21 Jun 2021

NZ First is 'back' and Winston Peters will remain the leader, Shane Jones confirms

11:05 am on 21 June 2021

Winston Peters is leading his party into the 2023 election in a bid to re-enter Parliament, former New Zealand First MP Shane Jones has confirmed.

New Zealand First leader Winston Peters speaking at the party's AGM on 20 June, 2021.

New Zealand First leader Winston Peters speaking at the party's AGM on 20 June, 2021. Photo: RNZ / Katie Scotcher

After months in hiding, Peters this weekend made his first major public appearance since his party was booted from Parliament at the election.

Speaking at NZ First's AGM, Peters confirmed the party he founded in 1993 will be contesting the 2023 election.

"We are coming back because we believe we can."

"So many scribes have tried, and continue to, write our obituary. But we are here today, as always steadfast and resolved to put New Zealand first. "

He also described NZ First as a "phoenix that will again arise".

He used the opportunity to take aim at almost every party in Parliament, the media and the use of te reo.

Peters took particular issue with the use of the phrase "Aotearoa" and told supporters: "We do not intend to put the name 'New Zealand' on the endangered species list."

There is a growing "cancel culture" in New Zealand, Peters warned, "where anyone who asks legitimate questions is belittled as a colonialist, a racist, a bigot, a chauvinist, or worse still, not new 'woke age'."

About 150 loyal New Zealand First members were at the AGM, where a new party president was elected.

Julian Paul will take over from acting president and former MP Darroch Ball.

Members also analysed last year's crushing election loss - but the former New Zealand First MP Shane Jones wasn't interested in giving any reasons for what caused it.

"Look, it's a bit like Steve Hansen... All Blacks had a bad game, flush it down the dunny and move on."

Jones confirmed Peters would lead his party into the 2023 General Election in a bid to re-enter Parliament.

Accusing RNZ of taking a jaundiced approached to New Zealand First and accusing it of censorship, Jones told Morning Report there was a place in Aotearoa for the party.

"The fact is my leader Winston Peters yesterday talked about cancel culture," he said.

"Sure, many of our members and much of our approach to politics, it may not suit to super-sensitive, but we are a heartland party and there is a place in the political market for my leader."

The former MP said the party had a robust discussion about its failure at the last election and had a new board who were looking to the future.

Asked whether there should be further enquiry into whether the leadership should bare responsibility for that failure, he said: "At the end of the day the party lives, breathes and survives on the strength and quality on the member contributions, the intellectual hard work and there's no profit chopping up tired views from people who commentate on politics but never get in the ring themselves."

He vowed his party would rollback many of the policies of the Labour government, including changes to the Resource Management Act and any recommendations of the Climate Commission that had been implemented.

Such views, he said, were "miles away from how daily people live their lives".

Party faithful are optimistic about the future and New Zealand First's political comeback.

Some told RNZ members are fired up and NZ First would be back at Parliament in 2023 "like you have never seen before".

One question, however, remains unanswered - will Peters lead the party into the 2023 election?

"That's our fervent hope and belief," Jones said.

Peters' supporters want the 76-year-old to stick around, too.

"I think Winston is the man to lead New Zealand First. I think that we all aspire to his attitude and his desire to see New Zealand and the people of New Zealand progress," one member told RNZ.

But the question couldn't be put to the man himself.

Despite promising to speak to reporters after his speech, Peters vanished moments after stepping off the stage.

Watch this space.

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