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Christopher Luxon speaks at the National conference at the Michael Fowler Centre in Wellington. (Photo: Hagen Hopkins / Getty Images)
Christopher Luxon speaks at the National conference at the Michael Fowler Centre in Wellington. (Photo: Hagen Hopkins / Getty Images)

PoliticsJuly 17, 2023

National targets young renters with O Week-launched KiwiSaver policy

Christopher Luxon speaks at the National conference at the Michael Fowler Centre in Wellington. (Photo: Hagen Hopkins / Getty Images)
Christopher Luxon speaks at the National conference at the Michael Fowler Centre in Wellington. (Photo: Hagen Hopkins / Getty Images)

There was little sign of ‘Luxonmania’ at Auckland University O Week today, despite the announcement of a new policy designed to try and woo young renters. Stewart Sowman-Lund reports.

My first university O Week saw then-prime minister John Key effectively close down the campus as people lined for selfies. A few years later, Jacinda Ardern did much the same. Whether or not scenes like these will be repeated on university campuses ahead of the election this October remains to be seen – at Auckland University today, there was no sign of prime minister Chris Hipkins or any Labour MPs.

The Princes Street Labour stall was quiet when The Spinoff visited, with a trio of volunteers greeting the occasional passerby. Without the pull of a star candidate or a current politician, it was drawing a much smaller crowd than the nearby Green Party and National Party stands. The only person talking to the volunteers when I passed by had surreptitiously had some National Party merch – a sticker displaying “Live, Laugh, Luxon” – attached to his back.

The Greens were handing out stickers too, but they weren’t focused on the party leaders. Instead, they were advertising their new Hoki Whenua Mai policy, calling for the return of Māori land. Auckland Central MP Chlöe Swarbrick was busy chatting to a group of students, joined by her caucus colleague Ricardo Menendez-March. The pair had attracted a small but bustling audience; it was a challenge making it through the crowd.

Just a few metres away, National Party leader Christopher Luxon was taking selfies while volunteers handed out the aforementioned stickers (along with another that read “I’m working harder than Labour”) and bottle openers in the party colour. These seemed to be proving popular across party lines. One student politely turned one down, though said this was because she’d already accumulated a “stack” of them earlier. National candidate Dan Bidois told me that some people who visited the neighbouring Greens and National stalls had noted they “wouldn’t mind” a coalition between the two parties.

National’s O Week merch (Photo: Stewart Sowman-Lund)

Beyond the merch, National used O Week to launch its 27th policy of the election campaign, a proposal to allow under-30s to dip into their KiwiSaver funds to cover the cost of a rental bond. It felt slightly like a diversion into traditional Labour Party territory, aimed at young people and young people in rental properties. Luxon, though, rejected that it was an attempt to win over students, a demographic one journalist pointed out tended to vote left.

“We’ve been doing exceptionally well with young people,” Luxon told media. “I think it’s a realisation that for themselves, they come to university, they make a big investment in their student loans… they come out the other end and they say ‘I’ve worked really hard, I still can’t get ahead’.”

As for any flicker of “Luxonmania”, it would be over-egging the National leader’s on-campus appearance to suggest he’d been much of a drawcard for students. However, Luxon told The Spinoff he had received a great reception on campus. “There are amazing young people that want a country of opportunity, they want a country where they can get ahead,” said Luxon. “My job as prime minister of New Zealand will be to make sure I build New Zealand to be a better place so people say they want to stay here, they want to make a contribution.”

Luxon takes a selfie at UOA (Photo: Stewart Sowman-Lund)

Today’s policy was targeted at younger New Zealanders, though Luxon said he felt the government had let down “all New Zealanders” with its “economic mismanagement”.

However, the new policy, which was first proposed by National’s youth wing, didn’t seem to resonate with young people from other parties. Swarbrick, who at 29 would be eligible to take from her KiwiSaver to cover a rental bond, appeared shocked when The Spinoff told her what National had just proposed. “I would just say that it’s an admission of how precarious rentals are in this country. If you want to talk about actually fixing the rental crisis… what’s the purpose of the policy?” She was also confused as to why such a “technocratic” policy had been been derived from National’s youth wing.

Her colleague Ricardo Menendez March agreed: “Most young people can’t even afford the weekly rent. So then what?”

At the Young Labour stall, those volunteering were equally unsure about the policy. One, brandishing some National Party merch, said the party was just “memes”. Another more seriously said that KiwiSaver was intended to be a long-term investment and shouldn’t be there “for when I want to drop money on a rental”. They said they were personally in favour of a policy proposed by the Greens that would see a rental property “warrant of fitness” introduced as a way to help improve the quality of the rental market, rather than just helping cover bonds. There was also, said another volunteer, already a Work and Income grant that could help cover bonds for people in need.

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