Hitting the ground in Palmerston North today Christopher Luxon faced friendly faces on the campaign trail, but niggling issues on tax and coalition partners continue to flare up.
Just outside the city at the events centre, family-owned business Orlando Country, Luxon mixed and mingled with ease, chatting education, construction and renewable energy.
Emma Hurley, whose family owned the centre, was impressed with his appearance.
“It’s lovely to have him here, he’s very charismatic isn’t he,” she commented.
He even gave a decent crack at the driving range.
But it was a swing and miss when it came to giving straight answers on what working with Act, and potentially New Zealand First, in government would look like.
Act officially launched its campaign in Auckland with a revived focus on co-governance.
Party leader David Seymour described New Zealand as being “at a constitutional crossroad”, and committed to “end co-government and restore universal human rights in New Zealand”.
Act wants to legislate the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi through a public referendum, saying it had been misinterpreted and applied to policy that was never intended.
They would also immediately repeal the Māori Health Authority the Natural and Built Environments Act, and Three Waters legislation (renamed Affordable Water Reform) which they say give different rights based on ethnicity.
When asked about Act’s latest commitment, Luxon said he hadn’t given their policies much thought.
“What I’m focused on is the National Party policies and as you know, what we don’t support is co-governance of nationalised public services.”
He maintains National would scrap the newly formed Māori Health Authority, which was designed to improve health outcomes for Māori by devolving commissioning power to allow a “by Māori for Māori” approach.
National has previously committed to repealing the Natural and Built Environments Act, and Three Waters legislation.
But serious thought is needed – Act has previously said the Treaty principles referendum is a bottom line, and Seymour has said if National was not prepared to “fully share power”, his party would consider a minority-government position.
The arrangement would see National have to seek Act’s backing for all government spending, on a case-by-case basis, including the Budget.
Luxon has dismissed the threat as “speculative”.
And on Act’s recent policy to cut off benefits for people struggling with addiction Luxon would only say it “was not National Party policy”.
Act has also ruled out working with New Zealand First around the Cabinet table, but Luxon is still to say what role he would be prepared to let Winston Peters take.
“New Zealand First isn’t a party I’ve given a lot of thought to. They’re not in Parliament, they haven’t been consistently above thresholds and what I am focused on is making the case for the National Party.”
On National’s tax plan, Luxon maintained the numbers stacked up, saying the figures around the foreign buyers’ tax (“which I know you’ve [media] been focused on”) were conservative.
“Our independent reviewer said you’re being too conservative, but actually within our plan there is buffers and contingencies … and so the plan has been built in a very constructive and a very prudent and a very responsible way.”
After a visit to Gurudwara Shri Fateh Sahib Luxon fronted a public meeting at the Distinction Hotel.
Flanked by local candidates Suze Redmayne, Ankit Bansal and outgoing MP Ian Ian McKelvie, Luxon delivered his ‘Back on Track’ message, which is now well-rehearsed, and took questions from the crowd.
One woman who asked about National’s planned investment in public transport left early, unimpressed with his answer.
“He didn’t answer it, he just talked about roads,” she told Newsroom.
A Massey University lecturer grilled him on the future of funding for universities, while a community housing provider told him the previous National government had “missed a trick” but not investing more in housing post-GFC.
Despite some leaving the meeting feeling a bit flat on Luxon’s answers to their questions, a long crowd of impressed constituents lined up to get selfies and shake the hand of the man they hope will be Prime Minister in under a month.
Latest policy announcements
Chris Hipkins again took aim at National’s plan to fund tax cuts by cost-cutting in the public sector, by confirming those working in government agencies would continue to be paid at least a living wage under a Labour government.
The party also committed to annual increases of the minimum wage and scrapping the starting out and training minimum employment rates.
Releasing its Women’s Manifesto today, Labour would also extend the age of free breast cancer screening from 69 to 74 and implement a national endometriosis action plan.
The manifesto also includes policy already announced such as reviewing consent laws, making cervical screening services free between the ages of 25 to 69 and requiring employers to publicly report their gender pay gap.
Meanwhile, this weekend the Green Party confirmed its manifesto commitment to ensure everyone has five weeks of annual leave.
“Everyone should be able to spend quality time with their whānau and friends, but right now Aotearoa is not working for all working people. Tens of thousands of people are working two, sometimes three, jobs just to make ends meet. This leaves hardly any time in the day for people to rest and enjoy time with the people they love,” said co-leader Marama Davidson.