Deputy National leader Nicola Willis has criticised former National minister Paula Bennett for meeting with Act deputy Brooke van Velden, saying “it certainly wasn’t helpful” with van Velden neck-and-neck with National’s candidate in Tāmaki.
“I don’t answer for Paula Bennett,” Willis told Newstalk ZB’s Heather du Plessis Allan, “I thought it wasn’t helpful because I think that Simon O’Connor is a hard-working local MP.”
Willis said, “I want to see him win that electorate. I do [think he can win]. On the current public polling, he’s ahead.
“I know that local voters have seen that he’s got a track record of delivering for them locally, that he works hard on the ground, that he knows the businesses, he knows the communities.
“No, no, [I’m not going to call Bennett],” Willis said. “She left parliament a long time ago. She’s not answerable to me and she can make her own decision.”
Willis said she had “quite a bit of respect to do with her and I have respect for her”.
It comes after van Velden posted a photograph of herself with Bennett sharing some coffee and tea.
Van Velden captioned the photograph saying “[It was] great to catch up with my friend @paulabennettmp in St Heliers this morning.”
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Chris Hipkins and National leader Christopher Luxon have criticised the Electoral Commission, with an estimated 1.4 million Kiwis yet to receive their easy vote cards.
The Electoral Commission said more than 3.4 million EasyVote packs are being sent to voters with about 2 million already delivered, and the remaining expected to be delivered in the coming days.
“The Electoral Commission should have made sure voters had their easy vote cards before voting started,” Hipkins told reporters in a Zoom call today.
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The Labour leader added: “The Electoral Commission has one job, which is to run a successful election for all New Zealanders. Being this far into the election and having that many New Zealanders not have an Easy Vote card - and therefore believing they can’t vote because they don’t have it - isn’t acceptable.”
He said the Labour party secretary had raised the issue with the Electoral Commission. Hipkins said there were “a million” voters who still hadn’t received their Easy Vote packs.
Luxon also said it was “disappointing” the Electoral Commission hadn’t sent out a number of Easy Vote packs yet, and a voter had told him this morning that they were confused about whether they could vote without one.
Earlier today, Auckland Mayor Wayne Brown fired a shot at Christopher Luxon after the National Party leader sought to ease any worries about reduced transport funding by pointing to the hundreds of millions of dollars that remain in the council kitty.
Hipkins also criticised the plan, saying it’s a case of “robbing Peter to pay Paul”.
Asked about this shortfall while campaigning in Christchurch yesterday, Luxon said there was still money to continue that project while he had constructive talks with Brown after the election.
“There’s $300 million unspent at the moment in that account, that can be used to continue that project... We want to introduce ultimately a congestion charging mechanism,” Luxon said.
“Those are the conversations that we will have to make sure that it’s synced up and that it’s lined up.”
Brown’s office responded late last night: “Comments about unspent funds from the regional fuel tax miss the point. Those funds have already been committed to projects that are under way, like the Eastern Busway. Just cancelling those projects mid-delivery by cutting off the funds doesn’t work.”
Brown supports removing the regional fuel tax but only if it is replaced with other funding, without which there would be “a large pothole in the transport budget”. This would see rates rise by 7 per cent or force the cancellation of $2.4b worth of transport projects.
“That includes sensible projects like the Eastern Busway, upgrades to Lake Rd, Glenvar Rd, Lincoln Rd and Botany to Airport buses,” the statement said.
“After the election, the Mayor looks forward to sitting down with the Government, whomever that may be, and working out a plan that makes sense for Auckland.”
Luxon was responding to Chris Hipkins’ claims of further holes in National’s plans, while the Labour leader fended off National’s claims that he was about to be rolled so Labour could adopt the wealth tax and capital gains tax that Hipkins has rejected.
Hipkins, speaking from Covid-19 isolation, says he’s feeling better but is still testing positive.
“I know the Labour team has been out promoting our plan,” he said. “They’ll keep doing that while I’m isolating.”
Hipkins also mentioned the Auckland Mayor’s warning about the removal of the Regional Fuel Tax.
“It’s another case of robbing Peter to pay Paul,” Hipkins said.
“It’s too much of a risk with Christopher Luxon,” he said.
Responding to National’s criticism Labour hadn’t made any progress reducing poverty or improving health outcomes for Māori, Hipkins pointed to smoking cessation, life expectancy increases and the building of 13,000 new “public homes”.
Speaking on the Reserve Bank’s official cash rate, Hipkins said inflation in other countries “was proving to be quite sticky”.
“It’s another example of why now is not the time for tax cuts.
“Our plan is working. We are seeing inflation in New Zealand come back down again.
