In a rare moment, Parliament achieved near-unity today, with MPs in hysterics following an unfortunate - or perhaps fortunate - slip-up from National’s finance spokeswoman Nicola Willis as she probed counterpart Grant Robertson.
During Question Time, Willis grilled the Finance Minister over the state of the books, accusing him of “spraying New Zealanders’ money around” and only now asking the public sector to “tighten its belt”, following reports of a meeting between Robertson and public service bosses and a larger-than-expected fiscal hole.
Robertson hit back, pointing to past and ongoing savings and arguing the real issue was Willis now “couldn’t pay for the promises that had already been made”.
In what was until then a tense exchange Willis then began to respond, “How big is his hole...?”, before pausing over the last word as she appeared to realise the potential interpretation of what she was saying.
What began with a few chuckles as the faux pas caught on - the crucial word “fiscal” missing - built up to full-throttled laughter across the House. Willis attempted to, very briefly, carry on before giving in to the moment. Her colleague Joseph Mooney could be seen behind her barely containing himself.
“That is not in the public interest, I assure you,” the typically quick-witted Robertson responded, only leading to further howls of laughter from MPs of all stripes.
Willis sought to compose herself and respond but had to give up several times.
“How big is... the New Zealand Government’s financial hole?” she was able to finally get out.
Speaking to reporters after Question Time, Willis admitted she was a little “embarrassed” by the event.
“Often my kids say to me, ‘What did you do at work today?’ And I guess this is a story that they will relate to more than some of the others.
“I’m really sorry to all the New Zealanders who are disappointed with that image,” she said.
“I think, you know, there’s a downside to being reactive with a supplementary question and obviously, no offence was intended by the remark.”
Just weeks ago, Robertson was also involved in a slightly more partisan comedic moment after he goaded National leader Christopher Luxon into breaking his focus as he pressed them about Hipkins’ disagreement with Robertson and David Parker over the wealth tax.
Luxon paused, before Robertson said, “No, no, carry on.” To which Luxon replied that he would.
“Don’t worry, we’ve got years of this...”
A brief second followed, in which the House couldn’t quite believe its collective ears. Then, the Labour benches erupted in peals of laughter at Luxon, inadvertently conceding he and National would be in Opposition for “years”.
It wasn’t the first time Robertson has been involved in a roasting of the National leader.
During Luxon’s first debate after taking on the top job, Robertson referred to the “National Party’s Grab A Seat sale” and Luxon’s decision to use a black Mercedes to drive the 100-metre journey from his apartment to Parliament on the day he was elected leader.