Sep 14, 2008


By now many of you will have read the interesting story in the Herald on Sunday by Stephen Cook. You will know that The Rt Hon Winston Peters, New Zealand Minister of Foreign Affairs travelled to Las Vegas from Berlin for private purposes. The private purpose was to watch a boxing match, the tickets for which had been supplied by an acquaintance. You will also know that Winston Peters then travelled onto Singapore. Winston Peters says that the costs of travel to and accommodation in Las Vegas was paid by himself (note not "refunded") and that he "reimbursed" his acquaintance who had furnished the tickets the fight.

The cost of a Berlin - Las Vegas - Singapore add on to a trip is going to be expensive, particularly if you were not travelling economy. Likewise accommodation, food, and the costs of tickets to a title fight will be expensive also. We are talking many thousands of dollars here. And we are assuming normal conventions apply to this travel, that if private travel is undertaken as part of an official trip, that the whole trip be done on an economy class basis. Was this the case in this instance?

Rodney Hide is right to be asking for evidence. Because if it is true that this boxing match was arranged and paid for by George Calvert, it would be further evidence of those with racing interests (in this case harness racing) having leverage over the Minister of Racing at a time when Government was considering a proposal to increase funding for that industry. (Treasury was opposing this proposal forcefully).

We know that Winston Peters' office has been fielding enquiries from the media on this matter for well over a week. This is ample time to produce receipts, from the travel agent or airline that arranged this travel, from the hotels and restaurants at which Winston ate and slept, and from Mr Calvert, for the reimbursement of the tickets. We are frankly surprised that Winston would not have provided this evidence, as this would have made the matter disappear. No one is ever going to take Winston's word on anything ever again given his track record of lies that has been exposed this year.

Well done Rodney Hide for taking this issue up. Frankly, unless this issue is cleared up by tomorrow, we think it worthy of an investigation by the Auditor General.

All overseas travel by Ministers has to be approved by the Prime Minister. She should release the submission on this trip also. No doubt this will show that Winston was open about the huge diversion to Las Vegas at all times, and that the fact he had paid in advance for the extra costs involved will be clearly set out. This submission is recoverable under the OIA.

Finally, it will be important for Winston Peters to demonstrate that he paid for all costs himself, and that no party or trust money was used for his private benefit.