Luxon set to revitalise National and engage in decent politics

Jo Moir

Jo Moir

Wellington, December 22, 2021

The new Opposition Leader brings fresh thinking on bipartisan engagement

                                  

                                           Christopher Luxon brings refreshing changes to National and to politics (INL File Photo)

 

New National Party Leader Christopher Luxon wants to make politics a nicer place.

He said that his MPs have been warned that he will be keeping watch on how they do the job as much as what they achieve.

He has been only a couple of weeks into the job but Luxon is already laying down the law with his MPs.

Being on the phone when at work or social function and meant to be engaging with voters is not something Luxon wants to see from any of his Caucus. He has told them that talking to people while looking around the room or playing on their phones is not allowed anymore.

Luxon has also started conversations about how his MPs engage more generally, whether that be in the House, on social media, or when they are out in public.

“It is little things, but it is how we do things differently and how we engage in the future,’’ he tells Newsroom.

Behavioural change in Parliament

He wants the behaviour to change in Parliament too.

“I want to make sure that there is civility in our politics in New Zealand. You just have to look around the Western liberal democracies and see that there is a massive amount of divisiveness that has taken place. Once you set that off, and it is a course in motion, it is not constructive for the country,’’ Luxon said.

That means working with the government when the situation allows for it.

“There are moments where we will disagree very strongly, and oppose, but where it makes sense, and we can be constructive we should be open to it,” he said.

 

The National Caucus should rise to Luxon: With Judith Collins, Mark Mitchell, Michael Woodhouse, Melissa Lee
and Christopher Penk at Indian Newslink luncheon on April 30, 2021 (INL Photo by Narendra Bedekar)

Bipartisan Approach

The passing of the Housing Supply Bill in Parliament last week is reflective of that.

It was a bipartisan approach taken by National and Labour under then-leader Judith Collins and saw housing spokesperson and now Deputy Leader Nicola Willis work with Housing Minister Megan Woods to write the legislation.

“We know that homeownership is important and we know that we have a housing crisis. We know that we need to build more houses in a long and enduring way and expand and densify our cities. Us stepping up to the plate and working in good faith with the government is different but very necessary.… We ended up with a good bill,” he said.

“People will criticise us for that, but fundamentally we are either solving a housing crisis in this country or we are not. To work in a bipartisan way is a good example of what could be possible,” he said.

Respect for the PM

Asked if he respects the Prime Minister, and indeed likes her, Luxon says, ”I do.”

And it is not just Labour being dished compliments; he said that Climate Change Minister and Green Party Co-Leader James Shaw is “someone I really respect and have spent a lot of time with,” he said.

He wants his Climate Change Spokesperson Scott Simpson to have a close working relationship with Shaw and to work hard on a bipartisan approach.

“The background is that I was very much about embracing net carbon zero.’’

Luxon said that in his Chief Executive role at Air New Zealand, he and other business leaders formed the ‘Aotearoa Circle’ and together they signed up to sustainability commitments long before the National Party did.

“It is good business to have thinking around sustainability,” he said.

 

Christopher Luxon and his Deputy Nicola Willis at the Media Conference in Wellington on December 6, 2021 (Screen Grab)[

 Reconnecting with lost voters

Luxon thinks that the National Party has been so focused on itself it has lost touch with its voting base.

“Rural community is a place where this Party had its real origins in – a conservative rural and urban liberal starting point. And I just feel that we have neglected those communities and I want them to know that we are back and we back them,’’ Luxon said.

That is part of the reason he chose to go to Morrinsville shortly after becoming a leader to talk directly to rural and particularly farming voters.

“I think that the last election was a period where most people looked at it and went ‘That is a dysfunctional unit and team,’ if I am really honest. And if you don’t have unity and cannot manage yourself, why on earth would you trust these people to run the country. Disunity is death and rightly or wrongly that is the projection that happened during that time,’’ he said.

And it’s not just farmers Luxon wants to win back.

Serving the business community

He says that the business community has been neglected too.

But first, it is about getting things in order internally, and Luxon said that work is already well underway.

Professional development is something that is lacking in Parliament, he said.

“When you are in corporate leadership, you spend a lot of time working up how to build teams and there is a lot of leadership development. What I have noticed in this place in terms of professional development is that there isn’t that. You have highly talented people, but they don’t always get the coaching to continue to evolve and improve their leadership skills so their ability to take people with them is affected,’’ he said.

He described Parliament as being very “seniority and hierarchical focused,’’ something that disappeared from the corporate world 25 years ago.

Working with the Board

The other part of his job is getting the wider party back on track and that means working closely with the Board.

He met with the Board of Directors for the first time on Wednesday (December 15, 2021) night at the end-of-year dinner.

“I want the Board of the National Party and our Caucus to be one seamless team,” he said.

Party President Peter Goodfellow has been under fire since the election for the poor management of the Candidates’ College and his overall leadership during a tumultuous period for the Party and one of its worst election performances.

Luxon is reluctant to assess Goodfellow’s Leadership, instead of pointing to the changes within the wider Board and a number of new directors.

“I think that we have actually got a really good Board of Directors and I think that ultimately our Board will work out where they go in the future, and how they get aligned with the vision that we are putting on the table here.’’

If or when Luxon does get the Caucus and wider Party on track, he will need to turn his attention to 2023 and what will be needed to potentially form a government.

Newsroom asked whether he would work with Winston Peters if New Zealand First was to find its way back into Parliament.

It was posed as a Yes or No question only.

Luxon said that it was not possible to answer it that simply, and those sorts of questions will be dealt with “down the road.”

Told that is what is called a ‘not ruling it out’ answer, Luxon laughed, and the interview immediately ended.

Jo Moir is Political Editor of Newsroom based in Wellington. The above article has been published under a Special Agreement.

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