There is one thing you can be sure Auckland business leaders will nod their heads to in any political speech – a promise to make the Government more accountable for its spending.
It was a speech of two halves from the National leader to the Auckland Business Chamber on Monday, just three days out from Finance Minister Grant Robertson’s sixth Budget.
The first half carefully laid out the cost-of-living crisis and included real-life examples told to Christopher Luxon of how rising interest rates and food prices are punishing Kiwi households across the country.
Luxon pointed to both domestic and international factors that have contributed and his desire for Kiwi entrepreneurs, farmers, and business owners to be able to get ahead in the world with limited government intervention.
“It’s not about the economy for the economy’s sake.
“And, much as I hate to say it to a Chamber of Commerce, ultimately, it’s not about businesses either.
“It’s about people – it’s about lifting incomes, creating new jobs and being able to afford the public services that hard-working Kiwis deserve,” Luxon told the business audience.
Luxon hit home that there used to be trust between the government and business – “a healthy relationship on an equal footing”.
In recent years he said the Government’s keenness to intervene has created a “dependent relationship” where major companies “increasingly look to Wellington for direction”.
But when Luxon shifted into how he would fix these growing problems between Wellington and, in this case Auckland, he announced pointy-headed and bureaucratic solutions.
It was as if he was trying to prove right a Newshub-Reid Research poll on Sunday night, which revealed 47 percent of those polled think Luxon is out of touch with the issues facing New Zealanders.
His three big ideas consisted of Treasury being forced to report more information about major spending projects, a “taxpayer’s receipt” so every taxpayer knows what their money is going towards (ACT Party policy vetoed by a former National Government), and re-introducing and expanding performance pay for senior public servants.
For an Opposition so quick to condemn the Government for wasteful spending and a ballooning public service, it read like the final nail in Luxon’s personal polling coffin.
Even National Party insiders were quick to point out it was less about the fixes and more about the overall theme of the speech, which begs the question as to why provide the three policy ideas in the first place.
It also screams the leadership isn’t particularly agile when it comes to changing tack at the last minute if the message doesn’t quite fit with the story of the day, which had largely been questions about Luxon’s relatability and connection with voters.
But none of that actually matters if the speech was designed for the Auckland Chamber of Commerce, and nobody else.
If there’s one thing that many Auckland businesses are feeling at the moment, it’s disconnected from the Government.
The Prime Minister is aware of that, even telling Newsroom earlier this year that he was purposely spending time with groups of people who don’t agree with him, namely the Auckland business community.
Asked whether he thought he could win them over in his bid for Labour’s third term, Hipkins told Newsroom, “unlikely” given they “more likely lean the other way on the political spectrum”.
All the Prime Minister is trying to do is improve the relationship to the point the Government can do business with them without a ton of pushback.
And that’s exactly why Luxon’s odd announcements on Monday didn’t need to resonate with the average voter.
It was all pitched specifically at an audience that wants Treasury keeping the Government honest and public servants held accountable.
There is a general perception among the business community more broadly, but particularly in Auckland, that there isn’t transparency around how taxpayer money is being spent.
Whether that’s true or not, it’s a perception that has bedded in, and so Luxon acknowledging it and using words like accountability and transparency make those feeling forgotten by the Government feel heard.
It wasn’t a speech that would win the hearts and minds of New Zealanders pulling their hair out at unaffordable mortgage repayments and supermarket bills. That speech will need to come though, and the big job ahead for Luxon is finding a way to connect with people outside of his comfort zone.
A business audience is a walk in the park for Luxon, now comes the hard bit.