8 Feb 2023

Christopher Luxon hijacked by anti-vaxxers, conspiracists at packed public meeting

8:55 pm on 8 February 2023

By Martin van Beynen of Stuff

Christopher Luxon at public meeting in Rangiora

Christopher Luxon at the public meeting in Rangiora. Photo: Stuff / Chris Skelton

When Opposition leader Christopher Luxon steps from his car into the baking heat of Rangiora, he has probably been warned he could be in for a roasting.

So when he enters the Rangiora Town Hall, which doubles as a theatre and cinema, hopes of a rousing welcome, an adoring audience and plenty of warm fuzzies might have already faded.

It is Tuesday and only 249 days to the election. Rangiora is in the bellwether seat of Waimakariri, where popular MP National Matt Doocey sits on a 1500 majority.

Luxon is due to speak at 2.30pm but people, perhaps worried about getting a park and a seat, start arriving an hour before. As they stream in, they do not look like trouble. Doocey is there to greet and meet, and seems to know most of them.

They are mainly retirees, the women, white haired and cheerful in summer frocks, the men, balding pates tanned by the hot summer, in shorts and sensible shoes. By 2.30pm the place is packed with about 400 people, not all of them, as it turns out, there to hear the good news.

North Canterbury has more than its fair share of the lunatic fringe - diehard anti-vaxxers, incorrigible conspiracy theorists and wacky obsessives. It houses Dr Jonie Girouard, who handed out fake medical certificates to support vaccine exemptions, and the sign writer who forged vaccine passes. It's home to Derek Tait, the Harley-riding Destiny Church pastor who has led anti-mandate marches.

The first sign of potential trouble is the arrival of far-right conspiracy theorists Kelvyn Alp and his pregnant partner Hannah Spierer.

Hannah Spierer at Christopher Luxon's public meeting in Rangiora

Hannah Spierer asks a question with partner Kelvyn Alp to the right. Photo: Stuff / Chris Skelton

A late turn-up is tiny homes builder Colin Wightman who believes the government is carrying out a United Nations agenda of communism and depopulation.

The cheerful Doocey warms up the audience and relays the news that Luxon will be able to stay longer because his next meeting has been cancelled.

The assembly listens politely to a persuasive 15-minute spiel from Luxon, where he goes through the messages he will continue to hammer. National will be tough on crime, fix health and education, spend money on services rather than bureaucrats, get the economy growing and rein in the cost of living.

He gets his first round of applause and a "hear, hear" when he says: "The country is totally, utterly, completely going in the wrong direction at the moment... We are fundamentally not getting things done.''

Christopher Luxon at public meeting in Rangiora

The National leader addresses the audience, telling them the country is "going in the wrong direction at the moment". Photo: Stuff / Chris Skelton

But that is the last audible affirmation for a while. He tries hard enough. He mentions "crazy ideological pet projects", "stealing assets from locals", "giving back more of your money", and "one country, one system" without much love coming back.

The first question comes from local businessman Gordon about Three Waters. Luxon, who wants to scrap the reform, gives a reasoned six-minute answer and is rewarded with perfunctory applause.

Then the meeting comes alive with clapping and cheering after a retired midwife asks "when are you going to drop the mandate on health employees?" Luxon says he doesn't see the need for the mandates.

He rides the wave with more talk about the health system.

"This is not the time to create a mega bureaucracy sitting in Wellington. Not the time to be creating a separate Māori health authority and we are going to scrap it." More clapping.

Next question. She is a fifth generation New Zealander, a nurse, and married to a sheep and beef farmer. "Are you aware of this FDA document that lists 1200 adverse events of these injections," she asks.

"I haven't read the report," Luxon says to jeers and cries of: "You should have read it. You should know that."

"New Zealanders need to know," says the fifth generation New Zealander, to the noisiest applause of the afternoon so far. Someone chides Luxon for not answering the nurse's question.

"I thought the question was, 'have I read it?' No I haven't. I'm happy to read it," Luxon says testily.

(The document was released last year after a US court ordered the US Food and Drug administration to release it. Vaccine opponents have claimed it shows 1200 vaccine-related deaths in the first three months after roll-out. This is a misrepresentation of the data. Nowhere in the report does it say the deaths were linked to the vaccine. Particular adverse event reports do not necessarily indicate an adverse event is caused by the drug.)

"It was all a fraud," says a furious retiree with a big stomach and glasses sitting in the back row.

Then comes a question about Ngāi Tahu closing coastal campgrounds in Kaikōura.

As part of his answer Luxon says: "Treaty settlements are full and final. We don't renegotiate treaty settlements." Applause.

Back to Pfizer. A woman claims her mother had two strokes caused by the shots that were forced on her by the hospital.

"I believe in alternative health and this therapeutic bill that is going through at the moment is just heinous." Loud applause. "Mentally what are you going to do for this country?" More applause.

Luxon starts wrapping up the meeting. Cries of outrage come from the audience.

"We have more questions.

"You said you were going to extend the questions.

"We have a country that's falling apart. More questions.

"So much for transparency." Boos and slow clapping follow.

A man tells this reporter: "He doesn't want to answer about Pfizer. That's where they get their billions. I've always voted National but I'm going to vote Act this time."

Tricia Isle, from Kaiapoi, believes Luxon excelled.

"I thought it was great. It was so good to be able to listen to him without being interrupted by the news media. I get so frustrated because they cut him off or spin it around. He's really likeable. It's a pity people don't see more of that."

Afterwards Doocey doesn't seem too downhearted.

"This is what happens when you have public meetings. They don't feel heard."

He expects Luxon and other politicians will face more of the same around the country.

* This story was first published on the Stuff website.

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