The election campaign is truly under way, as Labour and National kick off their appeals to voters while dealing with protests that are fast becoming a theme of this year’s race to form the next government.
Both of New Zealand’s major parties held their campaign launches in Auckland over the weekend, and the two leaders did their best to point out their opponent’s flaws and expose holes in each other’s policies.
Labour on Saturday unveiled its plan to provide free dental care for under-30s, starting in mid-2025, while National opted not to add to the 37 policies it has already announced - instead revealing a pledge card detailing the party’s eight main commitments if elected.
Both parties were forced to deal with protesters from the Brian Tamaki-led Freedoms NZ party. Hipkins copped it the most as his speech was interrupted at least four times by people who had made it into the Aotea Centre, despite the launch being a ticketed event.
Protesters had also blocked the stairs of the venue, making it hard for Labour supporters to get through, and on Sunday, Hipkins was shouted at by the former owner of the New Lynn Lone Star cafe, which shut down during the pandemic.
Luxon’s speech was not disrupted, but Tamaki himself appeared alongside about 100 protesters outside the Due Drop Events Centre in Wiri to call on the National leader to be more upfront about his Christian values.
While selling their party’s vision for New Zealand was central to both leaders’ speeches, attacking the other side was a strong theme in both campaign launches.
Hipkins on Saturday continued his criticism of National’s tax plan, calling it a “tax swindle” and “sneaky”, and questioned the costings, saying it had overstated the revenue it would get from a foreign buyers’ tax and online gambling tax. He also hit out at National for using climate funding to pay for tax cuts instead.
Hipkins also pitched his own leadership style against Luxon’s, saying he believed people should be treated with dignity for who they were.
“I don’t see that on the other side. I see people who want to win the election whatever it takes - and bugger the cost.”
On Sunday, Hipkins deemed National’s costings were “fantasy-land stuff” and believed Kiwis would be smart enough to see through the tax cut promise and consider the entire package.
Luxon employed a similar tactic, warning the more than 1000-strong audience “power doesn’t concede easily” and National would be contesting Labour’s campaign, which he claimed was based on “fear and disinformation”.
“Hang on, help is coming” was a phrase Luxon repeated on several occasions when referencing different groups of people he felt were suffering through higher interest rates, rising violent youth crime, increased farming regulations and higher grocery prices.
Luxon echoed a phrase often used by Hipkins, which was that he believed Kiwis who worked hard should be able to prosper.
While Hipkins was supported by former Labour PM Helen Clark, National deputy leader Nicola Willis and Luxon’s two children were tasked with warming up the crowd on Sunday.
Willis asked supporters how Kiwis had benefited from Labour’s increased spending in Government, while also issuing a warning of how Labour would campaign.
“Labour loves tax like a shark loves blood... and it’s time for National to sort it out,” she said.
“At this election, there will be some who seek to appeal to the worst in us, to fear, to envy, to spite. Well, we say no to that. We want leadership that appeals to the best in us.”
Luxon’s children, William and Olivia, spoke briefly about their father and said he was the same in public as he was at home.
Both redheads, they joked that they didn’t inherit their ginger genes from their father, who was blond prior to his current shaven state.
Speaking to media after the launch, Luxon was challenged on his proposed tax on foreign buyers of homes over $2m, which had been criticised by economists and Labour for unrealistic costings and potentially compromising tax agreements with other countries.
Luxon claimed National had received independent legal advice about how the tax could work alongside existing tax treaties, but was not clear on whether he would release it.
“We are very comfortable in our numbers.”
In response to Labour’s dental policy, Luxon said he would love to offer cheaper dental care, but there were more pressing priorities he wanted to address first.
Adam Pearse is a political reporter in the NZ Herald press gallery team, based at Parliament. He has worked for NZME since 2018, covering sport and health for the Northern Advocate in Whangārei before moving to the NZ Herald in Auckland, covering Covid-19 and crime.