Taxpayers footed a bill close to $12,000 for Winston Peters’ farewell event in December, where he was honoured for his decades of service in Parliament and his tenure as Foreign Affairs Minister.
The former Deputy Prime Minister was farewelled at a closed-door event on December 1, with diplomats, officials and MPs in attendance, after New Zealand First failed to return to Parliament after last year’s election.
A document released under the Official Information Act to lobby group the Taxpayers’ Union showed $11,733 paid for catering, furniture hire and technical/AV equipment.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFAT) covered half of the event’s cost, while the office of the Minister of Foreign Affairs paid the rest.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern told reporters today, after hearing of the bill’s size: “I have to admit I am surprised by that.”
“I attended the function - a very standard function, an opportunity for the diplomatic corp to farewell and acknowledge Winston Peters but also to meet the new Minister of Foreign Affairs [Nanaia Mahuta].”
Ardern said the bill surprised her because “it wasn’t a standout to me as anything that by any stretch was anything other than a standard”.
She said the $12,000 figure needed to be checked with the ministries.
1 NEWS has contacted current Foreign Minister Nanaia Mahuta for comment.
As New Zealand First was voted out at the election, Peters never had a chance to give a valedictory speech in Parliament. The event in December was intended to somewhat rectify that.
In a statement to 1 NEWS, an MFAT spokesperson said it is common for foreign ministers to host events for the diplomatic corps.
"This is core diplomacy and is customary all around the world," the spokesperson said. "The purpose of the New Zealand Foreign Minister hosting events of this nature is so that our approach to international affairs is directly and clearly communicated to the diplomatic corps. This enables Wellington-based diplomats to report our priorities back to their Governments – something that promotes New Zealand interests."
The event in question "underlined the importance of continuity in New Zealand foreign policy to an international audience", the spokesperson added, explaining that members of the Opposition were also invited.
Peters, 75, entered the halls of power as a young National MP in 1978.
He was then ousted from his seat in 1981, before making a return in 1984 in the Tauranga seat.
A fall-out with then Prime Minister Jim Bolger saw him form New Zealand First in 1993, making a splash with the Winebox Inquiry, with Peters bringing "the documents at the centre of the allegations to Parliament in a winebox", according to the National Library.
He held the balance of power in 1996 before being cut out in a shift of power by National's Jenny Shipley.
In 2017, he took on the Deputy Prime Minister role.