Is there a Plan 'B'?
Time to go to the bench.
Can you imagine the talk around the water coolers of the nation this morning?
“Holy heck did you see that in the weekend? What a battering. The opposite of a winning performance. All these years of preparation, and after all the doubts, they stuck with the guy that no one thinks is up to the job. Madness.”
“Bloody Ian Foster eh. Don’t lose faith, the mighty ABs will be back.”
“No I mean that Jack Tame interview, with Christopher Luxon. Holy heck, haven’t they got someone they could bring off the bench? You can’t pick that guy, he’s just proven that when the big moment comes he freezes. We need a captain that will lead from the front, not argue with the referee when the guy with the whistle was clearly right.”
It wasn’t the best weekend for results. Not bad if you support the Black Caps, or were pleased to see Coco Gauff become a Grand Slam champion. Not so good if you were backing the All Blacks in the World Cup opener, the Warriors in their finals match, or indeed the leader of the National Party in his interview on Q&A.
The All Blacks showed moments of what they could do. In the opening minutes the game looked like a reversal of the previous one against the Springboks. We were the team hot on attack and first to score. There’s enough talent in that team to win some games in this tournament, despite having what everyone in the country, except the Rugby Union, can see is a very mediocre coach.
The Warriors might bounce back, they’ve always been a team that can win, or lose, any given game. That’s part of the excitement of supporting them.
But can Christopher Luxon come back from such an awful performance? I’m not so sure. It was dire, and he didn’t look in any way like a future leader of this country. He looked, as one commentator surprisingly said, like the first term MP that he is.
The interview started well enough. Luxon looked quite relaxed and happy. Like he had gotten some sun, perhaps it was the warmer weather as he looked more red than a Trump like fake orange. He was soon about to get an awful lot redder!
If you haven’t seen the interview take a look, it’s quite something:
Basically the interview came down to Jack Tame asking Christopher Luxon to explain three things:
What he was planning to do with the people in temporary social housing that his party had committed on Saturday to remove from Rotorua motels.
How on earth he was going to sell $20b worth of NZ housing to overseas speculators to provide the planned revenue for National’s tax cuts.
Whether it was even possible to charge a purchaser in China, National’s new Housing Speculator tax, without it also applying to New Zealanders living overseas who are not tax residents.
To cut a long story short, especially given that many of you will have either seen the interview or read about it, the answers were essentially as follows.
There was a lot of playing with words before Jack and Christopher agreed that the policy National had just announced the day before had no extra money to build social housing. Zero, nada, not a bean. The plan was to somehow build more houses from the same budget. As for what happens to those people currently living in motels, or other social housing where there are complaints, there was no plan at all.
The implication was that there were more deserving people on the waiting list than those who were abusing the privilege of being in social housing by causing trouble. Luxon really didn’t want to say what would happen to those evicted, eventually conceding it would be a problem for Kāinga Ora. I wondered just how “deserving” you had to be to warrant a roof over your head.
Luxon wanted to talk a lot about his initiatives in housing such as slashing the bright line test, returning tax breaks for property investors, and opening up the market to people overseas. He was sticking by his claim that these measures, which will almost certainly cause house prices to rise, and the investment property market to boom again, were somehow going to reduce rental prices.
Jack looked amused, such was the absurdity of the claim. He challenged the National leader as to whether he would be reducing the rent on any of his seven properties. This time it was Luxon’s turn to look amused at the absurdity of a suggestion. Clearly he had no such intention and he answered by saying that “this wasn’t about him” and “he hadn’t thought about it!”
The $20b housing sale.
Next up Tame told Luxon it had been calculated that for National to meet its revenue target from their tax on foreign buyers they would need to sell the equivalent of three Ponsonbys. If you’re unfamiliar with Auckland suburbs Ponsonby is the sort of place where you could buy a broken down wreck of a house on a postage stamp sized section and pay upwards of two million dollars for the privilege.
Luxon almost looked impressed when he was told how much it was. He didn’t deny the figure when pressed but he looked, quite rightly, bewildered. Like George W Bush being told about the attack on the twin towers while reading a book for school children, or like David Seymour hearing that yet another candidate has resigned.
Tame pressed Luxon repeatedly to release the modelling that showed the revenue projections from their new tax. He refused repeatedly, saying the 32 page document they had put out covered it. Then saying the document was all they were going to release.
Then as Tame got more and more exasperated by the leader of the opposition party refusing to show the basis for their projections Luxon used the phrase which he continued to use - “I’m comfortable with that.”
What a phrase!
It doesn’t mean he is comfortable that people have the information they need, he isn’t stupid he knows damn well they don’t. What he means is that on balance he is comfortable that he can get away with it.
It’s the equivalent of when Key used to say “most kiwis don’t care” in the face of unacceptable behaviour. I think we can safely assume that if National were comfortable with their numbers they would have released them, rather than just having Luxon smile and say “trust me”.
Charging non residents the speculation tax
Another issue that would dramatically impact the revenue National plan to get from selling off our housing to overseas speculators is who they can tax.
