It was hard to tell if the sea of grey-haired Hamiltonians had turned up at Agora to hear Christopher Luxon speak, or if the cafe in Frankton just did really good scones – turned out it was both.
About 200 people took their seats at midday to hear from the National leader as he continued the party’s Back on Track tour.
Luxon almost made it to the end of the hour-and-a-half-long meeting without having to deal with a single issue he rather wouldn’t have.
Starting with housing, he moved deftly to employment, small business, foreign aid, youth crime and then climate change. The audience was interested, engaged, and had clearly come wanting more from Luxon than just sheer frustration with the current government.
Happy with his answers on the wide range of topics traversed, the meeting was close to wrapping up when a woman at the back of the room, concerned about her children, wanted to know why biology was being taken out of the school curriculum.
“I thought that was crazy eh?” Luxon interjected.
“Just for everyone in the room the new science curriculum doesn’t mention biology, physics or chemistry.”
“Oh so you’ve just confirmed it for me then,” the woman answered.
“Yea, the universities have to start teaching science from scratch from year one because it’s going to be useless,” Luxon answered.
Biology is not being removed for the New Zealand curriculum. Biology, chemistry, physics and earth science will all be included.
“This year we began developing a first draft of the refreshed science learning area. An early draft was shared for feedback. Concerns were raised and these concerns are being acted on for the next draft of the science learning area,” Ministry of Education curriculum centre leader Ellen MacGregor-Reid confirmed.
And Luxon knows this – last week in Selwyn he said the draft school science curriculum was not ready to go and that National had agreed to pause its development, if elected.
However the question was a precursor to her real concern which was whether schools were teaching children about sex and sex positions, citing the recently published book Welcome to Sex, which has made headlines.
“I’ll be damned if anyone is going to be teaching my kids about sexual positions at school,” she said.
It was not unfamiliar territory for Luxon, only last week he was asked for National’s stance on LGBTQ “woke ideology” in schools at the Selwyn meeting.
Luxon had said then: “those sexuality issues should be dealt with in the home, and by parents and within their own family environments in the home.
“I want teachers focused on teaching the basics well.”
He had tweaked his answer this time though, not confirming or denying whether schools were indeed teaching children various sex positions, but admitting there was a place for sex education.
“We’ve always had sex education because sometimes parents don’t do a good job of it at home, but equally it’s your job as a parent. It’s an and-and situation.”
“There was a curriculum the Government had, there’s supposedly a new curriculum coming but in the meantime there’s been a whole bunch of guidelines… and parents are concerned about what’s age appropriate, what’s the curriculum because it’s taught different by each school and every teacher, and why haven’t they been consulted about it.”
Luxon said National would confirm exactly what the curriculum was, whether it was age appropriate and confirmed parents would be consulted on any changes.
MacGregor-Reid confirmed the Welcome to Sex book was not a Ministry of Education resource.
“The Ministry has not seen or been consulted regarding this book, and it does not align with Ministry of Education guidance. However, schools have the flexibility to choose which resources they use that best meet the needs and interests of their students, parents and whānau. School boards are required to consult with their school community at least every two years about their health curriculum.”
But while his answer on sex education in schools was good, by choosing not to call out or seek clarification of the premise the woman had based her question on (that Welcome to Sex was being rolled out as a resource across all schools) he leaned into the emerging undercurrent of concern surrounding children’s education and what is being taught, a lot of which is based on things that simply aren’t true.
Other topics that have been tricky for Luxon such as co-governance, bilingual road signs and gender identity were mercifully not raised.
At the beginning of the tour Luxon was drawn into engaging with people who had complaints about the Waitangi Tribunal and “pigeon [sic] English”. He adapted and moved to giving short, sharp answers and moving on quickly from such topics.
Now it seems the audience does not bother asking at all – perhaps a sign that those intent on rallying against the issues have found acceptance elsewhere.
Attendees after the meeting were happy with Luxon’s answers. One woman, a florist who had come by on her lunch break, told Newsroom Luxon was “across all the topics” and she was impressed with the level of information he was able to give.
A manager from the infrastructure industry said it gave him hope he would stop losing workers overseas.
“I think he’s got it,” Heyden Alderson said.
Alderson is an admin for the hugely popular Hamilton Districts Crime Information & Support Group on Facebook and had turned out to see what Luxon had to say on law and order.
“This country needs a politician and a businessman. At the moment we’ve got a politician but the country needs to be run like a business.”
He too, was impressed with calibre of Luxon’s answers. “I went to David Seymour’s one a while back over the other side of Frankton and he’s so far from the truth and so far from reality.”
“But in there, just now, that was very good.”