New National Party leader Christopher Luxon wants to make politics a nicer place. He told political editor Jo Moir his MPs have been warned he’ll be keeping watch on how they do the job as much as what they achieve.

He’s only a couple of weeks into the job but Christopher Luxon is already laying down the law with his MPs.

Being on your phone when you’re at a work or social function and meant to be engaging with voters isn’t something Luxon wants to see from any of his caucus.

He’s told them talking at people while looking around the room or playing on your phone isn’t allowed anymore.

Luxon’s also started conversations about how his MPs engage more generally, whether that be in the House, on social media, or when they’re out in public.

“It’s little things, but it’s how we do things differently and how we engage in the future,’’ he tells Newsroom.

He wants the behaviour to change in Parliament too.

“There are moments where we’ll disagree very strongly, and oppose, but where it makes sense, and we can be constructive we should be open to it.’’
– Christopher Luxon

“I want to make sure there’s civility in our politics here in New Zealand.

“You just have to look around the western liberal democracies and see there’s a massive amount of divisiveness that’s taken place.’

“Once you set that off, and it’s a course in motion, it’s not constructive for the country,’’ Luxon says.

That means working with the Government when the situation allows for it.

“There are moments where we’ll disagree very strongly, and oppose, but where it makes sense, and we can be constructive we should be open to it.’’

The passing of the Housing Supply Bill In Parliament last week is reflective of that.

It was a bipartisan approach taken by National and Labour under then-leader Judith Collins and saw housing spokesperson and now deputy leader Nicola Willis work with Housing Minister Megan Woods to write legislation.

“We know home ownership is important and we know we have a housing crisis. We know we need to build more houses in a long and enduring way and expand and densify our cities,’’ Luxon says.

“Us stepping up to the plate and working in good faith with the Government is different, but very necessary.… We ended up with a good bill.

“People will criticise us for that, but fundamentally we’re either solving a housing crisis in this country or we’re not,” he said. “To work in a bipartisan way is a good example of what could be possible.”

Asked if he respects the Prime Minister, and indeed likes her, Luxon says, “I do’’.

And it’s not just Labour being dished compliments; he says Climate Change Minister and Green Party co-leader James Shaw is “someone I really respect and have spent a lot of time with’’.

He wants his climate change spokesperson Scott Simpson to have a close working relationship with Shaw and to work hard on a bipartisan approach.

“The background is that I was very much about embracing net carbon zero.’’

Luxon says in his chief executive role at Air New Zealand he and other business leaders formed Aotearoa Circle and that together they signed up to sustainability commitments long before the National Party did.

“It’s good business to have thinking around sustainability.’’

Reconnecting with lost voters

Luxon thinks the National Party has been so focused on itself it has lost touch with its voting base.

“Rural communities is a place where this party had its real origins in – a conservative rural and urban liberal starting point. And I just feel we’ve neglected those communities and I want them to know we’re back and we back them,’’ Luxon tells Newsroom.

That is part of the reason he chose to go to Morrinsville shortly after becoming leader to talk directly to rural and particularly farming voters.

“I think the last election was a period where most people looked at it and went ‘That’s a really dysfunctional unit and team’ if I’m really honest. And if you don’t have unity and can’t manage yourself, why on earth would you trust these people to run the country.

“Disunity is death and rightly or wrongly that is the projection that happened during that time,’’ he says.

And it’s not just farmers Luxon wants to win back.

He says the business community has been neglected too.

But first it’s about getting things in order internally, and Luxon says that work is already well underway.

Professional development is something that is lacking in Parliament, says the newbie MP.

“When you’re in corporate leadership you spend a lot of time working up how to build teams and there’s a lot of leadership development. What I’ve noticed in this place in terms of professional development is that there isn’t that.

“You have highly talented people, but they don’t always get the coaching to continue to evolve and improve their leadership skills so their ability to take people with them is affected,’’ he says.

He describes Parliament as being very “seniority and hierarchical focused’’ – something he says disappeared from the corporate world 25 years ago.

“People will criticise us for that, but fundamentally we’re either solving a housing crisis in this country or we’re not.”
– Christopher Luxon

The other part of his job is getting the wider party back on track and that means working closely with the board.

He met with board directors for the first time on Wednesday night at an end-of-year dinner.

“I want the board of the National Party and our caucus to be one seamless team.’’

Party president Peter Goodfellow has been under fire since the election for the poor management of the Candidates’ College and his overall leadership during a tumultuous period for the party and one of its worst election performances.

Luxon is reluctant to assess Goodfellow’s leadership, instead pointing to the changes within the wider board and a number of new directors.

“I think we’ve actually got really good board directors and I think ultimately our board will work out where they go in the future, and how they get aligned with the vision that we’re putting on the table here.’’

If or when Luxon does get the caucus and wider party on track he’ll need to turn his attentions to 2023 and what will be needed to potentially form a government.

Newsroom asks whether he’d work with Winston Peters if New Zealand First was to find its way back into Parliament.

It is posed as a yes or no question only.

Luxon says it isn’t possible to answer it that simply, and those sorts of questions will be dealt with “down the road’’.

Told that is what is called a ‘not ruling it out’ answer, Luxon laughs, and the interview immediately ends.

Jo Moir is Newsroom's political editor.

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