It was a far cry from the campaign rallies the Labour Party threw in Wellington at the last two elections, held in the St James Theatre and the Michael Fowler Centre, but Chris Hipkins nevertheless summoned an old-school energy at a central city conference room before 200 supporters this afternoon.
In one of the party’s few remaining policy announcements of the campaign and with the first votes to be cast in just a few days, Hipkins pledged to “super-charge” the growth in public house numbers. “If re-elected, we’ll deliver another 6,000 public homes by 2027,” he said.
There were numerous tributes paid across the rally to Grant Robertson, who is standing down as Wellington Central MP. His successor as candidate, Ibrahim Omer, called Robertson “the best politician the party has ever had”. Omer also urged supporters not to be swayed by news coverage and polling. “The vibe is quite different to what you hear in the media,” he said. “Don’t pay attention to that.” Later, when Hipkins was talking up the New Zealand economy in an international context, a supporter turned to the media at the back of the hall and challenged, “Print that in the paper!”
After the early part of his speech focused on the “risk” of his opponents, Hipkins said: “Now as much as I could spend the whole day setting out what is wrong with the opposition I actually want to talk about Labour’s track record and plans for the future.” Just four sentences later, however, he was aiming for the jugular with a lengthy attack on National’s tax plans and its leader’s character.
“Christopher Luxon has a fiscal hole and a credibility gap to contend with,” said Hipkins. “I know as prime minister I need to be honest with Kiwis. It’s what you expect from your leaders. It’s worrying that he won’t level with you. Because if he can’t be honest about his costings, what else won’t he be honest about?”
Hopkins sought also to cast National as eager to drive unemployment and pointed to the new data that showed New Zealand had avoided recession. He used the phrase”turned the corner” in relation to the economy three times.
The crowd lapped it up. One supporter told the Spinoff afterwards that it was impressive, but Hipkins needed to be “More Churchillian”.
Responding to the housing pledge in a statement, the Green Party said it lacked ambition. “Confusingly, Labour’s plan would actually slow the pace of house building instead of continuing to scale up – despite the desperate need for more public housing,” said co-leader Marama Davidson.
“There are currently 4,500 public and transitional homes under construction. The Green Party has a plan to scale this up to 8000 per year by the end of 2026. Under Labour’s plan, the current programme will be tapering off instead of increasing.