44b – via Treasury’s calculator) and ends up advocating for the discredited Laffer curve, like so many Republicans before him.

So do we take these policies on the website – before we go through them – do we take them seriously or not?

Of course you do.

Ok thank you. Let’s go to tax. You want to reduce the company tax rate to 25 cents. How much would that cost?

[Winston sips] The cost of that down from what it is now…

Which is?

It’s 28.

So the cost is?

Sorry, I was the former treasurer, I’ve got a good idea –

Great, you’ll be able to tell us what it costs.

I’ve got somewhat more experience than you Guyon. But my point is, it’s not so much a cost, I think it will be an actual earner. The moment you do that there’ll be far better protection for New Zealand business, more interest in investing in New Zealand business, and we’ll turn it around pretty quickly. There’ll be a short term cost –

What is it?

Cause if you go there, hang on, if you go there from where the government is personally talking about tax reductions, in private income, there’ll not be a huge cost. Possibly two and a half billion.

Two and a half billion?

Initially yes.

Over what time?

Well usually you’d do assessments of taxations over an annualised figure.

6. SOE BUYBACKS

Where he doesn’t quite mangle his policy as bad as Richard Prosser, but gets close. Also says ‘axiomatic’ twice and pretends to not understand what a ‘first term commitment’ is.

Lets go to SOE policy. Quote, ‘bring back the energy companies sold by the National government back into public ownership’

At. The.

And put them –

Approrpiate. Time.

Put them under a single general entity.

At the appropriate time yes.

[rambling exchange re the railways]

You, quote, ‘commit to buying back the shares at no greater price than paid by the first purchaser’

Well that’s axiomatic, isn’t it? I mean, it cannot hardly be appropriately a smart deal if you’re buying higher than they were sold in the first place.

Ok so is this a first term commitment, or not?

How do you mean a first term commitment?

It’s quite easy, eh, three years a term, are you committing to doing it in the first term or not?

Well at the appropriate time. Look, it’s axiomatic, it’s really logical, and you’ve gotta follow this because words do mean things. If the appropriate time is in your second or third term, that’s the appropriate time.

7. THE SHADE

In which he does a classic Peters burn on Espiner.

Because –

Here I am talking about our policy and you’re standing here like some sort of self-appointed auditor critiquing it when you know very little about it.

My job is to critique the policy, but –

If you want to critique policy, first of all get yourself qualified.

Thank you.

Which you’re not.

Thank you.

Sorry to say that this close to the election.

8. WHAT WILL IT COST #3: JUST GENERAL COST

Where he just wants to say things and not have to say what he’ll pay for things.

Would you be prepared to have [your policies] independently costed by someone else?

To have them independently costed?

Your policies.

…Well, I’ve had them costed by people I trust now.

Who are they?

I just, I just, I just named one.

Is there anyone outside your party who’s done that?

[Rambles about getting letters from economists, etc]

the document IRL

9. THE DOCUMENT ARRIVES

Where the dead sea scroll appears.

OK. Should we bring in this document that your staffer has got from the car?

Please.

He’s brought one in from the boot of the car. Thank you very much.

Well you wanted evidence about me being sacked the third time. This letter is to me from the prime minister, 1 September 2008, this letter confirms the arrangements made on Friday ‘following your offer to stand aside from your portfolio responsibilities while the SFO makes its investigations’. Investigations, I might add, that were found to be groundless. There it is, the prime minister at the time said that so please don’t go and tell people I was sacked. I never was.

Which is a nice segue into talking about coalitions.

Can I have that back?

You can actually. Can I have a copy?

No you can’t. I just showed you the evidence and so stop lying to the public.

10. CONSTITUTIONAL CONVENTIONS

Where he never says there’s a constitutional convention and does a quip and sings a song.

You spelled out in 2005 your position which I think you still hold to, which is this idea that there’s a constitutional convention –

Didn’t say that. I’ve heard you repeat that on your programmes. I never used the word constitutional convention, I just said there’s a convention that in the first place you’d go to the party with the highest votes. I never said there’s a constitution.

OK.

Mr Espiner words matter. You’re a trained man. Please stick to what I’ve said.

I thought I was untrained 15 minutes ago.

Well maybe I was right the first time.

Maybe you were. So is that still your position, that you talk first with the party that gets the most votes?

Well that’d be the normal thing you do but when you say talk it depends who talks to you.

What is it you want?

What it want? What do you mean? What do you mean by a statement like that? Ten days out from the election.

It’s a question. What do you want?

Define what you mean what do I want? It’s like a song. ‘What do you want, what do you mean, what do you get’. This is pathetic.


Watch the whole interview below. It is worth it.

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