9 Feb 2023

Hipkins, Luxon clash over policy and climate in Tauranga

5:30 pm on 9 February 2023
Hipkins and Luxon

rime Minister Chris Hipkins, opposition leader Christopher Luxon at the the Treaty grounds at Waitangi. Photo: RNZ / Ella Stewart

Labour leader Chris Hipkins and National leader Chris Luxon have defended their records on climate change and traded barbs over a lack of ideas.

Hipkins yesterday made what he billed as the first and one of the most significant cuts to Labour's policy programme, announcing moves to scrap the RNZ-TVNZ merger projects and kick a range of other policies down the road to refocus on the cost of living.

He also promised review and consultation over the contested Three Waters project, but has ruled out scrapping it completely.

National and its MPs - through press releases and commentary - have been painting Hipkins' "reprioritisation" as merely delaying Labour's ideological pet projects, saying they will be back on the table after the election.

During today's visit to Ara Rau Pathways to Work offices in Tauranga today, he gave a flat "no" when asked if that was accurate.

"Look, I mean, I've come to accept that the National Party just like to sort of whinge and moan about things, it's difficult to have a contest of ideas with them when they don't really seem to have any," he said.

"We've been very transparent about the things that are not going to happen and the things that we're taking some more time on, to have another look at to make sure that we're doing the right thing there."

Prime Minister Chris Hipkins - backed by Education Minister Jan Tinetti and Bay of Plenty-based MP Tāmati Coffey - visits the Ara Rau Pathways to Work offices in Tauranga.

Prime Minister Chris Hipkins - backed by Education Minister Jan Tinetti and Bay of Plenty-based MP Tāmati Coffey - visits the Ara Rau Pathways to Work offices in Tauranga. Photo: RNZ / Libby Kirkby-McLeod

Luxon - also in Tauranga - was similarly defensive when those comments were put to him.

"Look, I mean, that's a bit rich," he said. "We've just seen a prime minister cancel a huge amount of projects that have been a stupendous waste of time, energy and money for New Zealand ... it's quite incredible to me.

"It's been 'let's do this', and then 'let's not do this'."

National leader Christopher Luxon, backed by MP for Tauranga Sam Uffindell, visits Ōtūmoetai College.

National leader Christopher Luxon, backed by MP for Tauranga Sam Uffindell, visits Ōtūmoetai College. Photo: RNZ / Libby Kirkby-McLeod

"Chris Hipkins has been part of this Labour government and been in the engine room under Jacinda Ardern and Grant Robertson driving all of that agenda and it's rather disingenuous and some clever Jedi mind trick, really, if you say that 'actually, I've got nothing to do with that, and now I believe this'."

He listed a series of policies National had proposed as ideas: The five-point plan for dealing with inflation, the youth offenders policy, the Welfare that Works policy, the gang crackdown policy.

"What we're seeing is very cynical election-year politics, but the reality is you can't trust Labour because I can tell you right now Three Waters, the Grant Robertson job tax, it's still happening. It's still coming."

He said National had been talking about the need to tackle the cost of living for 15 months now.

"And we've had a government completely, utterly distracted talking about TVNZ and RNZ mergers, Three Waters, national insurance income jobs taxes ... Chris Hipkins has got to own up to that."

Climate change

A plan to force fuel retailers to mix in some biofuel - in an effort to curb emissions - was among those consigned to the regulatory flames yesterday.

In the wake of record flooding in Auckland and other northern areas, and with a tropical cyclone bearing down on the country, Hipkins was quick to defend his climate credentials - saying he was "absolutely not" less committed to emissions reduction than predecessor Jacinda Ardern.

He said the government's commitment to the emissions budgets - which calculate how much New Zealand must reduce to meet its targets - were unchanged.

"Our commitments remain the same, but what we've indicated is that the biofuels mandate has a number of limitations," he said.

"There are other comparable emissions reductions initiatives that we've got in that first period that we can look to either expand, or there are other mechanisms that we might want to use."

He said some environmental groups had also opposed the biofuels plan, and highlighted the GIDI initiative as achieving similar results.

The government was keeping "a real watching brief" on the approaching cyclone.

"We do expect that there are going to be more extreme weather events, and we all need to be prepared for that so at a government level we're making sure that we're ready to respond quickly when called upon to do so."

Luxon argued the government was talking a big game when it came to climate, but "when you get to the delivery, our emissions profile hasn't changed, we import three times the amount of coal that we used to under any year in a National government".

He talked up his own experience with reducing emissions in the business world.

"I did that at Unilever, I did it at Air New Zealand, I did it with the business community here in New Zealand with the Aotearoa circle, and Climate Leaders Coalition.

"We can do well by doing good ... I believe that, you know, deeply.

National's point of difference was in looking at what the government could do which was unique compared to business or community sectors, he said - highlighting carbon capture, resource planning, research and development and renewable energy.

"I think it's taken an awful amount of time of many in our renewable electricity projects, where you've got massive amounts of capital - joint venture partners in it, they've got risks, they've got commercial business cases - and the resource consenting takes so long that it becomes quite different.

"The commercial case becomes quite different, and they don't happen."

He also repeated previous statements about emergency response and resilience, saying New Zealand needed better systems.

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