Dozing Peters under scrutiny

Questions are being asked about whether Winston Peters is fit for purpose as Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs, after ‘deep contemplation’ (dozing on the job) being recorded on a number of occasions.

NZ Herald:  Winston Peters in a state of ‘deep contemplation’ during a meeting with top Islamic officials

Foreign Minister Winston Peters is deflecting claims he fell asleep in a meeting of top Islamic leaders in Turkey over the weekend.

President Recep Erdogan of Turkey delivers a speech at the Islamic Summit in Istanbul on Friday as Foreign Minister Winston Peters appears to be in deep contemplation. Photo / Supplied

Appearing alongside Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern at post-Cab today, Peters said he was in a state of “deep contemplation.”

This happened while Turkish President Recep Erdogan was speaking at the event. Peters had been requested to attend the conference by Turkish officials to discuss the terror attacks in Christchurch.

It was a quick trip to Turkey, so jet lag may have been a factor.

“This is amazing,” Peters said when asked if he had nodded off at the meeting.

“I have a full list of everybody that spoke, where they came from, in the order they spoke – it’s comprehensive and I’ve still got it.”

He said it was a “very, very serious meeting and that’s why I still have a record of it”.

Ministers are regularly given run sheets prior to meetings, which contain the names those in attendance and an agenda.

Claiming to have a list of speakers is a lame explanation.

“Some would suggest that you could be in deep contemplation and know what is going on at the same time, which I was,” Peters said.

He did not, however, deny being asleep.

There were other times recently where Peters has looked to be in deep contemplation.

Last week, Peters sat with his eyes closed and his head down at times while Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and a contingent of Ministers and MPs met Muslim community leaders following the mosque terror attacks in Christchurch.

A few weeks before that, Peters’ eyes were closed during a Security and Intelligence select committee hearing, also attended by Ardern.

Dominion Post editorial: Winston Peters asleep at the wheel of foreign affairs

The prime minister, unimpressed with Turkey’s portrayal of New Zealand’s day of suffering, said her foreign minister would be confronting the offensive comments of Turkey’s president Recep Tayyip Erdogan during a visit to that country.

In Winston Peters’ own words, he was going there to “put the record straight”.

He now says he believes some progress has been made as Erdogan is using a smaller portion of the clip. He had got an assurance on safety and the president had toned down the campaigning.

Peters’ approach contrasts with the strong language  of Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison against his Turkish counterpart.

There is, of course, another image: Peters apparently dozing at the Organisation of Islamic Co-operation forum while Erdogan addresses New Zealand’s response to the shootings.

It is a picture of Peters asleep at the wheel of this country’s foreign affairs. At a key point in the nation’s history.

It was particularly bad timing for the NZ First leader.

Peters, meanwhile, has appeared undermined and partially silenced by his own troublesome anti-immigration commentary.

He needed to perform and display strength in Turkey, not only on behalf of his fellow countrymen and women but also, perhaps, for the prospects of a party with immigration as a principal theme.

He failed.

Audrey Young: Message to Winston Peters – Please don’t fall asleep on Friday

Peters’ issue with deep contemplation is not recent. When his former National Party colleagues wanted to wound him most, they would recount tales of Peters dozing off in Cabinet meetings or of him not reading Cabinet papers.

The difference between then and now is that Peters is under a lot more scrutiny. His rise in political power has coincided with an era in which cameras are everywhere. Big brother has been joined by sister, mother, cousin, aunt, uncle, friend, foe, citizen and journalist.

Given the importance of the mission to rescue New Zealand’s reputation among Muslim countries (and ultimately the safety of Kiwis) it was inexcusable but it was not surprising given that Peters arrived in Istanbul 5.30am after flying overnight, had a full day at the conference and left at 2am.

Peters was away from New Zealand for five nights on the trip to Indonesia and Istanbul but had only two nights on the ground. It was perhaps the most punishing of his punishing schedules in this, his second stint as Foreign Minister.

Peters’ frequent state of deep contemplation is sometimes excused on the grounds that he is getting on in years – but he is not such a rarity.

The frequency of recent events has made it a public issue. Peters has discipline when he cares to exercise it. He cannot afford repetitions, lest he be seen as not fit for purpose.

Jacinda Ardern sent Peters on the gruelling trip to Turkey, in the heat of the Christchurch shooting aftermath. She may need to think more about what Peters is capable of doing.

Peters will be under ongoing scrutiny at public events, and it is likely any nodding off will be photographed and publicised.