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 one of its first priorities 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.”
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.
“Dangerously close to endorsing conspiracy theories” - Hipkins
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 to allow the government to consider these against a ‘national interest test’” by December 1 (Friday).
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.
While its International Health Regulations, which govern cross-border diseases such as pandemics, are an instrument of international law that is legally-binding, like any international institution the WHO has no enforcement power on member countries. Essentially, the WHO cannot dictate what its member states choose to do.
Negotiations among the 194 member states on new rules for dealing with pandemics are under way, which relates to the Government’s new policy.
“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.”
Luxon said yesterday the timing was simply that it was a decision that needed to be taken in two days, the first of December, and so they wanted to take a pause and make sure there was some national interest.
Former Prime Minister Helen Clark, a former co-chair of The Independent Panel for Pandemic Preparedness and Response at the WHO, tweeted that it was “incomprehensible” why National had supported the policy.
“The International Health Regulations need strengthening to improve protection against pandemic threats. It’s incomprehensible that any [ New Zealand Government] would seek to block reforms. Does the National Party actually understand what it’s agreed to with NZ First?”
Labour’s new portfolios
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, who has moved up 10 places to ninth on the list, would also hold Social Investment and Prevention of Family and Sexual Violence.
Other big movers include Barbara Edmonds
Deputy leader Carmel Sepuloni remains second on the list and spokeswoman for Social Development, while also taking on Child Poverty, Pacific Peoples and Auckland Issues.
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).
Woods, ranked number four, would also hold Energy and Resources.
Verrall will retain health while also taking on the new portfolio of Wellington Issues.
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.
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 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 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.
Labour’s Opposition portfolios
Chris Hipkins MP for Remutaka - Leader of the Opposition, Spokesperson for: Ministerial Services, and National Security and Intelligence
Carmel Sepuloni MP for Kelston - Deputy Leader of the Opposition, Spokesperson for: Social Development, Pacific Peoples, Auckland Issues, and Child Poverty Reduction
Grant Robertson List MP - Spokesperson for: Finance, and Racing
Dr Megan Woods MP for Wigram - Spokesperson for: Climate Change, Energy, Resources, and Associate Finance
Willie Jackson List MP - Spokesperson for: Māori Development, Broadcasting and Media, Employment, Associate Housing, and Associate Workplace Relations and Safety
Dr Ayesha Verrall List MP - Spokesperson for: Health, Public Service, and Wellington Issues
Kieran McAnulty List MP - Shadow Leader of the House, Spokesperson for: Housing, Local Government, and Regional Development
Willow-Jean Prime List MP - Spokesperson for: Children, Youth, and Associate Education (Māori)
Ginny Andersen List MP - Spokesperson for: Police, Prevention of Family and Sexual Violence, Social Investment and Associate Social Development
Jan Tinetti List MP - Spokesperson for: Education, and Women
Barbara Edmonds MP for Mana - Spokesperson for: Economic Development, Infrastructure, and Associate Finance
Peeni Henare List MP - Spokesperson for: Defence, Sport and Recreation, and Associate Health
Priyanca Radhakrishnan List MP - Spokesperson for: Conservation, Disability Issues, NZSIS, and GCSB
Jo Luxton List MP - Spokesperson for: Agriculture, Biosecurity, and Rural Communities
Dr Duncan Webb MP for Christchurch Central - Deputy Shadow Leader of the House, Spokesperson for: Justice, Regulation, and Earthquake Commission, Christchurch Issues
Dr Deborah Russell List MP - Spokesperson for: Revenue, Science, Innovation and Technology, and Associate Education (Tertiary)
Rachel Brooking MP for Dunedin - Spokesperson for: Environment, Food Safety, and Space
Damien O’Connor List MP - Spokesperson for: Trade, Associate Foreign Affairs, and Associate Transport
David Parker List MP - Spokesperson for: Foreign Affairs, Shadow Attorney General, and Electoral Reform
Kelvin Davis List MP - Spokesperson for: Māori Crown Relations: Te Arawhiti, and Treaty of Waitangi Negotiations
Tangi Utikere MP for Palmerston North - Chief Whip, Spokesperson for: Transport, Oceans and Fisheries, and Associate Education (Pacific)
Camilla Belich List MP - Junior Whip, Spokesperson for: Workplace Relations and Safety, and Emergency Management
Arena Williams MP for Manurewa - Assistant Whip, Spokesperson for: Commerce and Consumer Affairs, Building and Construction, and State Owned Enterprises
Phil Twyford MP for Te Atatū - Spokesperson for: Immigration, Disarmament and Arms Control, and Associate Foreign Affairs
Greg O’Connor MP for Ōhāriu - Assistant Speaker, Spokesperson for: Courts, and Veterans
Jenny Salesa MP for Panmure‑Ōtāhuhu - Spokesperson for: Ethnic Communities, and Customs
Rachel Boyack MP for Nelson - Spokesperson for: ACC, Arts, Culture and Heritage, and Animal Welfare
Adrian Rurawhe List MP - Spokesperson for: Whānau Ora, and Associate Māori Development
Rino Tirikatene List MP - Corrections, and Land Information
Helen White MP for Mount Albert - Spokesperson for: Community and Voluntary Sector, Small Business and Manufacturing, and Associate Justice
Ingrid Leary MP for Taieri - Spokesperson for: Seniors, and Mental Health
Lemauga Lydia Sosene MP for Māngere - Spokesperson for: Internal Affairs, Associate Pacific Peoples, and Associate Social Development and Employment
Reuben Davidson MP for Christchurch East - Spokesperson for: Statistics, Digital Economy and Communications and Associate Broadcasting and Media
Cushla Tangaere‑Manuel MP for Ikaroa‑Rāwhiti - Spokesperson for: Tourism and Hospitality, Forestry and Cyclone Recovery