Chris Hipkins (photo: Hagen Hopkins/Getty)
Chris Hipkins (photo: Hagen Hopkins/Getty)

The BulletinSeptember 8, 2023

Stick to the facts, Hipkins tells flub-prone MPs

Chris Hipkins (photo: Hagen Hopkins/Getty)
Chris Hipkins (photo: Hagen Hopkins/Getty)

Are Labour’s recent run of errors a sign of increasing panic within the ranks, asks 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.

An embarrassing error for a government that doesn’t need another mistake

Yesterday in The Bulletin Anna highlighted reporting from Stuff that the government had mistakenly promised half price public transport for disabled people and only corrected the record when contacted by reporter Mildred Armah. Then, less than 12 hours later, the story took an absurd twist when Labour was forced to pull down a social media attack ad claiming National would cut “free public transport for disabled Kiwis”. Not only has free public transport never been on offer to disabled New Zealanders, but (as previously mentioned) nor has half price public transport, despite promises to that effect made in a press release for the May 2023 budget. Those in the Total Mobility scheme instead get up to 75% off taxi and shuttle fares, a discount made permanent in this year’s budget. National has announced it plans to axe the Community Connect programme of half-price fares for young people and those with Community Services cards. But there appears to be some confusion on the National side too, with RNZ reporting that a spokesperson said “the party had no plans to scrap the Community Services half-price public transport support”.

Just the facts, Hipkins instructs MPs

The attack ad flub is just the latest in a string of inaccurate claims made by Labour MPs and candidates about their National rivals in recent days. As recapped by RNZ, Christchurch Central candidate Duncan Webb claimed the Matariki holiday would be abolished by a National government, and the right to 10 days sick leave was at risk – but National has committed to keep both. Senior MP Andrew Little was asked to remove a Facebook post “after making the hyperbolic claim that National and Act would ‘flog off the schools and sack all the teachers’”, writes Watkin, while in a debate on Tuesday, “a fired-up Willie Jackson wrongly claimed a National-Act coalition would ‘get rid of the minimum wage’”. As Claire Trevett reports in the Herald, Labour has also attempted to conflate Act policy both past and present with National’s, “claiming they would bring back student loan interest… and military-style firearms”. It’s a taste of National’s own medicine, perhaps – “in 2017 and 2020, Ardern faced repeated claims that she would end up adopting a wealth tax because it was the Green Party policy”. Chris Hipkins says he has warned his MPs to be more careful with the facts going forward.

Controversy over National’s foreign buyers plan rumbles on

Meanwhile National continues to face its own allegations of playing fast and loose with the facts. The controversy over its foreign buyers plan is well-worn by now, answered in part by National’s new preference for calling the questionable 15% tax a “fee” or “charge” instead. RNZ’s Giles Dexter and Tim Watkin highlight another potential fly in the ointment: whether it’s really possible that an overseas buyer could stay long enough to purchase property and “bring their talent here” (the whole point of the policy, according to National) but not long enough to become a tax resident, which would free them from the 15% “fee”. Elsewhere, deputy leader Nicola Willis has clarified that the authentic-looking case studies in an election brochure weren’t actually “real people”, as she had initially claimed. This one is a murky case – while these “real people” were in fact stock images, Willis says she was responding to AM Show host Ryan Bridge’s question about whether they were generated by AI. “Yes they were stock images, but they were real people,” Willis said.

Is this campaign really as negative as some say?

All these criticisms over misinformation and inaccuracy have likely contributed to the impression in some quarters – including from National’s Chris Bishop – that this is already a notably negative campaign. “Let’s not catastrophise,” advises Tim Watkin, in a post tagged to the latest episode of RNZ’s Caucus podcast. “Let’s take a breath and remember our political debate is a long way from the violence and polarisation we see in so many countries.” Still, Watkin notes that podcast co-hosts Guyon Espiner and Julian Wilcox feel that the “negativity Labour, in particular, is engaging in reeks of desperation, and looks like the tactic of a party that knows it’s running a distant second”. It’d be remiss of me not to note that the subject is also given a good going over in the latest, reliably entertaining episode of The Spinoff’s own Gone by Lunchtime.

Keep going!