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Bed legs, $60 groceries and Taylor Swift- Hipkins and Luxon face-off in fiery debate

Claire Trevett , Michael Neilson , Adam Pearse and Thomas Coughlan,
Publish Date
Thu, 12 Oct 2023, 6:58PM

Bed legs, $60 groceries and Taylor Swift- Hipkins and Luxon face-off in fiery debate

Claire Trevett , Michael Neilson , Adam Pearse and Thomas Coughlan,
Publish Date
Thu, 12 Oct 2023, 6:58PM


National leader Christopher Luxon and Labour leader Chris Hipkins are facing off for the last time in the leaders’ debate as both try to capture last-minute votes ahead of election day.

The NZ Herald team will live-blog it here, and stream the leaders’ media stand-ups straight after it.



National leader Christopher Luxon said he would “absolutely” get a free trade deal signed with India, even though India has shown little appetite for one given its protectionist stance.

Luxon made the comment during TVNZ’s leaders’ debate last night, a step up from his previous comments about it being a priority.

Labour leader Chris Hipkins immediately challenged him on it.

“You’re misleading New Zealanders. That is a promise you will not be able to deliver on. Are you going to tell them they have to?” asked Hipkins, noting that previous governments hadn’t been able to get one.

Hipkins said he would lead a trade delegation to India within 100 days of taking office. “I’m not going to make a promise I might not be able to fulfill.”

Labour has faced allegations it was ignoring India since before the Covid-19 pandemic. Former Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern never visited the country. The last prime ministerial visit was by John Key in 2016. Trade Minister Damien O’Connor visited earlier this year.

Such a deal with India is challenging given how tariff-free access for dairy, meat and horticulture could undercut local Indian producers.

New Zealand’s top trade official Vangelis Vitalis told a select committee earlier this year that New Zealand could not realistically possible given the importance of dairy to our trade profile.

Hipkins and Luxon also clashed further on poverty reduction, with Hipkins saying it was important to index benefit levels to average wage growth, rather than inflation.

Luxon said “building a better economy” was the answer, noting the 60,000 more people on a benefit over the past six years.

Asked what if employment isn’t the answer for everybody, Luxon said indexing to inflation was right because it protected purchasing power. National’s move would improve its books $2 billion over four years.

“That’s thousands more children in poverty,” Hipkins interjected.

He then attacked National’s tax break for landlords by restoring interest deductibility on rental income, noting how landlords with at least 200 properties each would get over $1m over five years.

“Your moral compass is entirely wrong.”

Luxon: “Here Chris goes again, misinformation, we are not cutting benefits ... You need to listen to Taylor Swift [and] calm down.”

When asked how much each spent on groceries a week, Hipkins said $300-$400 for a family shop, while Luxon said a mere $60.

When asked later about the amount, Hipkins said he was “very concerned about his [Luxon’s] diet”.

Asked about Luxon telling him to “calm down”, Hipkins said: “To quote another Taylor Swift song, I think he needs to ‘shake it off’.”

The debate started with a poll result showing 43 per cent of people trusted Hipkins more than Luxon, while 33 per cent trusted Luxon more than Hipkins.

Luxon said he would “continue to earn trust”, and had real-world leader experience who had spent his whole career solving problems.

Hipkins said trust wasn’t earned by “slogans with no substance behind them”, but by answering questions, a shot at Luxon’s apparent inability to answer questions directly.

“They want substance, not a PM who walks away from questions which you have repeatedly been doing,” Hipkins said to Luxon.

“I don’t trust Christopher Luxon, if you look at his tax swindle for example. Not many New Zealanders will get the full benefit.” National has been caught omitting the words “up to” when selling its tax package as delivering up to $250 a fortnight to a family on the average income.

Luxon shot back that he didn’t trust Hipkins: “No, he doesn’t deliver. It’s not in his DNA.”

Luxon took a shot at the five ministers who have left Labour this year, to which Hipkins referred to National MP Sam Uffindell, who was accused of bullying in his youth.

“People in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones. None of my MPs beat people up with a bed leg.”

On interrupting Luxon repeatedly, Hipkins said he was always going to challenge Luxon when he was “being evasive”.

”I think tax breaks for landlords over [those on] welfare that is going to ultimately push people into poverty, I think they should be challenged on that.”

National has been trending down in the polls after being on the rise until Luxon said he would make the call to NZ First leader Winston Peters as a last resort, but preferred a National-Act coalition.

Chris Hipkins and Christopher Luxon. Photo / TVNZ

Chris Hipkins and Christopher Luxon. Photo / TVNZ

Luxon said ruling in Peters was not an own goal but a principled stance to avoid another Labour-led Government.

Hipkins and Peters have ruled out working with each other, but Luxon noted that wasn’t the case in 2017.

“Been there, done that, got the T-shirt, wouldn’t do it again,” replied Hipkins.

Hipkins was keen to make an impact after some recent polls gave Labour a sniff of hope, showing the vote was moving around a bit and the left block of parties making some gains on the right.

While it remains very difficult for the left to get the 61 seats to form a government without NZ First, its chances would improve if NZ First fell short of the 5 per cent threshold.

Luxon was aiming to try and secure more support to help get there without NZ First – but also reassured voters that he would be able to work with Winston Peters.

He said he was feeling calm ahead of the debate.

Luxon was still hopeful of being able to form a government with Act alone but said he would deal with whatever the voters delivered.

Yesterday, Hipkins cast his vote after delivering a blistering speech on the other parties’ stand on race relations – from co-governance to the Treaty - at Nga Whare Waatea Marae. “If they win, Māori lose. Their common ground is you. The future of our country cannot be built on the ruins of a people.”

“There’s no doubt in my mind those three leaders and their egos and their drive to sit at the head of the Cabinet table, will cause them to implode.”

Luxon responded by saying Hipkins was just grasping at straws. “It’s actually quite sad that in the death throes of this government, they are literally are just throwing anything to see what sticks.”

He would not say whether he thought Peters was good or bad for New Zealand, sticking to saying only that he would work with whoever the voters dealt up to him.

Luxon spent yesterday doing a range of media interviews before visiting an early childhood centre in Te Atatu Peninsula.

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