A Politician Not For Turning
Most politicians are seen as venal and self-serving. They will do anything, say anything to get their name and their "brand" in the public's mind. But not the mercurial Winston Peters. Here is a politician of different stamp, not only with deep convictions, but one willing to pursue and investigate wrongs, exposing the corruption and evil actions of his own class.
We have long admired his campaign against selling 8,000 hectares of (not-so-prime-farmland-at-the-time) to Chinese company Shanghai Pengxin last year. Land is precious to New Zealand, argues Mr Peters. We should not be selling it off to foreigners. Peters has the evidence to prove his point. He has personally tramped over every hectare of the Shanghai Pengxin farms at not inconsiderable personal cost. He has seen what has happened to the land.
"'Rape' is not too strong a word", he fumes. Those farms have been destroyed. "Why, once they were populated with lots of starving dairy cows, the banks were foreclosing, farmers were being kicked off the land, Animal Welfare idiots were up in arms and the farms were about to go back to primeval bush." In other words, they were a typical kiwi farm of my generation--the kind our grandparents grew up on. "That's our heritage, right there, gone," he insists.
Mr Peters knows that he has been criticised for ignoring the parlous economic state of the 19 Crafar Farms, now owned by Shanghai Pengxin. "I care for animals just as much as the next Noo Zillander," he reminds us. "It's just that going broke on a farm, being forced off the land by the bank manager, and seeing the thing go back to wilderness is an iconic Kiwi story. It is the true Kiwi right of passage." He points out that Taranaki gates and rusting number 8 fencing wire is such an important part of our heritage. Now it is being lost to "bloody furriners". He thinks it is a travesty that we have again lost out on the preservation of one of our icons.
"I personally tramped over every square foot of those Crafar farms. Not one rusting Taranaki gate. Not one thistle or bit of ragwort anywhere. Only big fat lazy corporate cows. When I was a kid we used to marvel at the wonderful yellow ragwort flowers that used to cover the hillsides. That beautiful sight has been lost to the next generation. That's what comes of selling farmland to furriners."
Mr Peters is now well into his seventies. He remains a stirling example of a principled politician. He is one whose principles cannot be bought, either by voters, or donors, or by corporates whom he despises--especially foreign ones. He is his own man. His latest crusade is against the Harvard University Pension Fund buying 1300 hectares of prime Otago farmland. "It's a fact that New Zealand history holds Otago in a special place. It's our heritage. That Mckenzie fellow who stole sheep for years has the whole countryside named after him. He's a folk hero. I bet you my toupe those greedy Americans are not going to be stealing any sheep. They have no understanding of this country, of our culture and ethos. For them it is all fat greedy profit."
But there is a deeper concern. Mr Peters is even more suspicious of the intent and motives of the Harvard University Pension Fund than he is of the Chinese investors. "I learnt early on, never to trust the Yanks," he says. "They have a long, tarnished history of buying things outside the US and then transporting them back home. Look at what they did to London Bridge. Don't be surprised if they pack every one of those 1300 Otago hectares up into containers and ship it back to Harvard where pointy heads will try to replicate a Noo Zilland high country farm. The Yanks are even more dangerous than the Chinese. They have the technology."
Peters believes he knows what will happen. The Americans will uplift the Otago farms and relocate them back in the grounds of the prestigious Ivy League university. Then the Chinese will steal the technology "because that's what they do" and they will eventually transport the Crafar farms back to the Middle Kingdom. "You mark my words, within ten years those Crafar farms will have disappeared. There will just be a huge empty hole in the ground."
He warns that this will always be the end result of selling land to foreign, non-resident corporates. "The government is selling our kiwi birthright," he mutters. "A day is coming when there will be no ragwort, no thistles to be seen anywhere, let alone Taranaki gates. All in the name of dirty profit."
(My name is Winston Peters, and I approve this message.)