Winston Peters: The indistinct, the enigma, shapeless as fog

6:55 am on 30 August 2017

Opinion - Winston Peters is a political Rorschach test.

So crisply combed, groomed and buttoned and yet mostly he is fog and indistinct shape. Take a look at him, tell us what you see. It's all guesswork, but never mind, we might not find out about him but we might find out more about you.

Winston Peters.

New Zealand First leader Winston Peters Photo: RNZ / Benedict Collins

The biggest surprise about this week's scandal is that it was about Mr Peters himself; the organ grinder, revealed by the monkeys.

The smallest surprise was that in under 48 hours he had inverted it and the scandal was about various government ministers and operatives and leakers in the IRD or MSD, and maybe evildoers elsewhere in New Zealand's shallow state.

What do we know? By common agreement we know that he was paid more national superannuation than he was entitled to, and that he has repaid it in full.

Almost no other fact is yet confirmed or agreed upon: he maintains he took himself along to apply for superannuation accompanied by his partner. If that's so, it's hard to imagine he then filled in a form claiming superannuation as a single person.

MSD says it can't discuss the particulars without Mr Peters' permission, and Mr Peters doesn't seem to want to grant it. Nor does he wish to say how much he repaid and how much he was overpaid.

It would seem simple enough for him to resolve this, but this is how it goes with Winston Peters.

He is not so much a sphinx with a riddle as a Game of Thrones .mpg file that stopped downloading at 76 percent. There's enough there for you to be able to play it but not quite enough to make out precisely what's going on or who has the sword in their hand, or just exactly who is getting screwed.

Then, to make it altogether more interesting, back into our lives comes - possibly - Dirty Politics, because who leaked the story? Someone in the Beehive? Someone in MSD or IRD? Winston Peters himself?

Winston Peters. 6 December 2016.

Photo: RNZ / Claire Eastham-Farrelly

"Not me," said the ministers, even though their staff had told them on the basis of a no-surprises policy.

"But they shouldn't have told us," said the Prime Minister, who might like to consider a thorough review of that policy and its role in making independent public servants into handmaidens.

The scandal swirls and in the absence of information everyone decides what the shapes mean and they fill in the picture. Here's a picture showing Dirty Politics with its filthy boots back up on the Prime Minister's desktop, chucking back a cold one and belching. Here's one that shows Winston has always been full of it. Here's one that shows the world expert on New Zealand superannuation unable to read a statement.

We can't make out the picture from these indistinct shapes so we declare loudly what we believe we see. If you joined in this game last time over Kim Dotcom, you will know how much satisfaction and illumination can be had from this sort of thing.

What we do at least know is this, that national superannuation is costing $14 billion a year and people living lives of great comfort are happily accepting it.

If this story has the effect of putting universality into the debate, maybe it will be worth the noise.

David Slack is an author, columnist and speechwriter. He was speechwriter for prime ministers Geoffrey Palmer and Jim Bolger.

Get the new RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs