Northland by-election victory may mark the birth of a country aprty.
There are strong suggestions that Winston Peters’ victory in the Northland by-election could be the first step towards changing NZ First’s priorities to become a political party focussed on rural and provincial New Zealand.
Multiple sources close to Mr Peters are saying that the party now has the opportunity to pick up on concerns outside urban New Zealand about under-investment in infrastructure and a growing tendency towards the centralisation of Government services and local Government.
With Labour increasingly looking to its urban heartland — particularly South Auckland — as a power base there is a growing Opposition gap for a party to advocate for provincial New Zealand. A clear pointer to NZ First’s intentions came with the appointment of the former Federated Farmers executive David Broome as the party’s Chief of Staff.
Mr Peters is apparently keen to focus on issues in the north like the holdups in resource consents for marine farms, the way that the lack of infrastructure is preventing forestry replanting and the Government’s diversion of tourism funding to Auckland and Christchurch.
LOWER THE DOLLAR
And of course he will continue his campaign against the high dollar and continue his campaign to have the Reserve Bank consider additional factors when setting interest rates.
He introduced a private members’ bill in 2013 to amend the Reserve Bank Act to broaden the bank’s function to include other macro-economic factors such as the rate of growth, export growth, the value of the dollar, and employment — as well as price stability.
That bill was defeated 61 – 59.
Once New Zealand First gets its extra MP it should be able to muster 58 Opposition votes with Labour and the Greens while the Government will have 61 votes — with the Maori Party sitting on the fence with another two votes.
So the bill would still be defeated today even if the Maori Party voted for it.
Mr Peters knows that his reform proposals have no chance while National is in power and can get a majority in the House. But that won’t stop him waving it about every time he goes near a rural electorate.
CAN KEY AND PETERS STOP THE SLEDGING
The question then becomes whether National is willing to work with him on other matters.
NZ First MPs complain that National has ignored them and refused to consult them on anything.
There is a widespread view within NZ First that the Prime Minister has let his own personal relationship with Mr Peters get in the way of doing any deals with him.
Mr Key in turn complained to Morning Report that Mr Peters wasn’t interested in talking to him.
That’s all huffing and puffing and it pays to remember that in 1996 Mr Bolger managed to put aside his extreme antipathy to Mr Peters and form a coalition with him. That deal only broke apart after Mr Bolger was deposed by Jenny Shipley.
Mr Peters favours reform of the Resource Management Act but opposes changes to the purpose of the Act to include economic objectives as well as environmental sustainability…
He agrees with United Future Leader, Peter Dunne, on that.
Mr Key recognised this when he told “Morning Report” today that “we just don’t have the numbers … we can go away and look at it but there’s just no question it’ll have to be a rewrite of those sections six and seven of the RMA.”
If the clauses are rewritten that will throw the gauntlet down to NZ First — do they support the changes (and satisfy their new supporters in Northland and potential supporters in other rural electorates) or does Mr Peters perform one of his semantic wriggles and vote against the changes.
Already he is heading up news releases with lines like “Northland and the other forgotten regions are the issue”.
One source close to Mr Peters said he was aiming to do an “Anderton’ and use Northland as a fortress from which he could build a more solidly based nationwide party based on the provinces and rural areas.
It could work.