Paula Bennett struggles to trust Winston Peters ahead of election showdown

The National Party's deputy leader and election campaign manager Paula Bennett struggles to trust New Zealand First's Winston Peters.

Election year is well underway and politicians have already begun pitching themselves and their parties to the public.

For the National Party, which received the largest vote in 2017 but failed to form a coalition, finding other parties that will support it will be vital. 

Bennett said the current state of the ACT Party - which looks like it could have multiple MPs after the election - musings about a resurging Maori Party, and what the Sustainable New Zealand Party was talking about was all interesting. But her focus is on maximising National's vote.

"We want the best vote that we can get, of course, so part of it is going out there saying to people 'don't think you are going to do something tricky, if you want a National Government, you vote National.'"

New Zealand First's decision to choose Labour over National during coalition negotiations in October 2017 continues to haunt Bennett's party. 

She told The AM Show she finds it hard to trust Peters.

"I struggle with it, I have got to be honest. With what he put even taxpayers through last year. The court case he took against me, which was completely ridiculous, has cost over $500,000."

Bennett is referencing the High Court battle late last year in which Peters sued several former ministers and bureaucrats over the leak of pension overpayments to the media just before the 2017 election. Those sued were Bennett, former Social Development Minister Anne Tolley, the Ministry of Social Development (MSD), State Services Commissioner Peter Hughes and former MSD boss Brendan Boyle. 

He sought damages and a declaration his privacy was breached. During the course of the trial, Peters accepted neither Bennett nor Tolley were responsible for the leak.

Documents obtained by Newshub last year showed the pre-trial cost to taxpayers was at least $537,644. However, other costs, including for the QCs representing the defendants would add to that figure. 

A judgement is expected early this year.

Bennett told The AM Show that it was up to leader Simon Bridges to rule out working with Peters, as John Key did in 2008. Peters' party was obliterated from Parliament in that election.

"We will just have to wait and see what happens there. It's interesting times. I am sure a lot of people thought last time that he would actually negotiate in good faith and look at going with us," she said.

"He was suing me two days before he then announced who he was going [into Government with] and said he was negotiating in good faith. 

Following his decision to choose Labour over National in 2017, Peters said the leak, which he believed was politically motivated, "did not influence the eventual coalition [choice] of New Zealand First, as many have erroneously claimed". 

"We maintained that good faith throughout, with both parties, irrespective of the erroneous post-election media speculation to the contrary. We also believe that that good faith was reciprocated."