The BulletinSeptember 4, 2023

The Chrises kick off their campaigns


The contrasting political styles of Hipkins and Luxon were on full display at this weekend’s election campaign launches, writes Catherine McGregor in this excerpt from The Bulletin, The Spinoff’s morning news round-up. To receive The Bulletin in full each weekday, sign up here.

A tale of two campaign launches

One city, two big speeches, (at least) six protestors and an eight-point pledge card: it was the season’s major campaign-launch weekend, with Labour and National introducing their respective campaigns in front of flocks of Auckland party faithful, along with apparently every journalist in the city. Let’s begin with Labour on Saturday at the Aotea Centre, where prime minister Chris Hipkins laid out his case for another term – and did it with brio, according to the political press. It marked “an aggressive new phase” for the Labour leader, who displayed a “steely confidence” indicating he’s “determined to give winning a red-hot go”, writes Andrea Vance for the Sunday Star-Times. Hipkins’ speech was interrupted on at least six occasions by protestors from Freedoms NZ, and he “dealt with each of them with wit and humour,” says Stuff political editor Luke Malpass. “If anything it fired up the party faithful.”

Labour promise free dental – but not now, and not for everyone

The big news from the Labour event – other than the protests – was a pledge to introduce free standard dental treatment for everyone under 30, although not quite yet. The plan would expand dental care in two stages, to 18- to 23-year-olds from July 2025 and to all under-30s from July 2026. Asked by Jack Tame on Q&A about the delay, Hipkins said “You can’t just flick a switch and turn on extra dental care for people overnight.” Even with “unlimited” funding, there weren’t enough dentists to make it happen, Hipkins added. To address that, Labour would also raise the cap on dental training places by 50%, and launch a campaign to recruit more dental workers from overseas starting in 2024. By the end of next term, if Labour is re-elected, “nearly 40% of all Kiwis will have access to free dental care,” Hipkins told his Aotea Centre audience – who responded with jubilation, having been warmed up to the point of fervour by the repeated interruptions. .”The policy addresses, in part, one of New Zealanders’ biggest healthcare concerns, but Malpass says it doesn’t pass the smell test. “The $390 million costing for the policy looks implausibly low, and the labour force too small and too difficult to grow for the timeline given.”

National employs some US-style razzmatazz

Over to the Due Drop Events Centre in Manukau, where National launched its own election campaign on Sunday. It was a slickly produced affair, clearly made “to look and sound good on television”, writes Claire Trevett on the Herald. Most notably, it featured an actual All Blacks stadium announcer individually introducing each MP and candidate as they entered the venue. As Tova O’Brien describes it, “The candidates went on to form a kind of guard of honour, lining the aisle down which Christopher Luxon – their king – waved, kissed, hugged and shook hands all the way to the stage.” To Toby Manhire, writing this morning on The Spinoff, it was “Las Vegas reimagined in the suburbs of Auckland, at times a UFC title-fight buildup, at others a school hockey prizegiving”. What the flashy launch didn’t feature is any new policy – the big announcement was a “wordy” new pledge card, really more of a pamphlet – which meant journalists were free to focus their questions on the feasibility or otherwise of National’s tax plan.

Lessons from a month on the road with Chris and Chris

The contrasting styles and skill sets of Luxon and Hipkins, on full display this weekend in Auckland, were also the subject of last night’s Sunday programme on TVNZ. As well as fronting the 25 minute video segment, John Campbell has written a lengthy reflection on what he learned from shadowing the two leaders, on and off, for the past four weeks. Luxon, he says, is fond of speaking in banalities and jargon. Having once worked at McDonald’s (as you may have heard), Luxon “dispenses aspirational and motivational homilies with the easy efficiency of a drive-thru”, Campbell writes. As for Hipkins, he’s as remarkably ordinary in real life as he seems, and on the campaign trail exhibits little of the passion that voters generally want to see from their leaders. Remarks Campbell, “It does seem only a matter of time before the PM starts turning up in his jammies.”

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