National Party leader Christopher Luxon made a big speech to the Employers and Manufacturers Association (EMA) in Auckland yesterday.
Yesterday was also when we learned it is now too late to stop sea levels rising by 30cm and, as a result, we will probably face so-called "one-in-100-year" weather events every year. In Auckland and Wellington, we're on track for this by 2040.
Luxon didn't mention climate change once in his speech. Asked about that afterwards, he said it was a speech about the problems facing business.
It won't have escaped many people that coastal erosion and frequent severe floods in our cities pose a really major problem for business.
Why didn't Luxon mention it? Is it because he thinks businesses don't care? When EMA boss Brett O'Riley introduced Luxon yesterday, he said he thinks the crises we face now are larger than at any time in living memory. But he didn't seem to be talking about the climate. He mentioned supply chains and education.
Most likely, though, Luxon didn't mention the climate crisis because it's not an issue he wants to fight the election on. He wants it to be about Labour's "addiction to spending" and the cost of living crisis that Labour is "helping to cause".
Labour's spending is largely driven by the pandemic response, National and Labour's historical lack of investment in services and infrastructure, and the need to refocus spending in the light of the climate crisis. And inflation is largely imported.
No matter. Luxon's one example of "the Government's culture of wasteful spending" was once again Te Huia, the passenger rail service between Hamilton and Auckland, which he says cost us $100 million.
The complaint misses the point in so many ways. For one, you can't measure the success of a service like that during a pandemic. Transport behaviour has been utterly atypical.
For another, when the service began, it ran only as far as Papakura. That is, at the Auckland end it was set up to fail, because the political will and infrastructure it needed weren't there.
Third, given the spending on transport, mainly roads, in Auckland and Waikato, that $100 million is a tiny amount of money. Fourth, the service costs $3 million a year to run. That's the relevant figure now.
And fifth, the service is an experimental first step in a bigger plan to increase transport efficiency and reduce transport emissions in the "golden triangle" bound by Auckland, Hamilton and Tauranga. Optimum fare prices, frequency and extent of passenger rail services in the entire Upper North Island, including Northland, will evolve and change over time.
Three cheers for Te Huia. It's a relatively small spend in the now-urgent search for climate-friendly ways for the economy to develop. May it be the start of something big.
Luxon makes a lot of what people are calling "gaffes". In recent weeks he's said public transport shouldn't be subsidised. His party is not interested in "bottom feeders", which is a reference to the very poor.
He suggested we cancel the Labour Day holiday. In the name of defending the "squeezed middle" he will introduce massive tax cuts for the rich. He sneered that the PM wouldn't know how to wear a pair of gumboots.
Are they gaffes? He's done it so often, it feels like compulsive behaviour. Perhaps he floundered around like this at Air New Zealand, blurting out whatever weird and wonderful idea was on his mind and then trying not to seem too humiliated when colleagues gently found ways to walk him back to reality.
The thing about Luxon's "gaffes" is that they all come from the same place. Unfortunately, it's a place of disdain for ordinary people and disinterest in how the ordinary world works.
Cancel Labour Day? He said later it was a joke, but why say it? Labour Day might mean nothing to him, but it's the only public holiday we have that celebrates a benefit won for working people.
The struggle for an eight-hour day was violently repressed in America and elsewhere, by the police and companies' own security guards. Here, we celebrate not just the cause but the way it was won, with protest leading to relatively peaceful political change that turned out not to ruin the economy or company profits.
It's true we don't often talk about it as such, but Labour Day is a celebration of social democracy.
As for public transport, where to start? Buses and trains have always been subsidised. So have roads: something like 70 per cent of public spending on transport in Auckland goes on roads.
So have airlines, which are also public transport. Air New Zealand has been propped up over the years by at least $2 billion of taxpayers' money.
One of Luxon's favourite phrases is the "squeezed middle". But if Luxon was serious about helping average-income earners, he would funnel more of the benefits of his tax policies towards them. Instead, those policies will give massive tax breaks to the wealthiest.
Removing the 39 per cent marginal top tax bracket would, as Tova O'Brien pointed out to Luxon on Today FM, mean that someone on his old salary at Air New Zealand is $270,000 a year better off.
What is the purpose of that? Surely it's not simply to encourage them to donate to the National Party.
I guess he's being consistent when he says he has "no idea" what Revenue Minister David Parker's new tax fairness reporting law will be for.
Luxon, along with his health spokesperson Shane Reti, has repeatedly said the new Māori Health Authority "by its own admission won't deliver a single improved Maori health outcome for at least five years".
This isn't true. It's Treasury's Regulatory Impact Statement they're quoting, and what it actually says is, "It is unlikely that results of change will be clear any sooner than five years". The reason: five years is the perfectly reasonable time that will pass before the first formal report is due. That's a very different thing.
In fact, some improvements will probably happen from day one, others will take a generation, most will be somewhere in between. It's a process.
Are we missing the point about Christopher Luxon?
It's common to think of him as Key-lite. That's a reference to former National PM John Key's relative agnosticism about ideology: policies that kept people confident were good, and that was that.
Key presented himself as "ordinary". Luxon behaves more like an entitled bloke with a messiah complex.
His complaints about "runaway" Government spending, even in a time of crisis, suggest he wants to dispense with the mixed-economy mechanisms that have made our economy one of the strongest in the OECD. That includes the very subsidies and other support that made it possible for many EMA members to be in that room at all yesterday.
Luxon wants more roads and doesn't talk about climate change. He complains about Māori "separatism" but has little to say about the systemic disadvantages faced by Māori, or the need for a profound rethink of how services are delivered.
He stressed the value of education yesterday, but hinted at a return to the wasted years when his party insisted the problems would be fixed with National Standards. He's looking backwards, to the old privileges.
It beggars belief the EMA is happy about this. Why don't its members rise up and demand better? After all, it's their businesses that face a very real risk of being drowned.