You might recall soon after the tax was announced there was a lot of discussion as to whether either Free Trade Agreements, or Tax Agreements, would restrict the ability of a government to charge Chinese citizens the tax.
Tame began by showing Luxon a clip of former PM Key explaining why they had ruled out introducing a very similar tax, as they didn’t think it was possible. Luxon insisted that their advice said they could tax Chinese citizens without non-resident New Zealanders being caught by the same tax.
Again Tame challenged Luxon to table that advice, so that it would be available to those who say there will be issues. Again Luxon refused to provide evidence to support his claims. You were definitely left wondering if he had such advice, and if it was so compelling, why on earth wouldn’t he release it?
How have people responded?
Before the interview had even finished the posts were coming through, such as “Luxon a DISASTER on Q&A”.
Darren Watson, you’ll have seen a couple of his song releases in this newsletter recently, (Looking Like) The Everyday Man and Ol’ Seven Houses, said “I challenge any sane person to watch Luxon imploding on today's Q&A and tell me they'll vote for that.”
He then followed it up with a great wee rhyme:
Humpty Luxie sat on a chair
Humpty Luxie lied some more there
all the red facing
and all of the bluster
he's a bullshitting hustler
It was so bad that even Claire Trevett of the Herald had something critical to say about Christopher Luxon. Yep, imagine, so bad that even the Herald couldn’t ignore it! Claire criticizing a National leader is only one step away from the unthinkable - a diss from the mighty Hosking or his cohort of bitter ZB bottle blondes.
In addition to the quote saying that “Luxon looked like the first-term MP that he is”, Claire also had the following to say:
He could not answer what would happen to those people who were evicted from their state homes for bad behaviour. Where would they go? That was apparently irrelevant. It was Kāinga Ora’s problem - not his - even though Kāinga Ora would have kicked them out at his behest.
As Tame interrogated him on whether National would raise as much as it claimed from measures such as a foreign buyers’ tax, Luxon tried to answer by simply saying over and over that what was important was National was offering tax cuts to the squeezed middle. He claimed there was no issue with the numbers, and he was “comfortable” and “confident” with National’s reckonings.
Unfortunately for Christopher his poor interviews and bad headlines were not done for the day. Jenna Lynch from Newshub hadn’t had her turn yet.
Now in fairness to Luxon he didn’t really walk off, he simply left at the end of the press conference and didn’t answer Jenna’s question as he was departing. But that’s where the good news for Mr Luxon ends because this was yet another dagger to the heart of National’s tax plan that was already looking in need of a blood transfusion.
The article was about tax cuts being funded my making cuts to public services. A tricky topic for National as while some might welcome tax cuts no one is really that keen on cutting funding to public funding. Other than perhaps Willis and Seymour, who no doubt have already worked out what they’d like to terminate, or blow up.
Again, like the Q&A interview, Luxon just refused to answer questions - on his own cornerstone policy. National’s plan requires just under $600m per year in cuts. Having said they won’t cut Education or Health that will necessitate some fairly sizeable cuts in other areas. Craig Renney from the Council of Trade Unions (CTU) helpfully pointed out what this would include:
When we look inside those cuts, it's targeting what it calls backroom bureaucracy.
But in reality, when we look inside there, it's areas like the court systems, it's areas like biosecurity, it's areas like cybersecurity. Troublingly, it includes areas like family violence and sexual violence.
National are keen to say they will cut roles like communication consultants, which felt a little ironic on this day of disastrous comms. Renney pointed out that the back office budgets National were targeting to provide the majority of the cuts also included things like passport processing, national emergency management communications, and search and rescue coordination.
Seems to me, after the year we’ve had, that the idea of cutting funding to things like emergency management and search and rescue coordination might not be big vote winners. No wonder Luxon didn’t want to talk about that.
Then something even more bizarre happened. Jenna Lynch provided a disclaimer about the CTU. She said “We should note the CTU is the same organisation which plastered attack ads about Luxon all over town this week and Renney used to work in Grant Robertson's office.”
Not only does she never provide such a disclaimer for right wing groups like the Taxpayer’s Union, the NZ Initiative, or the Business roundtable. She also never provides the same disclaimer for her own relationship with the ACT party, being the long term partner of that party's Chief of Staff.
Surely she must have felt like an absolute goose reading a disclaimer about the CTU having a relationship with a political party when the elephant in the room every time she speaks is the deliberate non-disclosure of her own conflict of interest?
To receive new posts and support my writing, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.
So all in all a pretty horrendous weekend for Christopher Luxon. He showed very clearly that he intends to take New Zealand back to a place where some people live in cars and others get hugely wealthy from the property market.
Like the Rugby Union the National Party is too stubborn to admit they got it wrong. They’ll continue with a bloke in charge that everyone can see is not up to the job, rather than biting the bullet and switching to the far superior candidate. Be it Scott “Razor” Robertson, or Nicola “Social Spending Razor” Willis.
I couldn’t agree more with Darren Watson’s quote above - “I challenge any sane person to watch Luxon imploding on today's Q&A and tell me they'll vote for that.”
You deserve better than this - accept no substitute New Zealand.