After a week of photo ops, morning teas and business visits in the South Island the Labour leader returned closer to home on Friday before he sets off again.

Beginning with a speech to the Good Youth Employment Symposium in Lower Hutt he headed over to Porirua alongside Mana candidate Barbara Edmonds for a day of visits. 

Luxon presides over a kerfuffle in Kirwee
Home turf puts spring in Hipkins’ step

At Whanau Manaaki kindergarten headquarters Hipkins packed food parcels before being warmly welcomed by those involved with early childhood education. 

Instantly handed a baby (Alyssa) he was comfortable talking education, a sector he spent five and half years in as minister.  

The crowd was impressed with Labour’s commitment to pay parity as well as offering up cheers and clapping when he mentioned the extension of 20 free hours of childcare announced in this year’s Budget for 2-year-olds.  

Not losing an opportunity to capitalise on the moment, Hipkins reminded them National would scrap this initiative.

Babies were swapped out (he now had Hazel in his arms) and media mobilised to capture fresh images.  

A woman in the back laughed to her colleague; “I told you he’d be like Father Christmas with the kids on his knee… the man in red.” 

Once things settled again one man wanted to know what else Labour was doing for families with young children. 

Going through his list he received sound applause for free dental for under-30s (citing the importance of good dental health while pregnant), paid partners leave was also a winner (“I know how hard the first four or five weeks are”) and free school lunches. 

And while there were no audible complaints on the policy, there was less enthusiasm for Labour’s promise to scrap GST off fresh fruit and vegetables.

Thornier questions came about resourcing for learning support – an aspect of education and early childhood increasingly under pressure.  

“There’s so much we need to do there, we’re pedalling basically to stand still,” he said. 

He finished with another dig on National’s planned tax cuts and cuts to the public sector to partly pay for it: “With tax cuts it means we can’t do what you want government to do”. 

Chris Hipkins gets a tour of the site at Castor Loop in Porirua. Photo: Emma Hatton

Next, it was a visit to a large Kāinga Ora development in Eastern Porirua and then the Porirua Women’s Refuge, to announce Labour justice policy related to victims.  

Justice spokesperson Ginny Andersen said Labour would modernise consent law, which could include creating a definition for sexual consent in legislation, expand the use of audio-visual links in court to make appearing easier for victims as well as improve timeliness and look at putting a threshold on who could elect trial by jury.

She also said Labour would move on setting up a formal class actions regime, so that victims could band together to seek justice rather than having to do it individually, at high costs, which is currently the way. 

Speaking to media afterward Hipkins doubled-down on his earlier criticism about what a National-led government would mean for the sectors he had spent time with today. 

“We know that their past track record gives a pretty clear indication of what will happen to early childhood education under a National government. They underfunded early childhood education and that ultimately compromises the quality of kids’ experiences and early childhood centres.  

“We were also able to visit a Kāinga Ora development here where we’re seeing hundreds of new homes being built and again, I note that the National Party have said that they want to take the knife to Kāinga Ora and potentially sack many of the people who are making those sorts of major developments possible up and down the country.” 

He accused National of “turning their back” on progress. 

“I note today they wanted to introduce some new immigration visas, for example, and yet they’re proposing to make redundant a whole lot of the people at MBIE [Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment] who process visas. 

“If we take the National Emergency Management Agency, which could see significant cuts under a National government we saw how important those agencies were when we had the flooding and when we had the Cyclone. I don’t think that cutting back on those things that we have been working hard as a country to build up over the last five and a half years is what responsible government is about.” 

Staff read over Labour’s newest justice policy while Chris Hipkins hears about their work at Whare Manaaki Women’s Refuge in Porirua. Photo: Emma Hatton

He warned National’s plan to cut taxes would come at the cost of “to the bone” cuts to the public service. 

“These aren’t minor cuts that the National Party are talking about. They’re talking about putting thousands of people out of work right before Christmas, not just here in Wellington, but right the way across the country.” 

National says its plan would be funded through $8.5 billion in savings and reprioritisations and $6.3 billion in new taxes and fees. 

On the savings front, National would ask public sector agencies to cut another 6.5 percent from their back-office budgets, on top of the 1 to 2 percent cuts already announced by the Government last month. It maintains frontline services would not be affected. 

Independent economists however, recently cast doubt on the ability of National to gather enough revenue through its new foreign buyer tax, saying its calculations can’t match the projected income – falling $500m a year short.  

Christopher Luxon and Nicola Willis maintain the plan is “rock solid”.

Emma Hatton is a business reporter based in Wellington.

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