Incoming Prime Minister Christopher Luxon kept a low profile on Thursday as his likely governing partner Winston Peters continued to post inaccurate information about the response to the March 15 terror attack in Christchurch on social media.
Luxon had no media engagements planned on Thursday, but his staff would not put him up to comment on Peters’ remarks.
They referred all requests for comment to remarks made by National MP Simeon Brown on TVNZ’s Breakfast on Wednesday morning, where Brown said Peters’ remarks were “ultimately up to him”.
The National Party’s silence comes as negotiations to form the next Government, one that will possibly include Peters, dragged on.
Luxon was not the only leader keeping schtum on Peters’ remarks. Act leader David Seymour, Luxon’s likely governing partner, was also reluctant to weigh in, saying he had nothing to say about Peters’ comments.
Labour, however, was happy to fill the void.
Labour MP Tangi Utikere, also appearing on TVNZ’s Breakfast, said the remarks “need to be put to his [Peters’] incoming coalition partner, Christopher Luxon, because it is very clear that Winston is likely to be part of the incoming Government”.
Utikere said it was “a prime example as to the type of behaviour” that caused Labour PM Chris Hipkins to rule out working with NZ First.
The saga began on Wednesday night, when Peters posted to X (formerly Twitter), “We waited until today to find out, for the first time, that the Prime Minister’s Office received information about the March 15 terrorist attack before the massacre took place”.
The tweet was a response to the March 15 coronial inquest, which that day had heard evidence about an email from the terrorist, Brenton Tarrant, to the office of then-Prime Minister Dame Jacinda Ardern.
The inquest heard the email and manifesto landed in a generic inbox for Ardern at 1.33pm.
The email spurred the Prime Minister’s Office at the time to contact parliamentary security, who alerted the police at 1.39pm.
At 1.40pm, Tarrant stormed into the Al Noor Mosque on Deans Ave and started shooting at men, women and children gathered for Friday prayers.
Peters’ post is incorrect. The inquest was not the first day the public or Peters were made aware of the email.
Ardern briefed the public about the email and what her office did with it in a Beehive press conference on March 17, 2019, two days after the attack.
The Herald first published that the Prime Minister’s Office received the email and manifesto at 9.01pm on March 16.
The office of Prime Minister Chris Hipkins said on Wednesday that Peters’ post was “completely inaccurate” and should be removed with a correction posted.
Peters, however, later said in a follow-up post that he should have been told of the email when Ardern called him about the massacre on March 15, rather than waiting for him to discover it in a press conference.
“Not once were we transparently informed of this information – such as the phone call her office made to the police – despite the obvious expectation and clear opportunity,” Peters said.
The paper trail showing precisely when Peters became aware of the email is unclear, however, NZ First staff were in meetings with Labour staff late into the night on March 15, in which the email is likely to have been discussed.
Peters told the Herald yesterday that the response to the March 15 attack compared to the Lynn Mall terror attack committed by Ahamed Aathil Mohamed Samsudeen in 2021.
Samsudeen – who was under round-the-clock surveillance by police – was shot dead by members of the Special Tactics Group shortly after his attack began.
“Remember this other case? This guy should have been expelled from the country. Why wasn’t he? No one is going to be able to answer that question.
“How is he still in the country when he should have been expelled from it? Washing our hands as though we are trying our best. This won’t do for an answer,” Peters said.
Peters has continued to tweet, posting more attacks on the Labour-led Government at 11.08pm on Wednesday night, and another attack at 5.28 on Thursday.
“The gaslighting media can’t defend the facts out today that vital information of the locations of the terrorist attacks were known by the Prime Minister’s Office before it happened – yet the PM the next day said the police couldn’t act because they didn’t have that detail. The mosques weren’t even warned.
“This was my point about critical information not being passed on,” Peters posted.
This is also incorrect. The Royal Commission into the attacks said the email did not specify targets, however page eight of the 74-page manifesto that was attached to the email did identify masjid in Christchurch, Linwood (a suburb of Christchurch) and Ashburton as targets.
The Royal Commission concluded: “The email to the Parliamentary Service was received too late to enable disruption of the terrorist attack. None of the other information held by public sector agencies could or should have alerted them to the terrorist attack.”
Meanwhile, the clock counts down to the formation of the next Government. Friday marks one week until the publication of the final count of the election, including special votes. Those numbers will determine whether Peters is needed for National to form a Government, or whether Peters is only required to ensure what would likely be a thin National-Act majority.
Thomas Coughlan is deputy political editor and covers politics from Parliament. He has worked for the Herald since 2021 and has worked in the press gallery since 2018.
For more from Thomas Coughlan, listen to On the Tiles, the Herald’s politics podcast.