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Party leaders rally rank and file in run-up to Budget Day


New Zealand Prime Minister Christopher Luxon addressing National Party cadres in Palmerston North on Sunday, 19 May 2024 ( Facebook Photo)

Venu Menon
Wellington, May 20,2024

The leaders of New Zealand’s three major political parties – National, Labour, and the Greens – addressed their rank and file over the weekend, echoing pre-election campaign rhetoric aimed at motivating  and invigorating the party faithful.

Prime Minister Christopher Luxon addressed National’s core supporters at Palmerston North on Sunday in the final leg of a whistle-stop tour across the country.

Luxon held fast to his promised tax relief package in Budget 2024, due on May 30, and was characteristically scant on detail while heaping dollops of praise on Finance Minister Nicola Willis for her handling of the finance portfolio.

The PM manned the bellows with gusto as he sought to keep the morale of the ranks buoyant, and fell back on his pet metaphor of likening Labour to an arsonist lurking around the scene of the crime, which drew laughs from the audience.

Luxon made no announcements in relation to the forthcoming Budget, but recycled earlier promises on funding increases for health, education, law and order, and disability services. He echoed Willis’ pledge made in her own pre-Budget speech about increasing the take-home pay of 83% of New Zealanders over the age of 15.

Taking a swipe at Labour’s goal of reducing the prison population, Luxon said “a drop in prisoners should happen because we have a drop in crime.”

He called it a “novel idea,” a phrase he used also to describe the government’s ban on the use of mobile phones in schools. “There’s a lot less cyber bullying as a result of kids getting off the phones,” he noted.

But the floor was not overly reverential. Willis, who also addressed the gathering, was pointedly asked where the thousands of government employees would go after being laid off. The finance minister reckoned they could be absorbed by small and medium businesses (SMEs).

Trade Minister Todd McClay, who also spoke, was called upon to disentangle New Zealand’s defence policy from its “trading ability,” an implied reference to the risk of alienating China, its foremost trade partner, if New Zealand decided to join the Western defence axis of AUKUS.

McClay appeared to rely on ambiguity, rather than clarity, when he said in response: “Doesn’t matter whether it’s the US or the UK or Europe or India or China, we owe them the courtesy of talking to them directly.”

He added: “It is important we continue to have that independent voice, but we should use it responsibly.”

Labour Party Leader Chris Hipkins, set out his vision for New Zealand in a speech delivered to party members in Auckland on Saturday, May 18.

He foresaw a future of cheaper childcare under a Labour government, with hardly any petrol cars around and “mega landlords paying their fair share of tax.”

Hipkins opted for an approach that was open-ended, rather than “locking ourselves into rigid positions right now, but making sure that we’re taking the time to hear other perspectives, to generate fresh ideas, and to carefully listen to New Zealanders about what they want for their future.”

“We will use this time in Opposition to ensure we are better prepared for government than ever before,” he said.

Green Party co-leaders Marama Davidson and Chloe Swarbrick met party activists in Auckland on Sunday. Davidson delivered the party’s State of the Planet speech in which she cited the combined cost of the damage caused to the environment by the war chest of the coalition parties, money donated by “property developers and business tycoons who have built their wealth by exploiting our natural environment.”

In a clear reference to the scrapping of the Auckland light rail and Let’s Get Wellington Moving projects, the Greens leadership faulted the government for setting aside “half a billion dollars for new defence spending, but cancelled projects to improve buses and trains in Auckland and Wellington.”

Davidson referenced the Treaty of Waitangi and what the party saw as the cynical use of the Treaty to “drive a wedge in our communities.”

She articulated the Green Party’s bedrock policies: guaranteed income for all, support for students and the jobless, extra help for the sick and disabled, and “simple payments for families so all kids can thrive.”

She promised solar panels and batteries “for homes to store the sun’s free energy, taking pressure off the power grid.”

Davidson warned against the “cynical politics that serves the short-term interests of wealthy donors.”

The three big political groupings of New Zealand appeared to be revisiting their election manifestos in a bid to reengage cadres with the core values of their respective parties.

Venu Menon is an Indian Newslink reporter based in Wellington

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