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Winston Peters defends not airing public criticism of Govt's Covid-19 response earlier in fiery Q+A exchange

NZ First leader Winston Peters has defended the timing of his public criticism of the Government’s Covid-19 response in a fiery exchange on Q+A this morning, saying any earlier comments wouldn't have been helpful that far from an election. 

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The NZ First leader appeared on Q+A while on the campaign trail in Christchurch. Source: Q+A

On Wednesday, Mr Peters aired his concerns with the overall virus response, and was reported criticising the rate of virus testing, surveillance and the fact that masks were not being used. 

In a heated interview with Q+A host Jack Tame this morning, Mr Peters was asked why he didn’t publicly raise the issues he had with the response months earlier.

Mr Peters said he had raised the issues earlier, in a Cabinet circumstance, "where it did matter". 

"It hardly helps that far out from an election to be speaking publicly in some sort of dispute in a coalition.

"The reality was we went all the way to the 6th of August where we'd passed 190 pieces of legislation where we'd demonstrated that we could cooperate and when the house rose we went into an election period and that's why I can speak freely now.

“I said before we went into lockdown we needed the military, and I said we needed masks, and I said we needed far greater checks as to what was going on in the quarantine areas."

When questioned again by Tame on the timing of his criticism, Mr Peters bit back. 

"Don't try and be a Philadelphia lawyer with me I've been around a long time. I spoke up where it mattered."

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He says staying in the current alert levels until September 16th is "the Cabinet decision and that's a majority decision". 

"So it's not a matter of whether I support it or not. It's important that we go forward with a team effort.

Mr Peters says "when you're winning", like New Zealand was in the fight against coronavirus, that's when you've got to be "ultra careful".

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“I believe, to be honest with the people of this country and regrettably, we let our guard down.”

Labour leader Jacinda Ardern was asked about Mr Peters’ remarks on Wednesday and said it's "a disservice" to say New Zealand hasn't done well in the fight against Covid-19.

"I think we need to take into account, relative to other countries, how well New Zealanders have done and the results that have been generated.”

Mr Peters then refused to answer any further questions posed by Q+A this morning.