Winston Peters was always going to have a tough time with the media. New
Zealand’s savvy answer to Pauline Hanson, the handsome opportunist said he
would never accept the “baubles of office” to strike a deal with Labour. Yet at
the last election his appointment as Foreign Minister, to the incredulity of the
Kiwi pundits, was Helen Clark’s greatest triumph.

Peters’ preference for
cocktails over doorstops has meant his position is regarded as a bit of a joke
over here. Which is why his recent trip to Washington was always going to be
interesting.

A refusal to give out advance details of his program and objectives to
the press got the whole trip off to a predictably snarly start. The
trip seemed destined for an obligatory last column brief until Peters
got up to his old tricks. Part-way through a bilateral meeting with
presidential hopeful John McCain the two or three members of the Kiwi
media contingent that had bothered to pursue Peters to Washington
showed up.

They were invited to get a few questions in by McCain’s press secretary,
but once the talk turned to trade and McCain’s desire for a NZ-US FTA, the
journos say Peters started to feel out of his depth. He cut McCain off
mid-sentence, bullishly noted that the two question limit had been breached and
booted the media out. A planned post-meeting presser cancelled in favour of an
abusive release on Peters’s behalf riling against the journalist’s behaviour – “McCain meeting wonderful, NZ media disgraceful“.

It
all got juicier the next day when Peters accused press gallery stalwart Barry
Soper of physically assaulting him in the halls of the State Department.
(That amusing encounter can be heard in all its glory here.)

Interestingly, Peters is meeting with Alexander Downer this weekend in Adelaide on his way back. It might be one to watch.

Peter Fray

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