The winter of Winston

Liam Hehir at??NZHerald?writes: Quote:

Nine months ago Winston Peters had big business in his sights.

Just a week out from the election, a press release ? titled “Winston Peters: Our plan to clean up Corporate New Zealand” ? described a wild west of low wages for workers and big payouts for fat cat executives.

The parliamentary veteran was talking tough, with policies including changes to the Companies Act to give shareholders more control of executive pay and a ban on big recruitment bonuses (golden hellos) and exit payments (golden parachutes) for bosses. End quote.

Corporate New Zealand, by and large, doesn’t need cleaning up. It needs to have enough confidence in the government to believe that they can work together to create policy that is fair both to business and consumers, or to employers and employees. Golden handshakes are written into contracts in a lot of cases, and to get good people, we have to be at least a little bit competitive with the rest of the world. Quote:

If you’d told business leaders back then that they’d be dealing with Prime Minister Peters this winter, the prospect would likely have incited widespread panic. End quote.

None of this has been helped by the Shane Jones outbursts, and Winston coming out in his defence, saying he was completely correct about our biggest company, Fonterra. Don’t you understand, Winston that business is almost always done behind closed doors – not by flashing your dirty undies at every passing car. Quote:

A few weeks later, as Peters made his decision to go into coalition with Labour, his announcement speech did little to reassure business.

Peters talked about a bookend to the “neoliberal era” ? an era he described as “unbridled, irrational”, and which should be assigned to the dustbin of history. End quote.

An era that has seen more people lifted out of poverty than any other at any time in history. But hey, Winston – you know best, as always. Quote:

Anticipating the likely pushback from the business community ? since borne out in confidence surveys ? he warned of an impending economic correction, and accurately predicted some would blame that on the new Government. End quote.

To me, his words on Selection night (thank you, Heather du Plessis Allen – brilliant)? have since become a self-fulfilling prophecy, because once business heard that capitalism was to come to an end in New Zealand, confidence tanked, and the ‘economic correction’ became more of a reality. But Winston did this, and no one else. Much of the rest of the world is enjoying prosperity once again. Quote:

But with no campaign battles to fight and the need to establish a stable coalition, there is some confidence that Peters will take to his Prime Ministerial duties with the same conservative and statesmanlike manner he has shown as Minister of Foreign Affairs.

Business isn’t likely to love this Government any better, but Peters’ elevation to the top job is not viewed with any major concern.

“He’ll be Winstonesque,” says Phil O’Reilly ? who, in his former role as chief executive of BusinessNZ for more than a decade, has been a keen observer of Peters’ relationship with the corporate world. End quote.

If he was concerned about establishing a stable coalition, he would have stopped Andrew Little with his Three Strikes bill much sooner, and he would tell Shane Jones to put a sock in it. As he has done neither of those things, be prepared for some rough times ahead. Quote:

In the context of his four-decade political career and his relatively small support base, Peters has a lot riding on his performance as Prime Minister.

“I genuinely think he’s much more likely to want to be a good Prime Minister for the next few weeks … this is a bit of a legacy issue for him,” says O’Reilly.

“It is a remarkable achievement to be there, from his party’s particular vote share, so I suspect he’ll want to be surprising on the upside in terms of being solid and sensible.” End quote.

Or not. He may want to make sure we never forget his time as Prime Minister. Quote:

The Deputy Prime Minister himself ? speaking to the Herald at Fieldays this week ? takes umbrage at suggestions he is a different character on the campaign trail from the one we see in Government.

But he does offer some reassurance that business won’t see any radical change with him in the top job.

“There will be no surprises at all,” he says. “We know that business needs stability. They need leadership and organisation and we’ll get on with doing the job.” End quote.

If you know business needs stability, Winston, why do you allow your attack dog, Shane Jones, to threaten to restructure Fonterra when the government has no ability or mandate to do that? Quote:

NZ First traditionally has a track record of being very supportive of small and medium sized business ? and regional growth.

As much as Peters talked tough about corporate cronyism and free market capitalism in the 2017 campaign, it shouldn’t be forgotten that he also proposed cutting the corporate tax rate to 25 per cent (it’s now 28 per cent) and an even lower 20 per cent rate for export-generated income. End quote.

Like oil and gas? Quote:

Peters argue that NZ First has always been pro-business. “In contrast to many of my opponents, I have been in business myself and very successfully so.”

Asking him to describe his relationship with the business community draws a smile. “All the sane, sensible and reasonable ones, I get on just fine with them.” We can no doubt expect plenty more of that kind of colourful, combative language in coming weeks. End quote.

Eh? He entered Parliament in 1978. What successful business has he been involved with? Quote:

But while [Phil] O’Reilly sees little downside of having Peters as acting PM, he can’t see him improving business confidence either.

Confidence is down partly because of external risks like North Korea, Brexit and so on, he says. And also because everyone has to wait and see on key policies such as labour relations reform, RMA reform, and climate change. End quote.

Confidence is not down because of North Korea and Brexit. Confidence is down because we have a cavalier, business hating government, that Winston Peters chose. Confidence is also down because this government has already demonstrated that it can simply decimate a profitable industry with the stroke of a Greenpeace petition. No one in business is feeling confident about any of it.