Expose: Winston Peters; the 1997 speeches; and neo-liberal tendencies
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.
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.”
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;
The following are scanned images of Winston Peters speech, on 28 February 1997, to the American Chamber of Commerce in Auckland;
All media enquiries can be made to the author at email@example.com.
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
The Standard: Can We Trust Winston Peters?
Previous related blogposts
This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 7 September 2016.
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