NZ Election 2020: Winston Peters thinks Jacinda Ardern made 'a terrible decision' by intervening in Ihumātao

New Zealand First leader Winston Peters is calling for "one law for all" over Ihumātao, and thinks Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern made a "terrible decision" by intervening in the land dispute. 

Peters told supporters in Auckland on Friday that at the start of 2017 Government formation talks Labour promised not to repeat "the sort of politically correct policies that undermined" Helen Clark's governments. 

"That was the foundational basis agreed prior to Government formation talks even beginning. That's how critical it was to us," said Peters, who became Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister in 2017 by forming a coalition Government with Labour. 

"Then, on 26 July, 2019, while [Peters was] travelling abroad as Foreign Minister, the Prime Minister halted the Fletchers housing development at Ihumātao," Peters added.

"No consultation was ever done with our party, as by Labour's agreement with us should've happened. That intervention was a terrible decision."

Peters revealed Labour asked NZ First to use its 'agree to disagree' clause in their coalition agreement over Ihumātao, but the request was refused.  

"We said no to Labour. Not once. Not twice. But three times. We went to the wall over Ihumātao. Labour asked us to 'agree to disagree'. We said no. It was just too important for the country's future. For us it was a matter of deep principle."

Ihumātao is an area of historical significance for Māori near Auckland Airport, where activists have protested against Fletcher Building's plans to build almost 500 homes on land it purchased, that was confiscated in 1863 by the Crown. 

Protesters from the Save Our Unique Landscape (SOUL) movement - led by Pania Newton - say the land should be returned to Māori, and occupation of the land ramped up in July 2019 after police served occupiers with an eviction notice.

The Prime Minister negotiated a temporary halt to construction at the site in July 2019 while a solution was sought - but more than a year has passed and nothing has been announced, despite speculation throughout the year that a deal was near. 

Peters took aim at Newton, describing her as having "no standing" with respect to Ihumātao. 

"Then along came Pania Newtown with her band of malcontents who got so much unjustified publicity, sticking mainly in the throat of traditional Māori. She sought to overturn a legitimate sale. Worse, she seeks to create an entire new wave of Treaty claims."

Peters cited the controversial Foreshore and Seabed Act, which under Clark's leadership in 2004, saw a huge protest over Māori land ownership. Peters was part of that Government under a confidence and supply agreement with Labour. 

The law gave ownership of that land to the Crown and disallowed Māori to seek customary title through the courts. The following National-led Government later repealed it as part of a deal with the Māori Party, allowing iwi to seek customary rights in court.

"They were the fools," Peters said. "Because since 2011, 3500 claims that overlap, undermine, and contradict each other have been lodged. Now we've got iwi fighting iwi on the foreshore and seabed issue." 

Peters said if Kiwis want to live in a country where there is 'one law for all' only New Zealand First can "protect" them. 

"National can't, whatever they say. They are nowhere in this race. ACT can't. David Seymour is leading any who vote for him to the furthest reaches of Parliament's backbenches. Impotent. Irrelevant. Don't waste your vote."

Seymour said Peters created the situation at Ihumātao when he made Ardern PM. 

"Peters could have promoted one law for all inside Cabinet. Instead, he's rolled it out three weeks before the election. His comments on Ihumātao today are too little, too late," he said. 

"Peters also called me irrelevant, but I've achieved more from the backbenches in three years than he's achieved in three stints in Cabinet."

Ardern squashed rumours in July that the Government was planning to acquire Ihumātao in a deal worth $30 million.  

"When we have an announcement to make we'll obviously make it," she said at the time. "But it is fair to say that it's been an issue that obviously we've worked on for some time and are still seeking to reach a conclusion."

National leader Judith Collins has described Ardern's involvement as "foolish".