National's Chris Luxon says he brings a different style of leadership because he's new to politics and that's helped get his caucus on side. Photo: National Botany website

National’s leader wants to work with the Government on an appropriate time to end vaccine mandates. He told political editor Jo Moir each of his MPs has been asked to identify areas in their portfolios where there’s opportunity to collaborate with ministers.

Christopher Luxon says vaccine mandates, rapid antigen testing and mental health are at least three areas where the Opposition and the Government could easily work together.

“I don’t care if our ideas get stolen, we shouldn’t be precious about that,’’ he told Newsroom.

It’s a very different style of leadership to what the National Party has had in recent years, and Luxon says that’s deliberate because he isn’t a politician and doesn’t come to the job with years of Parliament under his belt.

“I’d love mental health to be a collaborative space, I really would, and I genuinely mean it.’’

He says finding the right end point for vaccine mandates is another example, especially now that both he and the Prime Minister are on record saying the time will come to scrap them.

“It would be great if we could work that out together and be smart about it.

“To be honest though, I haven’t felt this Government has a great appetite for bipartisanship if I’m truly honest,’’ he told Newsroom.

“I appreciate the tone sometimes from the Prime Minister is, I want to talk and listen, but the reality is quite different.’’

“There’s a lot of things on Covid it would have been good to have a proper conversation about. RATs could have been sorted six months ago if we’d just sat down in a room and talked about it.’’ – Christopher Luxon

This isn’t the first time Luxon has spoken of wanting to take a more bipartisan approach, but now he has clear ideas of where that could actually happen.

In December he told Newsroom he wanted to work with the Government when the situation allowed for it.

Luxon was hand-picked by Ardern to chair her Business Advisory Council when he was chief executive of Air New Zealand.

But he says he hasn’t spoken to her either by phone or in person this year – he’s not “averse” to doing so.

“There’s a lot of things on Covid it would have been good to have a proper conversation about. RATs could have been sorted six months ago if we’d just sat down in a room and talked about it.’’

Luxon says it might “seem odd’’ to have his MPs thinking about where National could work with the Government but he says it makes sense if you want policy that lasts beyond an election cycle.

Changing the tune

Successive National leaders since the departure of Sir Bill English in 2018 have tried, and failed, to focus and unite the party on getting back into a position to be in Government.

The culture of the party, the infighting and the leaking has dominated, and Luxon told Newsroom it was clear to him when he came to Parliament in 2020 that before any work could be done, the caucus had to find common ground again.

Luxon says his priority in the last 10 weeks has been making caucus expectations clear and modelling the type of behaviour he expects from his MPs.

“I know I’ve been saying for the past 10 weeks that we have reset and turned the page, but I think you’re seeing even in recent weeks, an acceptance that the conversation in a political sense is now moving to National and Labour.

“My philosophy is different on pulling teams together,’’ he told Newsroom.

“I am from outside politics and there’s a bunch of things I bring to the leadership – we’re getting a different outcome with the same team.’’

His next job is introducing himself to voters and convincing them why they should vote for him.

“This job for the next 18 months is a big job interview, because ultimately come 2023 people are going to decide who they want to be the next Prime Minister of New Zealand.

“That will be partly about the respective qualities of the leaders of individual parties, it will also be about the strength of that team and whether they’ve got the right policies, plans and proposals,’’ Luxon said.

It’s also about voters knowing what Luxon’s leadership of the country would look like.

He says that’s the job ahead.

“I’m answering as a person who is new to politics, so I don’t always have the political answer per se, but I’m going to say it as it is and how I think about it.’’ – Christopher Luxon

The other job is explaining to voters during next year’s election campaign what the National Party stands for, something that has been lost in recent years, Luxon admits.

“In my head it’s sort of there, but I’m not ready to talk too much about it at this point, but I think we’ve got a good sense of what that will look like.

“In my head I’ve got some broad brushstrokes to it, that we now need to put more detail to,’’ he said.

Luxon says he draws from the previous 80 years of the National Party’s existence and when it was at its best.

“For me it’s just making sure we rediscover that, re-express it and make sure it’s right for the times we’re in.’’

Some of that will become more clear when Luxon delivers his ‘State of the Nation’ speech later this month.

It was set down for the beginning of the year but the event had to be significantly scaled back due to the new Omicron red light settings.

Luxon says he’s concentrating on being part of the daily conversation and making sure he’s across all the issues.

“I’m answering as a person who is new to politics, so I don’t always have the political answer per se, but I’m going to say it as it is and how I think about it.’’

Jo Moir is Newsroom's political editor.

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