Prime Minister Chris Hipkins has addressed the Council of Trade Unions (CTU) advert which targets National leader Christopher Luxon, saying National and National-aligned organisations often attacked the Labour Party.
“The National Party and their surrogates, the Taxpayers’ Union, Groundswell, Hobson’s Pledge and so on have been attacking me since the day I took on the job,” Hipkins said.
”We have a pretty, nasty despicable attack on Nanaia Mahuta - the Taxpayers’ Union did that one,” he said.
“I think it is incredibly thin-skinned.”
Hipkins said National was complaining about the negative ads to distract from questions over the costing of its tax policy.
“I don’t believe we are running a negative campaign,” Hipkins said.
The ad, which is in the Herald newspaper today and has been seen in Auckland, features a black-and-white image of Luxon above the words: “Out Of Touch. Too Much Risk.”
The campaign was accidentally launched last week on a digital billboard in Auckland. CTU president Richard Wagstaff said last week it had not been authorised by him to be put up and the union was yet to sign off on the final version.
The advertising firm involved had reportedly apologised and taken the ad down.
National campaign chairman Chris Bishop criticised the ad in a statement this morning, saying it was a “nasty American-style attack ad”.
“Serious questions need to be asked of Chris Hipkins about how much he knew of his union mates’ relentlessly negative and scurrilous campaign.
“It’s hard to believe Labour didn’t know about it when a former adviser to Grant Robertson is now a senior staffer at the CTU and an active Labour Party volunteer,” Bishop said, a reference to CTU economist Craig Renney, who used to work for Robertson.
Hipkins said Chris Bishop’s allegation Labour had ditched Jacinda Ardern’s “kindness” mantra was “a bit rich”.
”It’s a bit rich from the National Party given the level of their attack advertising almost every day of the year since I took on this job,” he said.
Hipkins, who led his party’s campaign launch in Auckland on Saturday, spent today in Wellington visiting health facilities following his promise to provide free dental care for under-30s, starting in mid-2025, and the Government’s move to scrap the $5 prescription fee.
Joined by Health Minister Dr Ayesha Verrall and local candidates Ibrahim Omer and Fleur Fitzsimons, Hipkins heard from staff at the Newtown Union Health Service.
They welcomed the dental policy and the ditching the prescription fee, noting the latter had reportedly led to more people getting necessary medication.
Service board chairman Tim Rochford spoke at length about the social determinants of health, such as poor housing, which were influencing poorer health outcomes. He stressed the health system couldn’t argue it wasn’t responsible for addressing those determinants, something Hipkins appeared to agree with.
Limited workforce was an issue for the centre and Rochford advocated for more Māori and Pasifika staffers, which he believed would lead to greater engagement from minorities.
Covid-19 was consuming less of the centre’s time, with influenza and RSV becoming more prominent.
Following comments about the free dental policy, Verrall said she supported more aspects of healthcare that could be made free or subsidised.
A spokesperson for Verrall refused an interview request to clarify her comments, saying Labour’s health manifesto would be released in the coming weeks.
Hipkins then walked to the nearby Castle Pharmacy, where pharmacist Shahlaa Al Salih told the Labour leader more people were picking up their prescriptions thanks to the Government scrapping the fee.
Labour and National launched their campaigns in Auckland over the weekend. 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.
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.
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.