Chris Hipkins ‘quite unwell’ with Covid-19

It’s Monday, October 2nd and welcome to The Spinoff’s election live updates. There are just 12 days to go! I’m Stewart Sowman-Lund, on deck from Auckland.

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Chris Hipkins ‘quite unwell’ with Covid-19

It’s Monday, October 2nd and welcome to The Spinoff’s election live updates. There are just 12 days to go! I’m Stewart Sowman-Lund, on deck from Auckland.

Get in touch with me on

Find more about the political parties at

The agenda

Support our election coverage

The Spinoff’s coverage of the 2023 election is powered by the generous support of our members. If you value what we do and believe in the importance of independent and freely accessible journalism – tautoko mai, donate today.

Oct 2 2023

Could Covid-positive Chris Hipkins attend the Press debate in a giant ventilated suit?

Labour MPs posted the image on the left; to the right, a Hamzat suit

With 12 days to go, Labour and National are locked in rhetorical combat over the Press debate, which had been scheduled to take place before a live audience of 2,000 in Christchurch tomorrow night. Chris Hipkins’ positive test for Covid-19 meant a rush to reschedule, but that appears to have proved fruitless with the event set to be cancelled.

Labour has accused Luxon of “pulling out”, with National responding that, on the contrary, it is the virus-ridden prime minister that has pulled out, and his rival’s packed schedule makes a later date impossible.

“Labour gave the organisers an undertaking we would look to make nearly any date work once I’m out of Covid isolation,” wrote Hipkins from his isolation in Auckland. “We even said if an alternative date couldn’t work, I would look to do it via Zoom.” He was supported in his disappointment by several colleagues who chose to join the dispute by posting a picture of Luxon in a chicken suit.

Labour MPs posted the image on the left; to the right, a Hamzat suit

In his own social media post, Luxon said this: “I’m extremely disappointed to see Labour falsely claiming that I have ‘pulled out’ of the Stuff Press debate scheduled for tomorrow evening. To be clear, I have not pulled out of the debate – the debate isn’t going ahead because Chris Hipkins has Covid and rescheduling during the last week of the campaign has proven impossible.”

Stuff’s Joanna Norris confirmed in a statement that National had not offered any alternative dates. “Thousands of people were looking forward to seeing both leaders in person in the only South Island debate, which is also live-streamed on Stuff. It will be a huge disappointment to a great many people if this cannot go ahead,” she said.

In keeping with its solutions-focused ethos, the Spinoff reached out to Joel Rindelaub, an expert in atmospheric chemistry at Waikato University. Could Hipkins attend the Press debate in some sort of ventilated suit or capsule and participate safely, even if looking like some desperate Daft Punk wannabe, at the Christchurch Town Hall?

“Technically possible (think Hazmat suit or a space suit type of deal),” said Dr Rindelaub. “But it might be hard to hear him wearing the appropriate mask and so forth. If he is super keen to participate, I would recommend the use of one of our fine human technologies like Zoom.”

The daily wrap

Even with the Labour leader out of action with Covid-19, it’s been a busy day to kick off the final two weeks of the election campaign.

Here’s a look at today’s top stories.

We’ll be back online should news break. Otherwise, catch you here tomorrow.

Auckland Council secures land to expand Botanic Gardens

A palate cleanser to top off a busy day in politics.

Auckland Council announced that it has purchased 1.6 hectares of land for $12.37m on Hill Road to extend the Auckland Gardens.

In a statement, mayor Wayne Brown said that a large land acquisition is a difficult time to make at a time of significant budget constraints, but the benefit for future generations weighed heavily in favour of the purchase. Auckland Botanic Gardens gets around one million visitors annually.

“We have made a decision that will protect one of the region’s most treasured assets and provide both guaranteed access and greater protection to the gardens,” he said. “We had to act now to protect it from inappropriate development, or this opportunity would have been lost forever.

“We don’t have funds sitting in reserve for open space purposes, so the choice to debt-fund this acquisition is based on spreading the cost of a strategic capital investment across the generations that will use it.”

Funding for any future development will need to be considered in the outer years of Auckland Council’s Long-term Plan 2024-34, including consideration of partnership and external funding. The immediate operational expenditure for maintenace will be met from existing ABC budget and staff resource.

Future use of the land will be held as a regional park and be protected in perpetuity under the Local Government Act 2002, meaning it will be held in public ownership and is protected from disposal.

