Rating the PM: A look back at Winston Peters' reign as Acting Prime Minister

Before Winston Peters took over as Acting Prime Minister, he was at pains to emphasise what a steady, experienced hand he'd be.

The public weren't so confident. In a Newshub poll prior to him taking over, 39 percent said he'd do well. Most weren't sure quite what they were in for.

It's certainly been an unusual situation. Our Prime Minister had a baby and the leader of a coalition partner - leader of a party that got 7.2 percent of the party vote - became Prime Minister for six weeks.

When Mr Peters heads overseas on Foreign Affairs business at midnight on Wednesday, Jacinda Ardern becomes Prime Minister at 12.01am.

It's time to issue a report card.

Prime Ministerial vibes - B

Mr Peters was right to say "the sky didn't fall in" during his reign when he was interviewed on Newshub Nation.

As Acting Prime Minister, Mr Peters has been restrained and careful. Except when he's not.

He's had some great moments. He knows his voters love nationalist rhetoric, and there's nothing better than standing up to the Aussies.

Mr Peters' best moment as Acting Prime Minister may well have been sounding off against Australia for holding a 17-year-old New Zealand boy in an adult detention centre for four months. Mr Peters called on Australia to release the boy, saying the detention ignores UN commitments.

"You're a signatory. Live up to it," he said.

Winston Peters crosses the tiles on his first day in the House as Acting Prime Minister.
Winston Peters crosses the tiles on his first day in the House as Acting Prime Minister. Photo credit: Anna Bracewell-Worrall/Newshub.

Prodding a second stick in the side of Australia, Mr Peters also told them to change their flag, claiming the Australians copied New Zealand's flag decades after we had the stars and Jack. They could have a flag with a kangaroo on it, he cheekily suggested, and while they're at it why not change their national anthem to 'Waltzing Matilda' - a much-preferred ditty, according to Mr Peters.

New Zealand First also gained a good bump in Defence spending, despite protestations from the Greens. The Government will buy four new planes with anti-submarine capabilities for $2.3 billion. The submarine capability is significant - China, which was directly mentioned as a threat in the defence policy statement - has dozens of submarines, including some that can fire ballistic missiles.

Mr Peters was more careful navigating the relationship with China, attempting to talk about militarisation of the South China Sea without actually mentioning the superpower.

The nurses' strike has been a challenge; Mr Peters told nurses he sympathises with their plight, but said there's simply no more money for a higher pay offer. That wasn't enough and the strike went ahead.

Whether it's true that there's no money is an entirely valid question. First, there are those $2.3 billion planes, but then there's the fiscal straits the Government's put itself in, saying it needs to spend carefully in case of a rainy day.

The problem is Labour, the Greens and NZ First all campaigned on how worn out New Zealand's public service is. Their voters will be wondering if now's not a rainy day, then when is?

Winston Peters at the post-Cabinet press conference.
Winston Peters at the post-Cabinet press conference. Photo credit: Newshub.

There has also been the weirder stuff.

Mr Peters said he has a "long-term target" that a solo home buyer earning the living wage should be able to buy a home for five times their annual income.

To reach Mr Peters' target, Newshub's Jenna Lynch calculated the average New Zealand house price would have to drop dramatically to $213,720, or the living wage would have to go up to $65 an hour.

And it's almost possible to forget, but the Prime Ministerial vibe has an undercurrent. At the same time as being minister in charge of all government, Mr Peters, has been suing top government officials. The State Services Commissioner, head of MSD, the deputy leader of the Opposition and senior MP Anne Tolley are all still facing legal action over Mr Peters' superannuation overpayment becoming public knowledge.

As NZ First leader - A

It's the curse of minor parties to struggle to survive as part of a coalition Government.

New Zealand First has fallen below the 5 percent share of the party vote both times its entered Government partnerships.

Mr Peters will have been well aware of that as he stepped into the spotlight.

Some of the most memorable moments over the last six weeks were when he's taken an opportunity to talk as leader of the party, rather than leader of the coalition Government.

He said taxes on cigarettes have led to murders and assaults in the nation's dairies, and he opposed increased excise taxes - the Government's current method of reducing smoking rates.

He compared multiculturalism to mushrooms, saying we should develop a "unique culture that's New Zealand" instead of "a multitude of cultures and a plethora rising up like mushrooms in this country."

And he's made lightly veiled threats against Peter Goodfellow, after he said National dodged a "whiskey-swilling" bullet when Mr Peters backed Labour.

Mr Peters seems to be claiming it's worked. He claims the Government has seen a boost in the polls - and says the same poll's seen National's share fall below 40 percent. 

These are issues he knows will resonate with his voters.

Rating the PM: A look back at Winston Peters' reign as Acting Prime Minister
Photo credit: Mitchell Alexander/Newshub.

Relationship with the media - C

Mr Peters has always had a rocky relationship with the media. He's turned down appearances on TV minor parties debates, saying he's not the leader of a minor party.

His first week of Tuesday morning appearances started poorly, when he didn't show up in time for his weekly interview on The AM Show. After some back and forth, Mr Peters didn't return to The AM Show for the duration of his stint as PM.

More difficult is Mr Peters' apparent glee at avoiding giving a straight answer.

When asked why he didn't directly mention China's militarisation of the South China Sea, Mr Peters accused media of being "all hung up because the obvious was not spelt out to you like in a picture card."

When asked what he thought of National Party leader Simon Bridges' appearance on Radio Hauraki, Mr Peters resorted to Latin legal speak, saying it was "a res ipsa loquitur situation - the thing speaks for itself."

"I'll leave it to you to come to a summation on it," he told media.

As attack dog - C

Mr Peters relishes the combat of politics. He can deliver a funny one-liner, claiming that Simon Bridges has "all of a sudden discovered hashish" with National's cannabis policy.

But some of his attacks fall flat.

For several weeks, Acting Prime Minister Winston Peters tried to throw shade on Mr Bridges' time working as a Crown prosecutor, saying Mr Bridges didn't have a warrant.

Mr Bridges didn't need a warrant - Crown Solicitors do, not prosecutors.

The final grade

Mr Peters wouldn't give himself a final mark, saying do so would be an "invitation to immodesty". You can take from that he's thinking an A+ with an honorary doctorate on the side.

Overall, though, it's more like a B- pass with extra points for effort.

Newshub.

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