NZ First leader Winston Peters discusses overvalued & volatile NZ dollar, housing affordability and coalitions – with the media at least

By Alex Tarrant

The New Zealand dollar is too volatile and overvalued, according to New Zealand First leader Winston Peters. Meanwhile, affordable housing policy is likely to be boosted no matter which of National or Labour leads the next government.

I know they’re two more cases of state-the-obvious, but at least questions on these topics didn’t receive the regular ‘talks are confidential’ cold shoulder from the Kingmaker. And I’ll admit I’ve got a new game – putting specific topics that are in the news to Peters to see how he’ll respond, rather than just asking which policy areas were canvassed during government formation talks.

‘Government formation’, meanwhile, might have become too broad a description for the negotiations – if you’re of a mind to read into how Peters described the process on Tuesday. Peters twice said NZ First was holding “coalition” talks, only to scramble to add a further line such as “or whatever they might be…”

Emerging from a two-hour session with Labour Tuesday lunchtime, Peters said progress was being made. Talks were “very serious,” and “very meaningful.”

On whether a decision would be made on Thursday, he replied: “Well, we’re worried about Tuesday and Wednesday – the next couple of days – nothing else but that.” But he then indicated New Zealand First was not expecting to extend the timeframe.

When a comment Labour leader Jacinda Ardern made after the talks, that social change was one area being looked at, was put to Peters, he said: “It’s quite possible, in the big picture of politics, that social and economic change would be core to what we’re talking about. We did have a campaign about it for the last eight months.”

Onto the specific topics referenced above. I asked Peters about his thoughts on the New Zealand dollar hitting a four-month low – seemingly due to uncertainty around a change of government.

“We have the most volatile currency in the whole wide world,” he said.

So, would the next government be looking at ways to make it less volatile?

“Well, I think exporters will be pleased. And we are an export-dependent nation,” he replied.

“If you’re an export-dependent nation, why would you go ahead and persist with an inflated dollar, which even the IMF says is over-valued? Why would you just ignore all the best advice in the world? But then again, this is not an academic matter.”

Another journalist jumped in: Was it fair to say then, that exporters would be pleased by the outcome of the negotiations?

“I’m just answering Mr Tarrant’s question,” Peters said.

Then back to yesterday’s topic: “The reason why the Overseas Investment Office doesn’t know a recent deal done by the ANZ bank, for the last eight months, that’s the kind of sad country we have become, and that’s what we intend to address in these coalition talks, or whatever they might be.”

Peters was also asked about his stance on the Maori seats. Was a referendum on them discussed during the talks?

“You know full well that we’re not talking about the substance of our coalition – or whatever arrangements we might have – discussions, and I can’t talk to you about that now because of the same description I put on in the first place.”

The same journalist started putting to Peters that two weeks ago [I think he meant a tad longer – ie before 23 September] he had said a referendum of the Maori seats would be required to get NZ First’s support. “Two weeks ago, the election hadn’t been held,” Peters snapped back.

On another subject close to readers’ hearts, I asked Peters his thoughts on the news Tuesday morning about the low number of affordable houses being built in Auckland’s special housing areas. Was it something that would be tackled, no matter which way the government went?

“Precisely, yes.”

And was it a subject of the talks, particularly given NZ First’s substantial policy prescription for first home buyers?

“I’m so delighted you’ve finally cottoned on to it, two weeks after the election.”

Peters was set to meet National from 12:30 Tuesday afternoon.