20 Sep 2023

National's Christopher Luxon fronts up on lunches, housing

12:32 pm on 20 September 2023
Christopher Luxon campaigning in Wellington

(File photo) Christopher Luxon campaigning in Wellington. Photo: RNZ / Angus Dreaver

National's leader Christopher Luxon says he misheard a question in last night's debate about free school lunches, and will not be rolling it out to all schools.

He also said being a leader requires being "straight up" with people, and he would fess up and take responsibility if his policies push up house prices or the tax plan falls short.

Appearing on RNZ on Wednesday, Luxon said he enjoyed the 1News first leaders debate the previous night, saying it was a "chance to get our position across".

He also got across a position that wasn't his, however, when he answered a question about whether the free school lunches programme should be rolled out to all schools.

"Actually I misheard that question, I thought it was in the context of existing policy," he told Morning Report host Ingrid Hipkiss.

He explained National's policy was to continue the policy for lower socio-economic schools, but make it more efficient - rather than expand it.

"What I meant by that was the targeted approach the government has today is somehting we'll continue with," he said. "There's probably things we want to look at to make sure that we got the delivery and the execution of it right."

Trust and housing

Hipkiss asked if he was surprised Labour's Chris Hipkins said he didn't trust Luxon "to be up-front and honest with New Zealanders ... if he was he'd release his secret costings".

Luxon said Hipkins was using fear and personal attacks: "that's what it's about when you've got no record and no ideas".

"As I said to him there's a range of opinions from economists, they're debating our policy, I get it, but no one's debating the GST off fruit and vegetables, no one thinks that's a good idea. Not even [Labour finance spokesperson] Grant Robertson thinks it's a good idea, or his own tax working group.

"We've had our numbers verified by independent economists and there've been other commentators that have come out and said they're quite plausible, and I'm very confident in our numbers."

National has not yet released the economists' full report, and has consistently refused to explain how it came up with its estimates of how much it could raise via new taxes and public service cuts.

Asked whether he would confess to New Zealanders if the funding were to fall short of the party's assumptions, he said it was "an absolute requirement of any sort of leader of any sort of organisation or a country ... to be straight up with people".

"You've got to front with people and be straight up with them."

He insisted the party's tax plan was "fully funded", brushing past questions over how he could prioritise tax cuts as well as increasing education and health funding.

"We've designed it this way months ago knowing that there was a deteriorating economic situaiton. But we are determined to get tax relief to low and middle income working New Zealanders," he said.

Luxon also rejected economists' expectations house prices would rise faster under National's policies, saying it was a problem of supply.

"No. No, our policies are going to be increasing the supply in the home ownership market, increasing supply in the rental market, and increasing the supply of state houses, social houses," he said.

"We've got to do everything we can to actually build more houses, that's increasing supply, we have plenty of space to do that, we are very poor at actually using our consenting processes."

National has a policy of requiring councils to immediately zone enough land for 30 years of demand, but would also remove the requirement for major cities to allow medium-density housing.

Hipkiss pushed him on whether he would take responsibility if his policies did push up house prices.

"Yep. I want to make sure that it's possible for New Zealanders to actually get themselves into a house. For that to happen I have to build more houses and it's the supply of those houses and the number of houses that are supplied that will ultimately determine the house prices," Luxon said.

He also defended National's Hamilton East candidate Ryan Hamilton, who this week disavowed his former views about fluoride and vaccine mandates.

"We appreciate not everyone's coming to Parliament perfect, otherwise you'd have no one in Parliament, frankly," Luxon said.

"I just say to you - yep, Grant Robertson changed his position on a wealth tax and GST off fruit and vegetables as well, so clearly people change their positions once they become better educated about an issue and determine exactly what the right response should be."

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