Third leaders’ debate canned after no alternative date agreed to

The property manager and the landlord.

The next planned showdown between Chris Hipkins and Christopher Luxon in Christchurch appears to have been scrapped after no alternative date could be agreed to by the major parties.

Labour said that while Hipkins’ Covid diagnosis meant he could not participate in The Press debate tomorrow as planned, alternative dates had been put forward. Megan Woods, Labour’s campaign chair, accused Luxon of “running scared” after suggesting that National had not agreed to a rescheduled debate.

But Chris Bishop, National’s campaign chair, told The Spinoff that Luxon’s schedule was too busy to fit in a rescheduled debate.

“We have a packed multi-region campaign tour planned for the final week of the campaign, which has been months in the making. It’s unfortunate that Chris Hipkins came down with Covid and couldn’t do the debate and strange that he is meeting so few New Zealanders that he has nothing planned for an entire week,” he said.

“Nicola Willis has offered to debate Labour’s deputy leader Kelvin Davis instead, but we haven’t had a response on that.”

According to Newshub, National was also not prepared to have Luxon debate a stand-in from Labour as it’s meant to be a “leader-to-leader” debate.

The next leaders’ debate will take place on October 12, just two days before polling day, at TVNZ in Auckland.

Christopher Luxon ‘taking advantage of Chris Hipkins’ sickness’ – Labour

Luxon and Hipkins go head to head (Photo: Archi Banal)

The Labour Party’s accused National leader Christopher Luxon of “taking advantage of Chris Hipkins’s sickness”.

In a statement, Labour’s campaign chair Megan Woods said that Luxon was trying to “slip out” of an agreed debate in Christchurch that had been scheduled for tomorrow night. With Hipkins out of action with Covid-19 until at least Friday, it’s believed alternative dates for the debate were being considered.

“Despite Labour working constructively with the organisers and offering flexible dates next week when [Hipkins] is out of isolation, or an alternative to sub in on the original date if other dates don’t work – National looks like they are still declining Luxon to take part,” said Woods.

“National’s polling is falling and it’s as simple as this – Luxon wants to minimise the number of appearances between now and the election where he’s asked questions he can’t answer and where he might get shown up for being evasive, so he’s taken advantage of Chris Hipkins’ illness.”

National’s campaign chair Chris Bishop said this morning that other dates for the debate were being considered, but also publicly suggested a deputy leader debate with Nicola Willis and Kelvin Davis. Woods said that this suggestion was evidence that “Christopher Luxon just can’t cut it next to Chris Hipkins”.

At a press conference in Wellington today, Labour MP Grant Robertson doubled down and called for Luxon to reschedule. “This is a leaders’ debate and if you want to show leadership, front up.”

The National Party has been asked by The Spinoff to respond to the claims.

Luxon doesn’t agree that Jack Tame is a ‘dirt merchant’

Winston Peters laughing his way back into parliament. Photo: Warner Bros. Discovery ANZ

Yesterday’s fiery Q&A interview with Winston Peters saw the New Zealand First leader give host Jack Tame a range of unusual nicknames, including that he was a “dirt merchant” and “corrupt”.

But National’s Christopher Luxon, who may be forced to work with Peters after October 14, wouldn’t go into detail about whether that was behaviour befitting a possible cabinet minister.

“I disagree with those statements, that’s not how I’d characterise Jack Tame,” said Luxon this afternoon, fresh from advance voting in the Botany electorate.

“I do not want to do an arrangement with New Zealand First. That’s the choice I’ve given to the New Zealand people. Under the proviso that I’m faced with Labour, the Greens and Te Pāti Māori I will at least pick up the phone… my preference is not to work with New Zealand First.”

Luxon appears to be playing down even further his decision to rule in New Zealand First. He said today that he didn’t even know whether Peters would want to form a coalition with National.

‘Quite unwell’ Hipkins announces virtual town hall meetings

The last two photos on Hipkins’ Instagram are a rock and a hard place.

After testing positive yesterday for Covid-19, Chris Hipkins “is still feeling quite unwell”, according to a spokesperson. “He’s undertaking limited duties today, but aiming to pick up more things remotely from tomorrow, such as his morning media round.”

