Labour and National stay in close fight, not their leaders

Christ Hipkins and Christopher Luxon: stretching the length (RNZ Photo)

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Wellington, May 14, 2023

Five months away from the general election, the latest Newshub-Reid political poll shows that Te Pāti Māori could hold the keys to power, with the two main parties running neck and neck.

The poll, released on Saturday, May 14, 2023, had Labour at 35.9%, down 2.1 points; while National was down 1.3 points to 35.3%

The poll also showed ACT at 10.8%, up just 0.1%, while the Greens were unchanged at 8.1% despite recent problems within the Party.

Oscillating fortunes

Te Pāti Maori Party was at 3.5% and on current polling could get five seats, which would enable it to form a government with Labour and the Greens.

Assuming that it wins an electorate, the Party will get five seats in the House, which, with Labour’s 46 and the Greens’ 10 would be enough to reach the 61-seat threshold to form the next government.

New Zealand First has risen 0.8 points to 3%, still not enough to return to Parliament.

National ruled out working with the Māori Party last week, which could make the Party’s attempts to form a government harder.

Chris Hipkins’ personal popularity as Prime Minister,  just under four months since he took office is now at 23.4% up 3.8 points.

But National Leader Christopher Luxon was down 2.4 points to 16.4% as preferred Prime Minister, his lowest point in Newshub’s poll so far.

That is lower than the 18.4% that former National Leader Judith Collins scored in a similar Newshub poll before losing the 2020 election in a landslide.

The election is set for 14 October, exactly five months from now.

Another that Newshub asked voters was whether they thought that leaders were in touch with the issues: 49.9% agreed that Hipkins was in touch, but the results were almost the opposite for Luxon, with 47% saying that he was out of touch with the problems affecting New Zealanders.

Neck to Neck

Other polls continue to point towards a tight election.

A Taxpayers Union-Curia poll released last week had Labour dropping to 33.8% while National was at 35.6%. That poll had ACT picking up 3.2 percentage points compared to the previous survey, bringing its support to 12.7%, almost equivalent to the 3.1 percentage points that Labour lost. In that poll, the Green Party gained 0.3 to 7%, and Te Pāti Māori gained 0.8 to 3.7%

A 1News Kantar poll conducted in March showed Labour leading National by a tight margin, 36% to 34%, with the Greens and ACT both at 11%.

Since Newshub’s last poll in January, there has been flooding in Auckland, Cyclone Gabrielle, the sacking of Stuart Nash, the defection of Meka Whaitiri to Te Pāti Māori, the resignation of Dr Elizabeth Kerekere from the Greens, and National’s decision to rule out working with Te Pāti Māori.

Luxon’s blunt refusal

RNZ had reported a few days ago that Luxon bluntly ruled out working with his Party’s former coalition partner should he lead the next government.

“I cannot see a way in which we would be working with the Māori Party. Our values are just not aligned, we believe in very different things, they believe in a separate Parliament, they believe in the co-governance of public services and they have a much more separatist agenda, and that is just something that we do not ; we are not aligned with,” he told Morning Report.

Presenter Ingrid Hipkiss asked if he was ruling out working with them.

“Yes,” he replied. “I cannot see us working with the Māori Party going forward.”

While the present Labour government has a cooperation agreement with the Greens, Te Pati Māori is part of the opposition.

The last time it was in government was in partnership with National.

Luxon said that would not be happening again should he lead the next government, with National “under new management” since the John Key and Bill English days.

Te Pāti Māori was laughing off National’s decision to rule out working with them after the election. While Luxon said Te Pāti Māori was radical and separatist, Party Co-Leader Debbie Ngarewa-Packer said that they took pride in being pro-Māori and mana motuhake focused.

“I think he has to grab his voters, they’re all after the same voters, it’s hard to differentiate between who is National and who is Labour at the moment but the reality is that we know who we are and we really have to focus on that.”

Te Pāti Māori said it remained open to discussions with any Party committed to a Tiriti-centric Aotearoa.

The Whaitiri episode

He labelled Te Pāti Māori’s welcome in Parliament for their new candidate Meka Whaitiri as “incredibly disrespectful” because it occurred at the same time Parliament was paying tributes to the royal family, and he ruled out “any arrangement” with them post-election.

Tuesday saw Whaitiri return to the House for the first time since quitting the Labour Party and linking with Te Pāti Māori, for whom she will stand in the October general election.

Though not technically a Te Pāti Māori member yet, Whaitiri walked into Parliament with Te Pāti Māori Co-Leader Rawiri Waititi, a waiata ringing out.

Speaker of the House Adrian Rurawhe said afterwards he had been informed all parties had agreed to the whakawātea but was later told that was not the case. He ejected Waititi and Co-Leader Debbie Ngarewa-Packer from the House.

Just before that, Hipkins had moved that Parliament “congratulate His Majesty the King on the occasion of his coronation.”

A few days earlier, King Charles III, New Zealand’s Head of State, was crowned in a lavish ceremony in the UK.

Whaitiri then sought leave to “make a personal explanation,” but was denied by the Speaker, who said that they were “in the middle of a debate.”

Luxon, who said that a vote for Te Pāti Māori was a vote for Labour and the Greens, told Morning Report on Wednesday that ‘elements of the whakawātea were incredibly disrespectful.’

“We were, you know, in the middle of announcing and making statements around the Coronation of the King, and then they wanted to grandstand and make it about themselves. And I just didn’t think that was appropriate,” he said.

Waititi later said that they were “clearing a pathway for Meka to be able to sit in the opposite benches, clear everything spiritual and allow her to move there with the mind – in her own words – to be liberated and be what she needs to be for her people.”

He called it a “customary and cultural” duty.

National MP Chris Bishop said Waititi told him it would be a “short karakia,” not “grandstanding.” Luxon said National was misled.

A Coalition of Chaos: Luxon

“I think we were supportive of a member making a statement, which is what we were led to believe it would be, and that is normal protocol to let members make statements like that.

“But what we saw yesterday was just a whole bunch of showmanship and distraction, and frankly, just illustrates again, a government falling apart. You know, We have got showmanship from Te Pati Māori, we have got personnel issues with the Greens, got personnel issues with Labour and it is genuinely a coalition of chaos, is what is emerging on that side of politics.”

In a release later this morning, Luxon said the bridge between the two parties was now “too wide to close.”

“Te Pāti Māori of 2023 is a very different Party to the one National signed a confidence and supply agreement with three times from 2008.”

He added: “National is deeply committed to improving outcomes for Māori but does not believe that separate systems are the best way to do this.”

Whaitiri remains technically an independent MP. She voted with Te Pati Māori against the motion to congratulate the king. The Greens and their former MP Elizabeth Kerekere abstained, while the rest of Parliament voted aye.

The above Report and pictures have been published under a special agreement with www.rnz.co.nz

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