29 Nov 2023

Christopher Luxon's lack of control of Winston Peters 'does not bode well for future' - Hipkins

1:01 pm on 29 November 2023
Chris Hipkins

Labour leader Chris Hipkins with health spokesperson Ayesha Verrall and finance spokesperson Grant Robertson. Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

Chris Hipkins has used his first press conference as Opposition leader to accuse Prime Minister Christopher Luxon of having lost control of his government.

Speaking at Parliament, Hipkins said Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters' accusations about media bribery this week were "just wrong" and he urged Luxon to take action.

On Monday, not long after being sworn in as Deputy Prime Minister, Peters claimed RNZ and TVNZ were not independent, before saying "you can't defend $55 million of bribery".

The remark was a reference to the Public Interest Journalism Fund (PIJF), a three-year $55m contestable fund for journalists initially established to shore up public interest media during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Luxon was asked about his deputy's comments during a brief photo opportunity at the start of a ceremonial first Cabinet meeting yesterday.

Luxon said he had not seen the comments and then ignored a follow-up question.

Later, as reporters prepared to leave, Peters interjected: "Before you go, can you possibly tell the public what you had to sign up to, to get the money. Before you ask one more question, tell the public what you signed up to, to get the money. It's called transparency, okay? Thank you very much. Thank you."

Asked whether that was appropriate, Luxon again ignored the question.

Hipkins said Luxon needed to show some leadership.

"Christopher Luxon needs to show that he is actually the Prime Minister and stamp down on that very quickly. It is wrong for Winston Peters to be stepping outside the Cabinet manual at the very meeting where they were supposed to be confirming the Cabinet manual.

"It's also wrong for him to be questioning and potentially directing Television New Zealand and Radio New Zealand when they have legislative editorial independence.

"I think that the prime minister needs to show some leadership, make it clear to Winston Peters that that is unacceptable and make sure that that stops."

When asked how he would respond to Peters' behaviour if he were prime minister, Hipkins replied: "I wouldn't have got myself into the situation in the first place, made it very clear before the election that I did not think Winston Peters was fit for government.

"I don't think that he [Luxon] should simply say, 'Oh, I haven't seen the comments. I'm not going to comment on it'. That is his job. He is the prime minister. The comments that his ministers make are his responsibility."

Hipkins suggested Luxon was not in control of his government.

"Look, I'm not entirely clear that Christopher Luxon is really in control of what's going on within the government ... and they're only a couple of days in. It does not bode well for the future."

'We are a global embarrassment' - Labour's health spokesperson

Speaking at the same press conference, Labour's health spokesperson Ayesha Verrall described the coalition government's plans to repeal some smokefree laws as "absolutely disgusting".

The coalition agreements between National, New Zealand First, and ACT will repeal laws which would restrict the number of retailers, reduce nicotine levels, and ban anyone born after January 2009 from ever buying tobacco.

"We've known for decades that smoking is incredibly harmful for health and you've seen that reflected in the widespread condemnation of the smokefree changes proposed by this government."

Verrall said the move would damage New Zealand's international reputation.

"Internationally, we're seeing headlines reflect the fact that we are a global embarrassment for rolling back these laws."

This would be the first time anti-smoking legislation would be repealed, Verrall said.

"That is why health officials, health leaders around the country have been so shocked. They didn't expect National to go and do something like this, something that has been an area of bipartisan consensus for so long."

Labour's reshuffle

Hipkins will reveal his shadow cabinet tomorrow, but has confirmed Grant Robertson will stay on as Labour's finance spokesperson and Verrall will keep the health portfolio.

Hipkins confirmed every MP in his caucus will be assigned a portfolio.

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