Hipkins, who has come down with the virus for the second time, will also be staging “virtual town halls” in the coming days. That’s according to a message sent to supporters by Rob Salmond, general secretary of the Labour Party. “Chris is both resourceful and determined, so he’s asked the team to take his campaign digital while he isolates,” wrote Salmond, announcing “virtual town hall meetings” on Wednesday at 7pm and Thursday at 10am.

Participants will be required to register in advance. “At both meetings you’ll have a chance to ask Chris your burning questions about the election and about Labour’s plans for the next three years.”

Hipkins is adhering to Ministry of Health guidelines which require five days’ isolation or a negative test to return to the community. He is also expected to conduct virtual press conferences while in isolation.

The last two photos on Hipkins’ Instagram are a rock and a hard place.

Warehouse Weet-Bix situation a reason to support new supermarket retailers – Labour

(The Spinoff)

A Labour-led government would support new supermarket retailers to enter the market, said consumer affairs spokesperson Duncan Webb in a press release. Citing how Sanitarium has removed Weet-Bix from budget retailer The Warehouse, Webb said assisting potential new supermarket “could include finance, making sure land is available, regulatory changes, incubating innovation and accelerating competition”.

Webb emphasised the work that the government has already done in the grocery sector, including appointing a grocery commissioner and creating a grocery code of conduct with fines for violations. Removing the GST from fruit and vegetables, another Labour campaign promise, would make a difference to the cost of food too, Webb said.

Get hyped because dogs at polling booths is back for 2023

dogs with poodles in them at voting booths

This election day, The Spinoff will once again be bringing you nothing but live pupdates until 7pm. In 2020, we showcased big dogs, small dogs, long dogs, short dogs, hairy dogs, happy dogs, nervy dogs, silly dogs, stylish dogs, sleeping dogs, pissing dogs and not-really-dog dogs exercising their democratic right – and we’d be barking mad not to do it all over again.

That’s right, dogs at polling booths is back for another year, so on October 14, we’re asking you to send in your photos of dogs at voting places around the motu (no humans please) to

While we’re focusing on on-the-day dogs, we will consider any particularly fetching advance-voting dogs, especially if they’re voting from abroad.

So please remember to get in touch!

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Reminder: Advance voting is open now


With just 12 days until polling day, you can now cast your early vote in Election 2023.

“Voting places will be open before election day in convenient locations including shopping areas, transport hubs, kura, marae, community halls and sports clubs, to make it easy for people to vote as they go about their daily lives,” said chief electoral officer Karl Le Quesne.

“Voting before election day, also known as advance voting, has increased in popularity over the years. In 2020, 68% of votes were cast before election day.”

There are more than 400 voting places open today, a number that will increase in the lead-up to October 14. There are some booths in more accessible places than in previous years – I spotted a major polling station at the Westfield mall in Newmarket, while here’s a pic from Auckland Airport courtesy of our deputy editor Alice Neville, who is briefly fleeing the country pre-election.

Voters queuing at Auckland International Airport

Writing for The Spinoff today, Toby Manhire queried whether the “low-energy, small-vision campaign” could lead to a decline in overall turnout this election. “To borrow an observation once made of UK prime minister Harold Wilson, our major party leaders have been going up and down the country, stirring up apathy, and the malaise of the moment will translate into a sharp drop in turnout,” reckoned Manhire. “That would be further bad news for the left, who tend to be more heavily impacted when turnout is low.”

And for all your questions on voting (including the very simple question of how to do it), check out this handy explainer from The Spinoff’s Shanti Mathias. Happy voting, one and all.

The day ahead

Early voting has opened and we’re now less than two weeks out from election day. With the prime minister out of action until Friday with Covid-19, here’s how the campaign’s looking this Monday.

  • In Auckland today, there will be a Labour Party commerce announcement with Duncan Webb. Out of town, deputy prime minister Carmel Sepuloni is in Gisborne alongside Labour’s candidate Tamati Coffey. There is a Pacific Island Community meeting this morning and a visit to a Kaupapa Māori charitable trust.
  • National leader Christopher Luxon has just wrapped two hours on the Mike Hosking Breakfast and will soon head over to RNZ for an extended interview with Kathryn Ryan. Later this morning, Luxon will cast an early vote in his electorate of Botany, speak to media and tonight participate in a town hall event for the Indian Weekender.
  • New Zealand First leader Winston Peters is continuing his nationwide roadshow after a tense weekend of media interviews. He’s in Hobsonville on Auckland’s North Shore today.
  • In Wellington, Green Party co-leader James Shaw will make a student announcement early this afternoon. He’ll also cast an advance vote and front for the media.
  • Act’s David Seymour and deputy Brooke van Velden are in the Tamaki electorate today. They’ll firstly announce a new policy and then go for a little walkabout.

