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'Dangerously close to endorsing conspiracy theories' - Hipkins hits out at new Govt policies

Michael Neilson,
Publish Date
Thu, 30 Nov 2023, 11:24AM

'Dangerously close to endorsing conspiracy theories' - Hipkins hits out at new Govt policies

Michael Neilson,
Publish Date
Thu, 30 Nov 2023, 11:24AM

Leader Chris Hipkins says the new Government is dancing “dangerously close to endorsing conspiracy theories” in its attacks on media independence including false claims of bribes, and its first priority to raise concerns about the World Health Organisation.

Labour this morning unveiled its Opposition line-up, with issues like child poverty and climate change given high priority and a front bench made up of majority women.

Hipkins said the line-up brought “experience and energy” and would hold the “coalition of chaos to account”.

The list includes six women and four men in the top 10. It has seen significant drops for some of Labour’s senior MPs including Kelvin Davis, who signalled he would retire at the next election, and David Parker.

Willie Jackson, meanwhile, is now the highest-ranked Māori MP in Labour at number five. Jackson said “at the moment” he was committed to the whole term, after previously saying he was considering his future.

Jackson said they had a job to do to support Māori aspirations, which were “under attack” from the new Government.

“We’ve seen all the attacks, from the smokefree [law repeal], a referendum in disguise they are putting up ... we have a job to do.”

Labour's new line-up puts a focus on child poverty and climate change. Photo / Mark MitchellLabour's new line-up puts a focus on child poverty and climate change. Photo / Mark Mitchell

In giving Parker the foreign affairs portfolio, Hipkins said part of that was to maintain a positive relationship with the coalition Government in that area, taking into account his good relations with Foreign Minister Winston Peters.

Hipkins also used the moment to continue holding the new Government to account over its attacks on media independence by Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters, who made false claims about media accepting “bribes” through the $55 million Public Interest Journalism Fund.

Yesterday, Prime Minister Christopher Luxon refused to condemn Peters’ claims and said while they weren’t the “words” he’d use he also disagree with the fund.

“The incoming Government across a range of areas seems to be dancing dangerously close to endorsing conspiracy theories,” said Hipkins, of Luxon’s response.

“I think some of the guarded comments that Christopher Luxon made yesterday get very close to that.”

National’s 100-day plan released yesterday includes culture war-derived diversions on the likes of “lodging a reservation against adopting amendments to WHO [World Health Organisation] health regulations”. This was a NZ First policy and supported in its agreement with National. This must be done in the next two days, making it one of the most urgent of the actions in the plan - ahead of restoring the Reserve Bank’s single mandate.

Health spokeswoman Dr Ayesha Verrall said she was concerned about that policy as it was “incredibly important that we have international health regulations that work”.

“Imagine if we didn’t have that in place at the beginning of the pandemic?” she said.

Concern about the influence of the WHO on domestic policies has been a key conspiracy theory throughout the pandemic.

Like any international institution, the WHO has no enforcement power on member countries, essentially meaning any of its recommendations are voluntary for New Zealand.

“It’s vitally important that we have a strong health system of regulations, and that is scientifically informed,” said Verrall.

“I’ll be making sure that none of the conspiracy theories that we hear about on the internet with respect to the WHO seep into New Zealand’s approach.”

Verrall said it was unclear how that policy became a priority of the new Government as the negotiations were done behind closed doors.

“However, I’m deeply concerned that I see that sort of rubbish about the WHO and international health regulations on the internet, and all of a sudden it’s in a coalition document.

“We have to respect the results of the elections... but the Government needs to be able to justify the decision that it has taken on these quite fringe concerns.”

Police spokeswoman Ginny Andersen said she would be looking to hold Police Minister Mark Mitchell to account, particularly given his strong attacks on her while in Opposition. Andersen would also

Hipkins said he intended to invite Gerry Brownlee, who National is nominating as Speaker, to speak to the Labour caucus to make his case to get their endorsement.

He said he thought it was an “interesting decision” that National had chosen Greens climate spokesman James Shaw over the official Opposition climate change spokeswoman in Megan Woods to go to COP28 (United Nations Climate Change Conference or Conference of the Parties).

Hipkins said the rankings in Opposition didn’t matter as much as when in government, and that his line-up had three times as much ministerial experience as the coalition Government.

Chris Hipkins said Labour had work to do to get New Zealanders to support them again. Photo / Mark MitchellChris Hipkins said Labour had work to do to get New Zealanders to support them again. Photo / Mark Mitchell

He said the election didn’t go Labour’s way and they had work to do to get New Zealanders to support them again.

”With the start this coalition has had it’s clear New Zealanders will need an Opposition that stands for their values and what is right.”

Hipkins said they had seen a lack of moral compass from the new Government.

He said new Prime Minister Christopher Luxon had set high standards for the Government when in Opposition but different standards now.

“I don’t think that is good enough from the Prime Minister.”

On Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters comments this week about media independence, Hipkins said the new Government was dancing “dangerously close to conspiracy theories” in some of its policies and attacks.

He said he thought Luxon had done “nothing” to condemn Peters’ comments, and had behaved “poorly and weakly” on the matter.

Hipkins held his first press conference as Opposition leader on Wednesday, after Luxon was sworn in as the new Prime Minister on Monday along with new government ministers in the coalition with Act and NZ First.

Hipkins yesterday confirmed former Finance Minister Grant Robertson would continue as finance spokesman, while former Health Minister Ayesha Verrall would keep her health portfolio.

Unlike in government, when only ministers have portfolios, Labour will now give all of its MPs policy portfolios.

Parliament will return for the first time since before the election next week, with the first piece of legislation before the House to be a bill designed to refocus the Reserve Bank on reducing inflation.

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