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Labour leader Chris Hipkins sets out hopes for a one-term National Government

Claire Trevett,
Publish Date
Sun, 16 Jun 2024, 3:30pm

Labour leader Chris Hipkins sets out hopes for a one-term National Government

Claire Trevett,
Publish Date
Sun, 16 Jun 2024, 3:30pm

Labour leader Chris Hipkins has told party members in Wellington he believes the party is in with a chance at toppling the coalition Government after just one term in power – provided it can win back Auckland and work out why the people who voted for it in 2020 did not do so in 2023.

Speaking at the party’s regional conference, Hipkins said the key to achieving that was in being an effective Opposition, developing new ideas and policies and targeting the voters who abandoned it in 2023.

It would be the first time a National Government had been kicked out of office after one term, although two previous Labour Governments have only lasted one term.

Afterwards, Hipkins said his hopes of ousting the coalition after just one term were partly because of recent polling – including a recent Taxpayers’ Union Curia poll – that showed the Government parties of National, Act and NZ First were struggling to hold their ground despite a Budget that delivered tax cuts.

“That’s pretty unheard of for a Government after its first six months and I think that is one of the things that indicates we have a very good chance of making this a one-term Government.”

He said targeting those 2020 Labour voters did not mean selling out Labour’s core supporters for the sake of getting those votes.

“Getting the balance right in your policy development is really important. Labour Party people want to see their hopes and aspirations reflected in our policy platform, as do I. But we also have to have policies that are attractive to those people who only vote for us sometimes as well.”

Asked by a party member afterwards what had cost Labour the election, Hipkins said it was a number of factors.

He said Labour’s biggest drop in support had been in Auckland, which he put down to the Covid-19 “hangover”. He also listed crime and the cost of living. “Those are the three big things.”

Hipkins told them there was also a “vibe” that it was a time for a change, saying Covid-19 had meant “time horizons changed” and people thought Labour had been in power for longer than its six years.

It was the last of Labour’s regional conferences before the party meets for its annual conference at the end of the year. In his earlier conference speeches, Hipkins had focused on what he wanted New Zealand to look like in 2040.

The annual conference will make it clearer where the party members stand on a number of key issues –including tax policy after Hipkins said they would start from a blank slate.

In his speech, Hipkins took aim at National’s cuts to the public service and government programmes, the “broken promise” on cancer drugs and National’s tax cuts.

He said National’s debt in its first Budget was higher than any of Labour’s apart from in 2020 – when it was needed because of Covid-19 – “and Nicola Willis had no such excuse”.

Hipkins refused to say afterwards whether he would reverse those tax cuts if Labour got into government in 2026, saying its tax plan was still in development.

However, he said his main argument against the tax cuts was that it was not the right time for them.

He expected 2026 to look different to 2023, saying the economic cycle was now at the bottom but by 2026, inflation was forecast to be under control, but unemployment and child poverty on the rise. “The broader social consequences of that will come out in the next two years, so that will give new challenges to work with.”

The only firm policy positions Hipkins set out in his speech were to bring back the Fair Pay Agreements Labour had started and to reinstate the pay equity process.

In questions from the members, Hipkins was also asked what he would do about the media. Hipkins had scotched Labour’s proposed merger of RNZ with TVNZ as part of his so-called “bonfire” after taking over the leadership.

Hipkins said he had never been convinced the merger was a good idea, pointing to the very different cultures of TVNZ and RNZ. “I’m sad to say TVNZ stopped being a quality public broadcaster some decades ago.”

Asked what he meant afterwards, Hipkins denied he was critiquing its content or news and current affairs offerings. He said he was referring to the commercial model TVNZ operated under rather than its content or coverage.

“The commercial culture is quite a different culture to a public broadcaster who don’t rely on advertising revenue for their income, who have a guaranteed source of funding. TVNZ operates under a commercial culture, RNZ operates under a quality public broadcasting model and I think those two things are different.”

He said he’d taken the merger off the table, but Labour would have another public broadcasting policy by 2026.

Claire Trevett is the NZ Herald’s political editor. She started at the Herald in 2003 and has worked in the Parliamentary Press Gallery since 2007.

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