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Watch: Labour's new finance spokesperson takes on Nicola Willis in Question Time

Claire Trevett,
Publish Date
Tue, 27 Feb 2024, 1:48PM

Watch: Labour's new finance spokesperson takes on Nicola Willis in Question Time

Claire Trevett,
Publish Date
Tue, 27 Feb 2024, 1:48PM

New Labour finance spokeswoman Barbara Edmonds has had her first contest with Finance Minister Nicola Willis in the House.

She sought the proportion of the upcoming Budget’s operating allowance that would be needed to meet cost pressures.

What followed was a typical back-and-forth over the previous Government’s spending record and the current Government’s aim to deliver tax cuts.

Willis assured Edmonds that frontline services would not be cut through the Government’s current savings exercise, saying she would ensure hospitals and schools would not have their funding cut.

Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters, meanwhile, appears to have been caught talking on his cellphone during Question Time.

He said he was discussing litigation against a lawyer.

It was pointed out by Labour leader Chris Hipkins, who asked Speaker Gerry Brownlee whether the rule against MPs using cellphones in the House still stood.

Peters then elaborated on what he was doing, adding that he intended to emerge victorious from this particular litigation.

Labour leader Chris Hipkins was unsuccessful in drawing information from Prime Minister Christopher Luxon regarding whether his Associate Health Minister Casey Costello told Cabinet rolling back world-leading smoking legislation could cost the health system an estimated $5 billion.

The Government is set to repeal the legislation introduced by the previous Labour Government this week.

Luxon refused to specifically answer the question, saying ministers brought a range of advice to Cabinet.

Hipkins complained several times to Brownlee but to no avail. Hipkins also asked about advice Costello declined which included introducing an age cap for tobacco sales at 25 years of age, in spite of evidence saying it would be beneficial for reducing smoking rates, as reported by RNZ.

Luxon repeated his previous answer.

“Weak,” was the response from senior Labour MP Megan Woods.

Straight after question time, Parliament is expected to go into urgency to push through legislation of the Government’s 100 Days programme: including the repeal of Labour’s Smokefree laws and the repeal of the Māori Health Authority.

This morning, Te Pāti Māori said it had written to the Speaker to request an urgent debate on the use of urgency by the Government to push through its reforms.

Co-leader Debbie Ngarewa-Packer said the Government had abused its powers by using urgency so frequently to expedite significant moves on its agenda without the usual public submissions and scrutiny.

That would also happen with the disestablishment of the Māori Health Authority – which would now be repealed before an urgent Waitangi Tribunal hearing into the issue could happen.

“The Executive has destroyed public, judicial and legislative oversight and participation. Urgency has been used in every sitting week of the 2024 sitting year - it is an abuse of Government’s power.”

Labour’s Ayesha Verrall also said urgency was the wrong tack with the Māori Health Authority and Smokefree legislation: “It’s an extremely bad day for health care in New Zealand.”

Earlier this morning, Luxon defended the move to repeal the Māori Health Authority under urgency despite the controversy, saying National had opposed it from the start and had campaigned on it.

He said it was justified in doing so ahead of a Waitangi Tribunal hearing on the issue, which had been set for Thursday, saying the tribunal could go through its process “but we as a government will also go through our process”.

He said he was still committed to using the funding for the MHA on Māori health initiatives.

“We opposed the MHA from the beginning because we don’t think bureaucracy is the way to deliver improved health outcomes for Māori. We want to make sure the money that is actually spent is actually going to Māori. We have a job to do with respect to improving health outcomes.”

Luxon has also defended the Government’s repeal of Labour’s Smokefree measures, including an age-related ban, restricting the outlets that can sell cigarettes, and reducing nicotine levels, saying they were yet to come into effect and National was restoring the old Smokefree legislation which had been successful in cutting smoking rates.

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