Winston Peters claims Kiwis' identity under 'full-scale attack', will ditch 'woke virtue signalling', takes aim at Jacinda Ardern's resignation

Winston Peters has used a major speech to slam "woke virtue-signalling", claiming there is a "full-scale attack" underway on Kiwis' culture, identity and sense of belonging.

His State of the Nation speech included several re-heated New Zealand First policies, like meeting St John funding demand and tougher sentences for assaulting first responders. The party would also change the names of government departments "back to English". 

Former Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern also came under criticism, with Peters questioning her reason for resigning. New Zealand First supported Ardern's Labour after the 2017 election, allowing Ardern to become Prime Minister with Peters her deputy.

Speaking to an audience in Howick, Auckland on Friday, Peters said an "unmistakable, uncompromising" message needed to be sent to "take our country back".

"There was a time in politics when politicians took the view, that 'my party when it's right should be kept right, but when it's wrong should be put right'," Peters said.

"Today there's an awful tribalism in New Zealand politics, ignoring realities, replacing them with politically extremist ideologies, where political party comes first, and our country, second."

It was here he took fire at Labour and Ardern.

"You've just seen a party change its leader. All planned late last year, foist upon you as being a surprise, because 'the tanks run out', we are told," Peters said.

One audience member yelled out: "They kicked her out."

Peters went on: "Can you imagine Helen Clark saying the tanks run out? Or Peter Fraser saying the tanks run out? No. The mainstream media accepted it, when clearly it was designed and planned, and some of us said it last year. But then what would we know about politics?"

These remarks by Peters aren't found in the written speech distributed to media at the start of the speech.

Winston Peters on Friday.
Winston Peters on Friday. Photo credit: Newshub.

Ardern resigned as Prime Minister in January, saying she had come back from the summer break realising knowing she no longer had enough energy "to do the job justice". 

It's been reported Ardern began speaking with some colleagues late last year about whether she could continue on in the role.

Peters also took aim at the Government's record on cost of living, law and order, education and health, such as by noting that New Zealand is seeing the largest increase in the cost of items in more than three decades - although countries around the world are dealing with inflation.

On education, Peters said there is failure "not just in the lowest decile schools but now also in the highest". 

"What does that mean? Our education system has been the victim of numerous virtue-signalling tinkerers," Peters said.

"They would now rather teach a young child 'virtuous self-identity theory' than basic maths and English."

He said the "education system should be fundamentally focused on education" rather than "some sort of woke social re-engineering programme for vulnerable undeveloped minds".

A 'back to basics' approach is something that was also adopted by the National Party on Thursday when it released a policy document focusing on reading, writing and maths. 

Peters, like Luxon on Thursday, took issue with school attendance figures and spoke of how New Zealand was one of the top countries in the world in literacy and numeracy, but rates have since declined. 

The New Zealand First leader said New Zealand's biggest crisis is in health, pointing to waiting times for treatment, "emergency departments under siege" and job shortages. 

He said nurses, doctors and midwives have been "unjustifiably and unconstitutionally mandated out of a job" and promised to end them if elected. 

Government mandates have ended, but some employers in the health and disability sector can still require them as their workers are in close contact with those who can get seriously ill if they are infected. 

Although he pointed to what he called the "cracks" in the health system, the first thing he appears to want changed is the health department's name. 

"This crisis in health must be addressed in Budget 2023 - starting with a name for the health service that 95 percent of New Zealanders can understand - not 'Te Whatu Ora'," he said to big applause. 

"Everybody knows that language and communication is about understanding. These people don't care. We have Waka Kotahi heading down the road, it's meant to be out in the water. You get on Air New Zealand, they've got the waka in the sky. Why are we putting up with this bulldust? It's your country. Take it back."

He said under New Zealand First, "we will change all of the woke virtue-signalling names of every government department back to English - back to what they were before the academics from university sociology departments started this madness a few years ago".

Peters denied this was an attack on the Māori language, but rather an attack on "the elite virtue signalers who have hijacked the language for their own socialist means". 

"This conceited, conniving, cultural cabal doesn't represent hard-working ordinary Māori - they only seek to use Māori to further their own agenda. And some Māori secretly driving this agenda, 'are of the people but they're not for the people'."

Attacks on co-governance and the question of "what happened to 'one country, one people'?" also featured prominently in the speech.

Peters claimed there is an "insidious attempt" to change the country's culture and institutions. 

"There is a full-scale attack being waged on New Zealanders' culture, identity and sense of belonging. And the only way they can achieve this is by attacking the bonds that used to hold our society together and to misrepresent the facts behind our shared history."

He said people speak about "rights" but "never speak about personal responsibility". 

"They're all into minority rights, teaching children gender identity theory and they're not interested in debate.  Anyone who questions them is gaslit, or culturally cancelled, or shouted down."

Other policy promises in the speech included meeting St John funding demands, funding Mike King's Gumboot Friday charity, and an automatic six-month minimum prison sentence for assaulting first responders.

Former NZ First MP Darroch Ball previously introduced a Bill to introduce a minimum six-month sentence. The party's also previously committed to fully funding St John,

Peters was booted out of Parliament in 2020 when New Zealand First failed to reach the 5 percent threshold. The party has remained below the threshold in most recent polls, with the latest Newshub-Reid Research poll in January putting it at 2.2 percent.