The Bulletin: Low-deposit buyers out of luck as shared ownership scheme closes

Surging demand has forced a government shared ownership scheme to close its doors to prospective borrowers, Newshub’s Zane Small reports. The Kāinga Ora-backed First Home Partner scheme, which offered a path to home ownership for prospective first home buyers with low deposits, is now fully subscribed. It has more than 410 signed agreements, exhausting the $187m funding for the scheme.

Kāinga Ora says it saw a 450% explosion in monthly applications after eligibility requirements for the scheme were relaxed earlier this year. Neither National nor ACT are committed to continuing shared ownership schemes after the election. The fund closure comes as CoreLogic data shows that first home buyers’ share of the market is now its highest ever, at 26.4% – and that’s despite interest rates that are already high and could go even higher.

Want to read The Bulletin in full? Click here to subscribe and join over 38,000 New Zealanders who start each weekday with the biggest stories in politics, business, media and culture. 

Luxon asked about NZ First candidate who holds ‘conspiracy’ views

Christopher Luxon and Winston Peters. Image: Archi Banal

Christopher Luxon has pushed back against “conspiracy theory arguments” during a two-hour appearance on Newstalk ZB’s Mike Hosking breakfast.

Hosking read out what he called a “stupid” question from a listener about the “20-minute city” theory, using it to ask Luxon how much “nuttiness” was out on the campaign trail.

Luxon said he had been asked during town hall meetings about conspiracy theories related to the UN and the World Economic Forum, but opted not to engage with them. There were much bigger issues in New Zealand and it would be his job to tackle those if he became prime minister, he said.

“I just don’t buy a lot of that conspiracy theory arguments,” said Luxon.

After Hosking pointed out that New Zealand First’s number 11 candidate believed that dead vaccinated people emitted bluetooth signals, Luxon reiterated that it was not his desire to enter into coalition with Winston Peters – but he would do it to keep out “the absolute nightmare scenario” of Labour, the Greens and Te Pāti Māori.

“They [Labour] have had three years of an absolute majority and they still couldn’t get things done,” said Luxon. “Throw in two co-leaders from the Greens and two co-leaders from Te Pāti Māori…”

Third leaders’ debate up in the air – so should the deputies face-off?

National deputy Nicola Willis (Photo: Getty, design Tina Tiller)

With the third scheduled leaders’ debate up in the air as a result of Chris Hipkins’ sudden Covid diagnosis, a senior National MP has suggested a possible alternative: could the deputy leaders debate?

Hipkins and Christopher Luxon were meant to participate in The Press debate from Christchurch tomorrow night.

Both Labour’s campaign chair Megan Woods and National’s campaign chair Chris Bishop said discussions with The Press were ongoing and a possible alternative date was being looked at.

But Bishop told RNZ that he’d be up for seeing Nicola Willis, National’s deputy, and Kelvin Davis, Labour’s deputy, debate instead. “I’m sure Nicola would be willing to take on Labour’s deputy in a debate. I’m putting it to them now on morning radio: Nicola Willis and Kelvin Davis, how about it?” he said.

Woods said that that it was a “complex situation” trying to rechedule the debate this close to election day. “We are offering up alternative dates,” she said, noting that it would have to be after this Friday when Hipkins can leave isolation. “This is not the first time that people have had to rearrange things because of Covid.”

The Labour leader wasn’t “feeling the flashest” as of yesterday, said Woods, and he was keen to “keep up the momentum” this week despite being in isolation.

Bishop added that on a personal leave he felt sorry for Hipkins and acknowledged it was “quite tricky” to hold campaign events on Zoom.

Asked about the tense and at-times polarised environment in the community this election campaign, Bishop said it was “really concerning” to hear that some of his party’s candidates had faced intimidation and abuse while out on the the trail.

“I’m happy as a senior National Party MP and as a New Zealander to say to everyone in New Zealand let’s have a free and fair election campaign in which candidates and MPs can go around the country and not be intimidated by anyone. And that is not what’s happening at the moment and it’s disgraceful,” Bishop told RNZ.