(Image: Christopher Luxon on X)
(Image: Christopher Luxon on X)

The BulletinJune 19, 2024

Luxon defends ‘c-list’ faux pas, but business leaders reportedly unimpressed

(Image: Christopher Luxon on X)
(Image: Christopher Luxon on X)

It’s not the first time the PM has been accused of disrespecting New Zealand businesses while overseas, writes Stewart Sowman-Lund in this extract from The Bulletin. To receive The Bulletin in full each weekday, sign up here.

The PM prepares to meet his Japanese counterpart

Christopher Luxon will today meet with Japan’s prime minister Fumio Kishida for bilateral talks and a state dinner put on for the visit. It’s the culmination of the prime minister’s whirlwind business tour of Japan, briefly overshadowed (once again) by the beleaguered Defence Force 757 that broke down in Papua New Guinea. Stuff’s Bridie Witton previewed the trip earlier in the week, teasing that the agenda would focus on hot topics like trade and security in the Asia-Pacific region. Since then, as RNZ’s Anneke Smith reported, Luxon has attended a number of events, including to a local Costco to sample New Zealand produce. But one subject of conversation that nobody could have foreseen was over the calibre of the delegation itself, with the prime minister forced to defend comments he made in an interview about New Zealand business leaders, some of whom have travelled to Tokyo alongside him.

Who’s on the trip and what’s been announced so far?

We’ll get to those remarks in a moment, but first, who’s on the trip? The NZTE has the full line-up of business leaders that have travelled to Japan with Luxon. It includes representatives from Air New Zealand, ASB, Aurecon, Fonterra, Ngāi Tahu Tourism, Rocket Lab and Zespri. Yesterday, reported the Herald’s Jenée Tibshraeny, Rocket Lab announced it had signed a deal that would see it send 10 satellites into space for the Japanese company Synspective. It’s the biggest single launch contract signed by Rocket Lab to date, though the company’s chief executive Peter Beck wouldn’t disclose the precise value. Fabrum, a Christchurch-based engineering firm, announced on Monday it would supply Toyota with its liquid hydrogen storage tech. Air New Zealand’s boss Greg Foran has also used his time abroad to announce a further push by the airline into Asia, reported Stuff’s Lorna Thornber. It will boost its service to Japan by 30,000 seats between November and March in response to increased demand. If your workplace is anything like mine, it feels like everyone is booking holidays to Japan at the moment – fingers crossed more seats means cheaper airfares.

C-listers and ‘tag-alongs’

On Twitter yesterday, Luxon said he wanted to be New Zealand’s “biggest cheerleader” on the world stage. But Newstalk ZB’s Jason Walls reported that the prime minister labelled the business leaders that accompanied former prime ministers Jacinda Ardern and Chris Hipkins on trade missions “c-list” and “tag-alongs”, in audio shared here on Twitter by Ben McKay. This Stuff report from last year breaks down the “business heavyweights” who joined Hipkins for his tour of China, some of whom, such as Greg Foran, have joined Luxon in Japan. Before the trip, Luxon made similar remarks to the Herald, telling Tibshraeny that business leaders on past delegations “weren’t able to convert well enough”, business-speak for turning opportunities into money. The prime minister claimed the comments were taken out of context when pressed on them by Newshub’s Amelia Wade. “What I said is it’s very exciting that we’ve got a high-calibre delegation of chairs and CEOs of New Zealand’s major companies.”

It’s not the first time Luxon’s been accused of criticising the business community

As reported by The Spinoff’s Toby Manhire in 2022, Luxon told an audience in London that “businesses are getting soft and looking to the government for all their answers”. A few days later, Luxon expressed concern to the Sydney Morning Herald that New Zealand had become fearful, inward, and negative, adding that “we get rich by doing business around the world, not by selling things to each other in New Zealand.” Luxon almost repeated that exact same quote last week on his Instagram when announcing his Japan visit. Perhaps most infamously, there was Luxon’s claim that New Zealand was “negative, wet [and] whiny”, comments he made when speaking to farmers on the campaign trail last year. 1News reported on those remarks here. In April this year, Interest’s Dan Brunskill reported that Luxon had been asked by Comvita’s chairman Brett Hewlett to stop making unhelpful comments, such as that New Zealand was “under new management”, while abroad. “New Zealand has never been closed for business,” said Hewlett. According to Amelia Wade, some of the business leaders on this trip are “unimpressed” with Luxon’s latest remarks – perhaps not surprising given it took them over 40 hours to arrive in Japan.

Labour leader Chris Hipkins told The Bulletin that the prime minister liked to talk himself up and others down. “There has generally been goodwill on matters of trade and representing New Zealand abroad,” he said. “Luxon doesn’t seem to have the same respect for our country doing well internationally no matter who’s in charge.” Luxon and the business delegation will return to New Zealand tomorrow. All going well, they’ll arrive back in the country onboard the 757 which has been repaired and dispatched to Tokyo to pick everyone up, as The Post reported here.

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