Winston Peters starts campaign with attacks on bilingualism and 'the cultural cabal'

Winston Peters is back, with the tag line: “Take our country back.”

The NZ First leader delivered his first major campaign speech of 2023, to a Grey Power crowd in Auckland’s Howick on Friday. The former deputy prime minister took aim at “the cultural cabal”, promised to crack down on gangs, and said vaccine mandates had been “unconstitutional”.

He also questioned why Jacinda Ardern had resigned, suggesting it was a political calculation rather than her running out of energy for the job.

During the State of the Nation speech, Peters poked fun at gender diversity and organisations with bilingual names. He said schools teaching “virtue signalling” and gender diversity were engaged in “woke social reengineering”. The criticism was well received at the well attended Grey Power meeting.

His speech also addressed race relations, the economy, law and order, and health.

His promise, that NZ First would force any coalition partner to keep the pension age at 65, also earnt cheers. He told the crowd every other political party wanted to increase the retirement age, but NZ First wouldn’t let them.

But the biggest cheer followed his criticism of “Air New Zealand’s waka in the sky”, the name ‘Te Whatu Ora’ and the Waka Kotahi/NZTA brand.

“We will change all of the woke virtue signalling names of every government department back to English,” he declared.

He continued: “Why are we putting up with this bull dust? It’s your country! Take it back!”

As well as Air New Zealand and Waka Kotahi, Peters labelled the education system “woke”. Asked why he focused on gender diversity during his speech, Peters said he was concerned by how gender and sexuality was discussed in schools.

“Why did I focus on it? Because that's what they're doing in our schools. You’ve got uninformed minds, being mis-taught by teachers.”

He said he would not attend controversial activist Posie Parker’s anti-trans rally on Saturday as he would be “busy”.

Comments about Māori culture and Te Tiriti were littered across the speech.

He criticised the Waitangi Tribunal, saying it was “creating work for itself”, and questioned the blood quantum of Māori.

“Which part of their mixed DNA is going to compensate the other part? Why don't they tell us that? Which part of the index DNA is going to compensate the other part and in general, why can't they answer that question?”

While Peters had previously said he would not work with Labour, he refused to repeat that same promise.

Instead, asked if he would work with Prime Minister Chris Hipkins, Peters replied: “If you're listening carefully, I said, we're not going with parties that practice racist policies. Did you miss that?”

Despite the Government, in September last year, removing its final vaccine requirements, Peters rallied against the mandates.

“Ladies and gentlemen, how mindlessly arrogant are these people in Wellington destroying workers’ lives in this way? Under New Zealand First these mandates will end,” he said.

He said ending these “mandates” would help solve the staffing crisis in hospitals. But on September 26, the requirement for health and disability workers to be vaccinated was removed. Some employers still required their workers to be vaccinated, but there is no longer any Government requirement.

As the speech came to an end, Peters clashed with reporters who asked his views on recent news events, Natioal’s education announcement, and whether he would rather work with Luxon or Hipkins.

“We're not going to be answering those questions,” he replied.

The state of the nation speech, at the Howick Presbyterian Church in East Auckland, was well attended by retirees.

Auckland Councillor Maurice Williamson played warm-up act for Peters, hitting on similar topics including the Treaty of Waitangi, cycleways and Three Waters.

Peters started the speech by sharing a story about the East Auckland town, which he said showed it was an accepting place: “Howick was not racist then and is not racist now.”