The first in a series of troublesome interviews for Christopher Luxon over the past 10 days probably gained the least attention but remains, in my view, the most revealing.
It took place between Luxon and broadcaster and national treasure Moana Maniapoto on her weekly Māori Television chat show Te Ao with Moana. It was a probing and wide-ranging discussion that's worth viewing in full, but there was one exchange in particular that I keep thinking about, finding myself more and more gobsmacked each time. It began with Moana seeking Luxon's understanding of the central tenets of Te Tiriti, namely kawanatanga (governorship) and rangatiratanga (sovereignty):
Maniapoto: Do you think that it's feasible that Māori would have ceded sovereignty?
Luxon: Well, that's ... I think we are one sovereign country ... article 1 of the Treaty, you know, that's what that's about.
Maniapoto: Te Tiriti.
Luxon: ... of the Treaty.
Maniapoto: Te Tiriti.
Luxon: Well, we have different interpretations.
Maniapoto: No, what is in Te Tiriti?
Luxon: Well, what I'm saying to you is, I think that that, you know, I'm looking at the articles ... the first article was really about ceding sovereignty - that we're one country ...
Maniapoto: No, it's not.
Luxon: ... the second article was about rangatiratanga, that the people can have ...
Maniapoto: So you're talking about the English text that was signed by about 50 people.
To the uninitiated, Maniapoto's repeated insistence on the term "Te Tiriti" may come across as if she's pressing him to use the Māori term for The Treaty of Waitangi, perhaps out of political correctness or cultural sensitivity. Of course, as becomes apparent, it's nothing of the sort. Maniapoto is simply clarifying her question by stressing "Te Tiriti", a kind of shorthand to let Luxon know she is referring to kawanatanga and rangatiratanga as spelt out in Māori language text.
Repeat viewings of this interaction do Luxon no favours, and nor does even a cursory analysis of what the floundering cluelessness of those moments say about his values and priorities.
I'm anxious to avoid hyperbole here, but it's hard not to conclude this: Luxon seeks to replace Jacinda Ardern as New Zealand's Prime Minister, claiming he has the knowledge and expertise necessary to do that job and do it well. And yet, he has chosen not to acquaint himself with basic facts central to the nation's founding – basic historical and constitutional facts you would expect a bright 10-year-old to know. Add to that the audacity to urge the Government to clarify what "co-governance" means when he hasn't bothered to educate himself, even to a Wikipedia level, on the historical and legal foundations upon which it is built.
Since it's safe to assume someone as accomplished as Luxon does not suffer from laziness, there must be some other reason why he opts to remain so ignorant on a subject you don't merely expect Prime Ministers to grasp, you would expect the chief executive of our national airline to be pretty well across it too.
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In National Party circles, his supporters have been saying for some time that Luxon shares many of John Key's strengths. This makes sense on a superficial level: both were successful businessmen who spent extended periods of time abroad and have chosen to commit to politics after achieving their impressive career goals.
And yet, I'm not sure those similarities will end up being as important as the differences between the trader (Key) and the institutional CEO (Luxon). The most glaring point of difference comes down to their attitude towards risk. The CEO spends all day and night mitigating risk, especially so with a company as weighed down by stakeholders as Air New Zealand. To a foreign exchange trader like John Key, on the other hand, risk is the true currency of choice, and success is measured by how quickly you can turn it into profit. What the trader personality manifested in Key was a comfort with spontaneity, extremely fast reaction times, and an almost superhuman capacity to read a room. As Luxon's interview with Moana Maniapoto showed, as did subsequent outings with Jack Tame, Tova O'Brien and Kim Hill, those risk-averse CEO traits were in abundance, but none of the currency dealer's fleet footedness and disarming humour. In the end, Luxon may come to regret the lack of scrutiny during his honeymoon phase. It served only to raise expectations among the political and media elite, and this, in turn, has made this week's performances seem all the more woeful.
Just as Labour might have been better off in hindsight for Phil Goff and his then deputy Annette King to have swapped jobs, perhaps National will be wondering if they erred by putting Luxon ahead of Nicola Willis. The deputy's media performances are in a different league altogether, and something tells me Willis is not the sort who seeks to govern countries without reading its history first.
• Shane Te Pou (Ngāi Tūhoe) is a company director at Mega Ltd, a commentator and blogger and a former Labour Party activist.