Tense start to first Cabinet meeting as Peters pokes media again

Prime Minister Christopher Luxon (left, front) and Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters (right, front) before the first Cabinet meeting. Photo: NZ Herald
Prime Minister Christopher Luxon (left, front) and Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters (right, front) before the first Cabinet meeting. Photo: NZ Herald
The new government’s first Cabinet meeting got off to a tense start as Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters again accused the media of bribery, while Prime Minister Christopher Luxon tried to normalise proceedings by cracking jokes about the roundness of the Beehive.

The new government sat down to its first Cabinet meeting on the 10th floor of the Beehive at 1pm today. As is tradition, media were invited into the room to record some opening remarks and take a photo of the new Cabinet.

Luxon opened proceedings by joking about Cabinet confidentiality. When asked about what the meeting would discuss, Luxon said, “that stays in this room”.

“We’ve got the team here, they went through induction this morning. They’re ready to go,” he said.

Luxon was asked about Peters’ attacks on the media made at Government House yesterday, in which he accused the $55 million public interest journalism fund, a Labour government initiative, of being a bribe to the media sector.

The Public Interest Journalism Fund supported discrete media projects, such as episodes of The Detail podcast, and temporarily funded certain jobs within the media sector, including local democracy reporters, who covered mainly local government in regional New Zealand. NZME, publisher of The New Zealand Herald, received money from the fund for both projects and to fund roles like local democracy reporters.

“Didn’t see those comments, but I’m excited to get to work with this team here and get things done for New Zealand,” Luxon said.

Asked about the Cabinet Room’s extreme and disorienting roundness, Luxon joked, “the whole building is round mate”.

Peters interjected as Luxon ushered for media to leave and proceedings to get under way.

“Before you go - can you possibly tell the public what you had to sign up to to get the money, it’s called transparency,” Peters said.

Luxon was asked about those comments but did not respond. Fellow Cabinet ministers shuffled awkwardly in their seats.

Peters’ attack on the fund is tied to his criticism of the use of te reo Māori in the media.

“Well, we’ll see the speed at which TVNZ and RNZ - which are taxpayer-owned - understand this new message. We’ll see whether these people, both the media and journalists - are they independent? Well, isn’t that fascinating, I haven’t seen evidence of that in the last three years,” Peters said at Government House yesterday.

“You can’t defend $55 million of bribery, cannot defend $55 million of bribery. Get it very clear,” Peters said.

Applicants to the fund were asked to show a commitment to Te Tiriti o Waitangi, including a commitment to te reo Māori.