Labor leader Chris Hipkins is calling out party stalwarts’ hopes for a one-term national government

Labor leader Chris Hipkins has told party members in Wellington that he believes the party has a chance of toppling the coalition government after just one term in power – provided the party can win back Auckland and find out why the people who voted for it in 2020 did so. don’t do that in 2023.

Speaking at the party’s regional conference, Hipkins said the key to achieving that lies in being an effective opposition, developing new ideas and policies and targeting voters who left the opposition in 2023.

It would be the first time a national government has been removed from office after one term, although two previous Labor governments have lasted only one term.

Afterwards, Hipkins said his hopes of ousting the Coalition after just one term were partly due to recent polls – including a recent Taxpayers’ Union Curia poll – which showed the governing parties National, Act and NZ First struggling to hold on despite a Budget that delivered tax cuts.

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“That’s quite unheard of for a government after its first six months and I think that’s one of the things that indicates we have a very good chance of making it a one-term government.”

He said targeting the 2020 Labor voters did not mean selling out Labor’s core supporters to get those votes.

“It is very important to find the right balance in your policy development. People in the Labor Party want to see their hopes and aspirations reflected in our policy platform, just like I do. But we must also pursue a policy that is attractive to people who sometimes also vote for us.”

Asked afterwards by a party member how much Labor had cost the election, Hipkins said it was down to a number of factors.

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He said the biggest drop in support for Labor had occurred in Auckland, which he attributed to the Covid-19 “hangover”. He also listed crime and the cost of living. “Those are the three big things.”

Hipkins told them there was also a “vibe” that it was time for a change. He said Covid-19 had meant ‘the time horizon changed’ and people believed Labor had been in power for more than six years.

It was Labour’s last regional conference before the party meets for its annual conference at the end of this year. In his previous speeches at the conference, Hipkins had focused on what he wanted New Zealand to look like in 2040.

The annual conference will make clearer where party members stand on a number of key issues, including tax policy after Hipkins said they would start with a clean slate.

In his speech, Hipkins focused on National’s cuts to public services and government programs, its “broken promise” on cancer drugs and National’s tax cuts.

He said National’s debt was higher than Labour’s in its first budget, except in 2020 – when it was needed due to Covid-19 – “and Nicola Willis had no such excuse.”

Hipkins declined to say afterwards whether he would reverse those tax cuts if Labor came into government in 2026, saying the tax plan was still being developed.

However, he said his main argument against the tax cuts was that now was not the right time for them.

He expected 2026 to look different from 2023. He said the economic cycle was now at its bottom, but by 2026 inflation would be under control, but unemployment and child poverty would rise. “The wider social consequences of this will become apparent over the next two years, so that will present new challenges to deal with.”

The only firm policy position Hipkins made in his speech was to bring back the Fair Pay Agreements that Labor had started and restore the pay equality process.

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Questions from members also asked Hipkins what he would do about the media. Hipkins had rejected Labour’s proposed merger of RNZ with TVNZ as part of his so-called ‘bonfire’ after taking over.

Hipkins said he had never been convinced the merger was a good idea, pointing to the very different cultures of TVNZ and RNZ. “I am sorry to say that TVNZ stopped being a high quality public service broadcaster decades ago.”

When asked afterwards what he meant, Hipkins denied that he was criticizing its content or its news and current affairs offering. He said he was referring to the commercial model under which TVNZ operated and not its content or coverage.

“The commercial culture is a very different culture than that of a public broadcaster that is not dependent on advertising revenue for its income and that has a guaranteed source of financing.”

TVNZ operates under a commercial culture, RNZ operates under a high-quality public broadcasting model and I think those two things are different.”

He said he had taken the merger off the table, but Labor would have a different public broadcasting policy by 2026.

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Claire Trevett is the political editor of the NZ Herald. She joined the NZ Herald in 2003 and has worked at the Parliamentary Press Gallery since 2007.