“It’s going to continue to trend down. A change in government will likely see inflation go up again.
“Any benefits people get from their tax cuts would be quickly whisked away by increasing prices.”
Hipkins repeated his availability for the Press’ leaders’ debate on any day from Friday and next Thursday, but Luxon said he was “flat out” and unable to find room in his diary.
Hipkins has been trying to portray this as Luxon “running for cover because he knows it will show him up” on the many holes he sees in National’s numbers and the impact of National’s welfare policy on child poverty. Luxon has rejected this, adding that indexing benefit levels to inflation is a better reflection of changes to the cost of living.
Hipkins continued to question National’s revenue expectations for its proposed foreign buyers tax, which economists have described as a $2b hole. And aside from the impact of cutting Auckland’s regional fuel tax, he pointed to the lack of allocated funding in National’s plans for water infrastructure if Three Waters was scrapped - which is also part of National’s 100-day plan.
National’s alternative to Three Waters is to allow councils to band together for borrowing purposes if they choose to, and Luxon said central government funding could be made available to authorities that still needed help. This could come from the $9.9b in unallocated operating allowance over four years and $8b in capital allowance in National’s fiscal plan.
The country’s 30-year investment shortfall in water infrastructure has been estimated at anywhere between $90b and $185b.
Luxon visited a retirement village and a mall in Christchurch while announcing longer post-natal stays for the mothers of new babies (from two days to three), free Continuous Glucose Monitors (CGMs) for under-18s with type 1 diabetes, and more training places for psychiatrists and clinical psychologists.
The increase in post-natal stays was costed at $19m a year, while for CGMs it was $5.2m a year.
Hipkins said there was no tangible benefit in the announcement.
“They announced 72-hour stays for women in the hospital when they campaigned back in 2009 and, in reality, the average length of stay that women had in hospital following the birth of a child didn’t change. Women can stay in hospital for as long as they have a medical need to stay in hospital now.”
He also noted that Pharmac is partway through the process of funding CGMs, though it has been criticised for slow progress.
National’s health spokesman Shane Reti said National wanted to extend CGM availability to pregnant women aged 18 to 25, then those aged over 25 and then those with type 2 diabetes - though there was no timeline for this rollout.
Luxon rejected any suggestion that he had chickened out of the Press’ leaders’ debate, saying if Hipkins wanted to debate people he disagreed with he could talk tax with caucus colleagues David Parker and Ingrid Leary.
Parker made headlines when he dumped his Revenue portfolio after Hipkins snubbed a wealth tax, while Leary made comments in a public meeting about her personal support for a Capital Gains Tax and a fairer, transparent tax system.
Leary told the Herald her comments about the tax system were a reference to the Tax Principles Act, which became law this year and aims to increase transparency and understanding via a new reporting framework.
She said she supported Hipkins despite him ruling out a CGT, as did his predecessor Dame Jacinda Ardern, who was one of many in the caucus who personally supported it but said that she had no mandate for it.
And Labour’s Wellington Central candidate Ibrahim Omer told a meeting recently that Labour “had not given up” on the idea of a wealth tax, which earned him a rebuke from Hipkins who said Omer was “wrong”. Omer later said he was trying to tell voters that it wasn’t on the table for the next term.
This all suggested that a wealth tax and/or a CGT would be adopted in a Labour-Greens-Te Pāti Māori governing arrangement, said National’s campaign chairman Chris Bishop, or at least taken up by Labour as soon as Hipkins was rolled.
“The Labour Party caucus is desperate for this. They want a wealth tax,” Bishop said.
“They’ve got the Green Party absolutely gagging for a wealth tax and more capital gains taxes. If you vote for Labour, the Greens or the Māori Party, there is going to be a wealth tax or a capital gains tax or likely going to be both.”
Hipkins laughed this off as “hilarious misinformation”.
Meanwhile, Act leader David Seymour also released a health policy, aimed at getting the best out of Pharmac and improving access to new medicines.
This would be achieved, he said, by requiring the Ministry of Health to publish a medicines strategy every two years, which would ensure regular performance reporting and international benchmarking of Pharmac.
It would also require MedSafe to approve within one week any drug or medical device that has been approved by two foreign regulatory bodies with comparable systems to New Zealand.
New Zealand First released a long-standing policy of having referenda on social issues instead of conscience votes in Parliament by MPs. These typically happen on social issues such as same-sex marriage, euthanasia or abortion.
Today Luxon will continue his South Island tour, while Hipkins will be in his hotel room again, watching from the sidelines as his team takes up the campaign charge. But he will hold another press conference via Zoom.
Derek Cheng is a senior journalist who started at the Herald in 2004. He has worked several stints in the press gallery and is a former deputy political editor.