The Battle of the two Chris’

What you need to know

Since Chris Hipkins succeeded Jacinda Ardern as the prime minister, a lot has been written about him, much in glowing terms.  Yet, there has been nearly nothing written about his failed management on many issues over the past two years. Meanwhile, Christopher Luxon has come under increasing attack from mainstream media. This of course is no surprise.  This article attempts to bring some balance to this. I will not attempt to flatter Christopher Luxon either. While both have good qualities, they also have their failings. Sadly, a balanced approach to this matter has not necessarily occurred over recent weeks.

Chris Hipkins has successfully presented himself as a man of moderation and one for change to protect the common man, finally acknowledging the cost-of-living crisis. He has made changes to his cabinet, some substantial, but in essence, much the same will still apply. The demotion of Mahuta was offset by the promotion of Willie Jackson, thus keeping the 25% of the front bench Māori, which fits neatly with co-governance. While noises about repealing Three Waters have been raised, it is yet to be seen as to whether this eventuates, along with the vexed issue of the deeper entrenchment of co-governance into our political system and national infrastructures. It is here that both Labour and National have different prospectives.

Since the honeymoon period that has followed the anointment of Hipkins as prime minister, little, if nothing, has been said about his handling of matters during and after the Covid-19 pandemic. In fact, I raised many of Labour’s failings during this period in my last article without realising that Hipkins’ paw marks were over all of them. He presided over the Covid response and said we were at the front of the cue for vaccines. It transpired we were at the back end of acquiring Covid vaccines. Furthermore, Hipkins presided over the cruel MIQ system which was a failed lottery system that effectively locked out over 25,000 New Zealanders. The MIQ system breached the human rights of New Zealanders to return home, and in some ways was a breach of international law. It was part of one of the harshest lockdowns any country implemented during the pandemic, and it took “exiled” New Zealanders to take court action against the government to start dismantling this ridiculous system. Then as a coup de grace, Charlotte Bellis stepped in when she was denied access to New Zealand to give birth. The Taliban were happy to accommodate her, but not her country of birth. Hipkins paws were all over this case too, releasing personal information about Bellis to smear her character. It took the threat of legal action by Bellis for Hipkins to apologise. Without this threat of court action, I am sure Hipkins would have been happy to leave the smear and false allegations to stick.

This was much like his handling of the two women who went to Northland to look at property and were accused of being prostitutes and gang associates. Hipkins knew three days before they crossed the “border” into Northland that this was a lie. Instead, he let it play out to the benefit of the government to continue Northland’s lockdown on dubious grounds. He knew that his bureaucrats had made a technical error in the case but that did not matter to him. Once again, he was happy to destroy the integrity and wellbeing of these two women because it suited him and his government politically.

In essence, Hipkins has a tendency to play the man (in the cases stated above, woman), rather than the ball.

Not only did Hipkins preside over destroying the integrity of these two women and Charlotte Bellis, but he also presided over the demise of our education system and the polytechnic merger. Some would say he probably inherited a problem in the education system and some of these problems relate to the fallout due to Covid, and to some extent, this is true. However, he had the opportunity to fix these problems and deal with the issues created by Covid and the lockdowns. None of this was achieved. We have witnessed a steady decline in school attendances, with only 46% of children regularly attending school. Furthermore, the failure rate for year 10 students who undertook the literacy, reading and maths tests was appalling, with some 78% failing.

On top of this has been the shambolic polytechnic merger, where millions of dollars have been wasted on a failed process. It was probably never a good idea to centralise a system that was mostly working well. It may have been better to amalgamate some polytechnics into regional hubs. For example, there were too many polytechnics in the Wellington region to be both profitable and efficient. Merging them into one or two polytechnics may have been more justifiable.

Then Hipkins became the police minister, taking over from the hapless Poto Williams. Hipkins cannot be totally blamed for the continued crime wave that gripped the upper North Island, although his overall response was slow and haphazard. Providing too few fog cannons and bollards for shop owners was a band aid on a very serious problem, like an ambulance at the bottom of the cliff rather than a fence at the top.

Hipkins will need to overcome many of these disquieting issues and his tendency to pay lip service to the real problems that exist in New Zealand to fully gain the wider support and confidence of the public. Naturally, he will play down the issue of co-governance, taking this issue off the table until after the next election.  If Labour wins the next election, it will surely be back front and centre of Labour’s agenda. Can he explain what Labour’s full interpretation of co-governance is?

Conversely, Christopher Luxon has provided his version of what he believes co-governance is and what it is not or should not be. Of course, it is a repudiation of what Labour have been doing. As Luxon states, co-governance works well on a local scale, much in the form of a partnership, a working together. Co-governance does not and should not work at a national level where ownership is 50/50 with veto rights (e.g., Three Waters), or separate health authorities, or justice and education systems; or for that matter as part of the resource management process. These are matters for one system of government, not two.

Luxon has focussed successfully on the cost-of-living crisis and the crime wave, but to date he (and Labour) have provided no detail on how these two vexed problems will be solved. It is like listening to a broken record with no ending. Both he and National need to provide detail so the public will know how they will solve these problems.

Further, Luxon, while articulate in many ways, still fails to engender confidence in the public. This is partly due to his inexperience, but also, he is a corporate man and still comes across as such. Naturally, his style does not easily resonate with the wider public. He continues to preach he will get things done but fails to say how. He has successfully rebuilt the National party and built a sense of loyalty within the party, but this has not been fully appreciated by the wider public.

His business success with Unilever and Air New Zealand clearly demonstrates an ability to build good, solid successful business models. He needs to create a convincing narrative that he will translate this success into running the country. This is the potential difference between Luxon and Hipkins. One is a successful businessman, and the other is a successful career politician. Thus, the country needs to decide what style of leadership they want to run the country going forward. One who understands the principles of business and how to be successful, yet is still politically naïve and lacking in a good one-liner, or one who bases his decisions on ideology, is a successful career politician and is good with a one-liner?

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