24 Apr 2024

Watch: Government's 'wheels are falling off already', Hipkins says, after ministers demoted

4:16 pm on 24 April 2024

Labour leader Chris Hipkins says the demotion of two ministers today shows the PM "didn't have particularly good judgement".

Prime Minister Christopher Luxon this afternoon announced two ministers - Melissa Lee and Penny Simmonds - had their portfolios in Media and Communications, and Disability Issues, removed.

Lee was also demoted from Cabinet, while Simmonds was already a minister outside Cabinet. Both have retained their other portfolios, with Paul Goldsmith taking over Media and Louise Upston Disability Issues.

Lee has been under pressure since the announcement of Newshub's closure and Simmonds made headlines in a controversial announcement about disability allowance changes.

Announcing the changes, Luxon said it had been a tough day for Lee and Simmonds, but "this is how I roll, this is how I lead". Despite repeated questioning he did not pin blame on either of them, instead saying the portfolios had become more complex so he wanted senior Cabinet members tasked with them.

Hipkins said Lee and Simmonds were "never up to the task that they were given" and for Luxon to say things had dramatically changed in the media landscape showed he had not been paying attention before he became the prime minister.

He said the government had only been in office for six months, and "the wheels are falling off already".

That two ministers had their portfolios stripped so soon after being appointed "shows he clearly didn't have particularly good judgement", Hipkins said.

"New Zealanders could see very clearly several months ago that Penny Simmonds was making an absolute hash of the disability issues portfolio. She'd gotten off on the wrong foot, had completely messed things up, and it's taken [Luxon] months to actually do something about that."

He said Simmonds handled the disability issues portfolio "abysmally" and the ways she has portrayed the community have been "reprehensible".

"The idea that people who are living with a disability and those who care for them are somehow ripping off the system - which is a claim that she's repeatedly made - is just wrong. But not only is it wrong, it's incredibly hurtful."

He said Melissa Lee's "invisibility" during a crisis in the New Zealand media has been "baffling", but it was hard to say what's been going on with her because the government "haven't been saying anything publicly about the onslaught that the New Zealand media has been facing".

"Melissa Lee tells us that she was working on a proposal that was ultimately vetoed by the government's coalition partners and appears to have lost her job for something that Winston Peters was ultimately responsible for ... although that's guesswork because the government hasn't been upfront."

Louise Upston had made clear her number one priority was to get people off benefits, Hipkins said, and "I think those in the disability community will be feeling uncomfortable about that".

He also said Luxon should be asking "why stop there", and turn his attention to ACT leader David Seymour and NZ First Minister Shane Jones, who both criticised the Waitangi Tribunal, which he argued was criticism of the judiciary.

"He publicly reprimanded them, and then David Seymour reprimanded him back in return. I think that shows that his own ministers don't have any respect for his authority."

He referred to Stuart Nash's resignation from Hipkins' government after publicly criticising a judge's decision, saying "he resigned the same day it happened" and he thought the issues was "not something that [Luxon]'s going to take any action on".

Green co-leader Chlöe Swarbrick said it was good to "finally see that Luxon's making good on his promises during the election to elevate climate change into Cabinet. The message for the climate minister would that it's time to go hard or go home".

She said Watts had been "fundamentally missing in action" on the government's policies that were climate or environmentally destructive, and had in written questions said he was not taking advice on many policies' climate impacts.

"It's time for the minister to step up and if that means at times saying things in opposition to what the rest of his government is up to, well that's the job and that's the responsibility."

Swarbrick said when talking about the shuffling of portfolios, "ultimately the only thing that the public will be concerned about is whether the work is getting done, not necessarily whose name is attached to the portfolio, nor to the status of it".

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