The former Air New Zealand boss now has control of the official opposition, he promises to create a ‘government-in-waiting’ after years of chaos in National, Justin Giovannetti writes in The Bulletin.
“We are the reset”. Five days after the National caucus voted to end Judith Collins’ tumultuous tenure as leader, Chris Luxon has fulfilled his long-expected role and taken the helm of the official opposition. After two years of chaos in the party, Luxon has taken the job much earlier than he’d planned. First elected to parliament only 409 days ago, he has the least political experience of any party leader in the country’s modern history. As Toby Manhire reports in The Spinoff, Luxon appeared alongside Nicola Willis, his new deputy, an hour after caucus elected him yesterday and promised New Zealanders that “National is back”. He asked voters who have deserted the party in recent years to give it a second look.
How it all came about. Just over an hour before the National caucus planned to meet yesterday, Simon Bridges dropped his hunt for the leadership. The party was deeply divided, with both men controlling about half of caucus. In a sign of dysfunction, National booked two rooms at parliament for a press conference when neither man could agree on where they wanted to face the media as leader for the first (or second) time. As Newsroom reports, Bridges’ decision averted a contested ballot and spared National from further public disunity. Appearing after his appointment, Luxon said he was frustrated by suggestions his friend and mentor Sir John Key helped. “I am not John Key,” he said.
So who is Chris Luxon? The new National leader is basing much of his political credibility on his business career. In his first speech as leader, Luxon said: “I have built a career out of reversing the fortunes of under-performing companies and I’ll bring that real-world experience to this role.” However, aviation experts questioned Luxon’s description of his time as chief executive of Air New Zealand, reports Stuff. He inherited a profitable and well-run company, and then rode one of the greatest travel booms in history. His only other notable experience is as a manager at the Canadian subsidiary of Unilever. However, there’s been no indication he was ever in any position to “reverse the fortunes” of the successful global giant. He was very well remunerated and told RNZ that he now owns seven houses, while playing down his socially conservative views. As the NZ Herald (paywalled) writes, Luxon will need to hope his fortunes in politics mirror those in business, where he arrived at the very start of a boom and left right before it came crashing down.
He now needs to put his stamp on an unruly National caucus. The new leader has said he’s offered no positions to anyone in caucus, including Bridges, and will make his own decisions about what team will be around him. Despite that assurance, Politik (paywalled) reports that he promised Bridges the role of finance spokesperson and a high spot in the party ranking. The Guardian reports that Luxon now wants to burnish National’s economic credentials, something that has been allowed to lapse in recent years.
One of his first moves could be to backtrack on a bipartisan bill advanced by Labour and National to create new housing supply, according to The Kākā (paywalled). The party has faced criticism for its support of the package and Luxon indicated that National will want amendments to allow for building in “a sustainable way”. Luxon told the NZ Herald that he wants to give councils more power over housing. He avoided questions about the party’s stance on conversion therapy and the role on Māori in three waters. He also told Stuff in an interview that he was dropping his predecessor’s “Demand the debate” campaign that often focused on the He Puapua report.
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