26 Oct 2022

Luxon wants quotas for health, none for National's caucus diversity

1:00 pm on 26 October 2022

National leader Christopher Luxon has ruled out quotas for building diversity and addressing unconscious bias within his party.

Christopher Luxon

National Party Leader Christopher Luxon says diversity can be sold to members as a way to strengthen the party's position. Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

However, he wants a refocus on healthcare targets, saying such an approach is the best way to achieve change and save lives.

Luxon's comments come as Soraya Peke-Mason was sworn into Parliament yesterday, replacing the outgoing speaker Trevor Mallard as a labour list MP. There are now 60 women MPs and 59 male MPs with the House.

With a by-election seat up for grabs in Hamilton West in December, the National Party is under pressure to add some diversity to a largely male caucus in Parliament.

Luxon acknowledged the need for change and more diversity in his party, but told Morning Report selecting a candidate was the business of the local party constituency and that quota targets within his party would not operate.

He said diversity could be effectively sold to his members as a way to strengthen the party's position.

The National Party caucus is made up of 33 percent woman, 6 percent Māori, 3 percent Asian and no Pasifika.

"We've gone through a process of, actually over the summer period, making sure that we can select candidates and make sure that we overcome any unconscious bias in our organisation, to make sure we get a more diverse caucus and line-up for next year," he said.

Any unconscious bias within the party was being addressed by consulting with electorate chairpersons and committees to make sure they understood the need for diversity and why it led to better organisations, Luxon added.

"It's my own experience coming through in Air New Zealand, where we had only 16 percent of women in the top 100 jobs and, in a very short period of time, we were able to move that through close to 50-50.

"So, it's quite possible - you just have to actually make sure that you're looking at talent pools and pools of talent and we have been doing that.

"We've been engaging with people who are interested in being potential candidates for the National Party, coming from very strong and diverse backgrounds, and they'll be added to our team, and we'll be a much better party as a result."

Luxon said the candidate for the Hamilton West by-election would be announced early next month, after the local party apparatus made its decision.

"It's a great process to actually go through, because each candidate has to meet local members and supporters and make their case and sell to people on why they think they would represent their community."

He said the party did not have a ratio goal for its caucus, but that candidates from diverse backgrounds would be announced throughout 2023.

"I won't work through a quota system per se. You've got to make the case for diversity and people have actually got to cross the Rubicon and see the huge value in having a more diverse organisation," he said.

However, Luxon is pushing for a greater focus on quotas in addressing problems within the crisis-hit health system.

"We need to reinstate healthcare targets," he said.

"All the targets have been taken down and every single health metric after five years of failure of this government have gone backwards. And so, what we really need to do is we know, the research shows us very clearly that we'd put targets and say an emergency department that actually saves lives."

He said workforce shortfalls should be addressed pragmatically, including the use of Parliament's emergency powers.

"We could actually fast track nurses into a pathway to residency immediately - we could do that under emergency powers," he said.

"We could pass all legislation, we could get that sorted today if we really wanted to. And that's necessary, because we're not being competitive in our offerings and our pitch to overseas folks who want to come and work in New Zealand in the nursing sector."

Luxon said too much funding had been spent on building of systems of "bureaucracy".

The government has been structuring the health system within one centralised service under Te Whatu Ora Health New Zealand, moving away from having multiple district health boards.

"I think the thing about funding is that you need to make sure that we can move the funding from the back office to the frontline services that mean this thing and doctors, nurses and ICU beds and services and all that stuff. And that's not happening because we're in a building a big bureaucracy," he said.

Luxon rejected criticism of quotas by New Zealand Association of General Surgeons president Vanessa Blair, who said these were unhelpful and lead to rash decisions being made.

"We had a really good set of targets about what are the key outcomes that New Zealand has, having paid their taxes expect from a healthcare system.

"And when you go from 1000 people waiting more than four months to see their first specialist appointment to now up to over 30,000 people.

"That is really important ... that's what matters most to New Zealanders as delivering improved outcomes."

The National Party leader stood by his position of wanting to get rid of the Māori Health Authority.

"We are ruthlessly focused on improving outcomes for all New Zealanders, Māori and non-Māori," he said.