The NZ First MP who is probably closest to Winston Peters looks likely to depose Ron Mark and become the party’s deputy leader.

Fletcher Tabuteau was yesterday refusing to comment on speculation that he was standing for deputy leader, but well-placed party sources say he will run.

That was given more force by Shane Jones also refusing to comment publicly but privately indicating that he is unlikely to run.

 NZ First Deputy Leader Ron Mark learns that he may be challenged from the media yesterday

Mark’s successful contesting of the deputy leadership against Tracey Martin in 2015 was a controversial move within the party; Martin has remained close to Peters.

Peters himself was refusing to express any preference — which, of course, was a lack of an endorsement for his current deputy.

“Of course I can’t have a favourite, I’ve got to be impartial,” he said yesterday.

“I’ve never taken a passionate interest in that (the deputy leadership), and I will leave it up to the members of my caucus.”

Mark himself seemed taken aback when reporters asked if he knew he was likely to face a challenge.

“I don’t know, haven’t thought about it, didn’t know that,” he said.


“If I get nominated, I will get nominated.”

Party insiders have long believed that Tabuteau was Peters’ preference to replace him as the leader.

Tabuteau is the nephew of Tauranga businessman Tommy Gear who is one of Peters’ closest confidantes.

The Peters inner circle - Winston with partner  Jan Trotman and close confidante, Tommy Gear.

Gear is usually in the background when Peters is on the campaign trail but was not for the last campaign because of heart surgery.

But he has been supporting Peters since Day One of New Zealand First nearly 25 years ago and was on the Parliamentary Services payroll for some years as an agent of Peters in Tauranga.

He was fined $500 in 2000 when he was clocked at 168 kph in his black Mercedes driving Peters to Auckland airport.

Peters places a huge store on long relationships and personal loyalties. Gear, and by implication, Tabuteau, fit that bill.

National Party sources say that during the formation of Government negotiations, Peters was insistent that Tabuteau get a job in the executive.

And Labour has given him one, as an Under Secretary to Peters. In effect, he is deputy Foreign Minister.

Though Peters will not publicly declare his support for Tabuteau, all of NZ First’s MPs will be aware of the connections and if the past is anything to go by, will vote the way they think their Leader is voting.

Tabuteau, 43,  graduated from Waikato University with a degree in business management and teaching qualifications and has been an economics teacher at Rotorua Boys High and more recently has headed the business school at Whitireia Polytechnic, where he also lectured in economics.

He is of Ngati Ngararanui, Ngati Rangiwewehi, and Ngati Whakaue descent.

He is highly regarded across parties in Parliament as one of NZ First’s most competent MPs, and yesterday he saw his KiwiFund Bill given the green light in Parliament, passing its first reading.

The Bill would establish an independent group of specialists from the banking, savings and retirement sectors.

The working group would first examine the accountability of current KiwiSaver providers relating to complaints of exorbitant fees, unethical investments and profiteering in the trading of KiwiSaver providers.

“I am excited that we’ve taken the first step to take a good look at the concerns that New Zealanders have had about KiwiSaver,” said Tabuteau.