WINSTON CHALLENGED: TENSION ON NZ FIRST CONFERENCE FLOOR
By Richard Harman (author)
Only because the New Zealand First conference ran out of time to debate all its remits was an on-the-floor clash between Winston Peters and one of the party’s MPs avoided.
The conference had already seen MP Dennis O’Rourke threaten to resign if a remit calling for all immigrants to have compulsory medical insurance for ten years was passed.
But the last remit on the agenda called for the party to rewrite its 15 founding principles.
However what had supposed to be a one hour debate on a radical overhaul of the party’s constitution stretched all through Saturday afternoon and then Sunday morning taking time allocated for policy remits.
That meant the remit never made it to the floor.
It was drawn up by the party’s Tauranga electorate which until 2005 was Winston’s own electorate.
But now the only NZ First MP based there is newcomer, Clayton Mitchell.
Mr Mitchell said he thought having 15 principles confused people when they handed them pamphlets about the party.
”I think we can modify and simplify them a little bit,” he told POLITIK.
Mr Mitchell said putting New Zealanders first was the party’s fundamental principle.
Then he listed his priorities as ensuring New Zealand did not become a separatist nation; ensuring the gap of inequality was not dragged out and then ensuring we grew the economy.
Only growing the economy is contained within the current principles where the party advocates export led development.
The party does have a principle on social welfare which it says should be an umbrella for those in deserving need.
But it doesn’t say anything about avoiding becoming a separatist nation which is understandable given the high percentage of Maori within its ranks.
Deputy Leader Ron Mark was aware of the sensitivity over the Tauranga remit but said he thought the 15 Principles were fine as they were.
“They are one of the things that drew me to the party,” he said.
Interestingly Mr Peters appeared to refer to the remit in his conference speech.
“New Zealand First does not need to change its policies,” he said.
Later at a press conference he was blunter.
“Nobody likes that remit, thank you very much,” he said.
“The party’s got 15 founding principles and it’s not going to change them.
“They all make sense.”
Close associates of Mr Peters were even stronger.
They accused Mr Mitchell of being a publicity seeker who thought he had all the answers.
But the whole incident reflects what is likely to be a growing tension within New Zealand First between people recently drawn to the party and those who have been there since 1993.
No matter how much Mr Peters frustrates his political opponents, and would be coalition partners, he has remained remarkably consistent about what his party stands for.
Even so, these sorts of tensions got another airing during a debate within the conference about a proposal to require all new settlers to New Zealand to take out personal medical insurance cover for a minimum of 10 years.
On Saturday before the remit debate, Mr Peters seemed to back the remit.
"Other countries have that. You can climb off a plane in New Zealand and be in our hospitals the next day ... we've got to stop having a soft heart and a head to match," he said.
But when it came to the conference floor, Mr Dennis O’Rourke said that it was discriminatory and contravened the Bill of Rights.
One delegate asked: “Are you talking about their Bill of Rights or ours” which was greeted with applause.
List MP Mahesh Bindra said that New Zealand regarded all people who landed here legally as residents whether they landed here yesterday or 100 years ago.
And then Mr O’Rourke spoke again on an amendment to the remit and said any law which purported to give rights to one and not to the other was illegal and would be struck down by the Supreme Court.
“We would also as a party be held up to ridicule for trying to put forward an idea as utterly disgraceful as this which is clearly discriminatory and utterly unjustifiable,” he said.
“If this party is to proceed with that kind of thing I would have to consider whether I could continue to be a member of it.
“It is clearly disgraceful.”
Even though there had been a number of speakers in support of it, the remit was rejected overwhelmingly.