2 May 2024

Winston Peters accused of 'entirely defamatory' remarks about ex-Australian minister

7:55 pm on 2 May 2024
Winston Peters

Foreign Minister Winston Peters Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

The Labour Party is demanding Winston Peters be stood down as Foreign Minister for opening up the government to legal action over his "totally unacceptable" attack on a prominent AUKUS critic.

In an interview on RNZ's Morning Report on Thursday, Peters criticised the former Australian senator Bob Carr's views on the security partnership between Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States.

RNZ has removed the comments from the interview online after Carr, who was Australia's foreign minister from 2012 to 2013, told RNZ he considered the remarks to be "entirely defamatory" and would commence legal action.

A spokesperson for Peters told RNZ the minister would respond if he received formal notification of any such action. The prime minister's office has been contacted for comment.

Under the protection of Parliamentary privilege, Peters continued his attacks on Carr in the Debating Chamber on Thursday afternoon.

"As for Bob Carr, it appears we've been late to the party. Here, I refer to an article in the Australian Financial Review dated 8 November 2018 that anticipated my remarks. It says, 'How Bob Carr became China's Pawn'," he told the House.

Speaking to media in Auckland, Labour leader Chris Hipkins said Peters' allegations were "totally unacceptable" and "well outside his brief".

"He's embarrassed the country. He's created legal risk to the New Zealand government."

Hipkins said Prime Minister Christopher Luxon must show some leadership and stand Peters down from the role immediately.

"Winston Peters has abused his office as minister of foreign affairs, and this now becomes a problem for the prime minister.

"Winston Peters cannot execute his duties as foreign affairs minister while he has this hanging over him."

Peters was being interviewed on Morning Report about a major foreign policy speech he delivered in Wellington on Wednesday night where he laid out New Zealand's position on AUKUS.

Hipkins told reporters he was pleased with the "overall thrust" of Peters' speech compared to recent comments he made while visiting the US.

"I welcome him stepping back a little bit from his previous 'rush-headlong-into-signing-up-for-AUKUS'," Hipkins said. "That is a good thing."

Hipkins said the government needed to be very clear with New Zealanders about what AUKUS Pillar 2 involved.

Speaking to media in Auckland on Thursday afternoon, Prime Minister Christopher Luxon, when asked about Peters' comments, said as an experienced politician Carr should understand the "rough and tumble of politics".

Luxon said he would not make the comments Peters made, and had not spoken to him about them.

Peters was doing an "exceptionally good job" as foreign minister and his comments posed no diplomatic risk, Luxon said.

Last month, Carr travelled to New Zealand to take part in a panel discussion on AUKUS, after Labour's foreign affairs spokesperson David Parker organised a debate at Parliament.

Former Labour Prime Minister Helen Clark was also on the panel, and has been highly critical of AUKUS and what she believes is the Coalition government moving closer to traditional allies, in particular the United States.

Clark told Morning Report on Thursday she had contacted Carr after she heard Peters' comments, which she also described as defamatory.