Labour’s Grant Robertson has taken a series of potshots at the National Party and its leader Christopher Luxon in his speech to the Labour Party conference, a move he said was intended to spell out what was “at stake” in the next election.
In a speech to the Labour delegates, Robertson took several jabs at Luxon, from his tax cuts package to his climate change credentials – including Luxon’s recent statement on gas mining and comment about using New Zealand’s ocean as a carbon sink.
There were 19 references to National, and nine to Luxon in his speech – he later denied his frequent references to the Nats leader meant he was worried about the threat Luxon posed at the ballot boxes.
Robertson described the National Party as “inexperienced, out of touch and stuck in the past”.
“The tune has never changed for National. The band used to be called Ruth Richardson and The Knights of the Round Table, now it’s called Chris Luxon and the TrickleDowners.”
He had a go at National deputy Nicola Willis, saying she was “reheating” Bill English’s leftovers on social investments, and reprised his attempts to liken National’s tax cuts policy to short-lived British Prime Minister Liz Truss – dubbing him “Liz Luxon”.
He had a go at Luxon’s recent visit to the McDonald’s he worked in as a teenager: “Chris Luxon might be flipping burgers at McDonald’s but the only ones he’s serving are the wealthy few”.
Luxon said he was busy visiting an aged-care facility and so had not heard about Robertson’s comments.
However, the speech later drew a response from Willis, who said Robertson should be focusing on his job rather than name-calling.
“It’s disappointing to see the Minister of Finance resorting to name-calling and petty political attacks.
“Labour should stop talking about National and refocus on delivering for struggling New Zealanders who expect the Government to do better for them.”
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is expected to announce a further cost of living measure on Sunday – but Labour were downplaying any expectations it would be a significant package, pointing to Robertson’s caution about the need for spending restraint in his speech.
Speaking to media afterwards, Robertson said his intention had been to spell out what was “at stake” in 2023 – and he thought it was fair tactics for an election that was likely to be close.
“The blocks are close and people have to think about what is at risk if National gets in.”
Asked why he thought people had turned from Labour since 2020, he said 2022 had been the hardest year of the pandemic for New Zealand, because it had had to adjust to having Covid-19 in the community.
“It’s been a difficult time for people and I don’t underestimate the cost-of-living crisis on people’s pockets. So right now, people are really feeling it.”
In his speech, Robertson also warned delegates he would have to make some tough decisions in the coming months but promised it would not come at the expense of those on low incomes.
He said the high spending during Covid-19 had helped “get people through, [however] we now have to carefully moderate our rates of spending to rebuild our finances”.
“There are tough choices ahead. But I tell you this. A Labour Government will never put the burden of those choices on those who can least afford it. We will not cut the services that are their lifelines. We will not preach austerity, while lining our pockets with tax cuts as National would do.”
Robertson defended Labour’s decision to continue to push through the controversial Three Waters reforms, confirming Ardern’s comments to the Herald yesterday that it would not be scrapped.
He also defended the Covid-19 response, saying the Government had known all along the best economic response was the best health response.
“There were no costless decisions in Covid, and we will never claim perfection, but I am proud of our Covid response.”
He pointed to economic indicators such as the low unemployment rate - “this didn’t happen by accident. We worked hard to equip people with the skills to get jobs.”
Labour’s conference kicked off earlier this morning with speeches to the delegates from outgoing party president Claire Szabó and incoming president Jill Day.
Szabó, who has been president since November 2019, told delegates the upcoming election campaign was set to be a much more confrontational one than they had faced before.
She urged them to be prepared for that. The party has been training welfare officers to help with difficult situations – whether internally or with constituents, and she hoped there would be one on each campaign.
She said the party’s financial position was continuing to improve and thanked delegates for their fundraising efforts.
However, she asked delegates to support a proposal to increase the levies each electorate paid to the party – ranging from a few hundred dollars into the thousands – saying the party was overhauling its financial strategy to try to ensure it was more sustainable rather than subject to the waxing and waning of party popularity.
“The need to bolster against a future winter season now, while the sun is still shining.”
That proposal was later passed in the party’s general meeting.