New National leader Christopher Luxon and the big issues, where he stands

Christopher Luxon has been elected leader of the New Zealand National Party, alongside Nicola Willis as deputy leader.

Newly appointed National Party leader Christopher Luxon has promised a “reset” of the party after a tumultuous four years of internal sniping and leadership spills, but there’s little indication of a reset in the party’s policy direction.

Though Luxon has largely been untested during his 409 days in Parliament, he has made clear some of his position on some issues. At his inaugural media conference as leader on Tuesday, he placed heavy emphasis on a touchstone issue for the National Party: the economy.

“We don't have a productive enough economy, and what we mean by that is that Kiwis are working hard, we're some of the hardest working people in the world. But we're not generating high enough incomes.

"We've got to really redouble our education, and really invest in education as a means of building the skills that we can, so we can access higher paying jobs, get higher salaries and wages, give people more choices.”

National Party leader Christopher Luxon and his deputy Nicola Willis hold a press conference after their successful bid to become leader and deputy of the party, on Tuesday.
National Party leader Christopher Luxon and his deputy Nicola Willis hold a press conference after their successful bid to become leader and deputy of the party, on Tuesday.

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He also said the party needed to “think deeply” about mental health – “that’s an issue for every New Zealander” – as well was managing emissions, and building and developing infrastructure.

Faith and politics

Luxon is also known to have a strong Christian faith. But he said his faith had been “misrepresented and portrayed very negatively” amid discussion of his suitability for leading the party.

“I want to be very clear: we have separation between politics and faith, people shouldn't be selecting an MP because of their faith ... It's important that everyone understands I am here to represent all New Zealanders, not just if people have one faith or one interest.”

Luxon, speaking to RNZ on Tuesday afternoon, said he was pro-life, meaning opposed to the practice of abortion. But Luxon indicated he was uninterested in pursuing his view on this in the party's policy.

“We've settled our legislation in the last Parliament and ... in the National Party we have a range of views, and as do New Zealanders, and so I can tell you right now, not a big issue. We're moving forward.”

Identity and housing

At the media conference, he appeared to support a proposed ban on conversion therapy, the practice of attempting to change or suppress a person's sexual orientation or gender identity, which the Government intends to ban through legislation working its way through the house.

“We want to see the feedback from the select committee, I can tell you what we think is an abhorrent practice. And we want to be able to digest the feedback, and we'll take it from there,” he said.

The National Party in October unveiled joint legislation with the Labour Government aimed at intensifying housing. Luxon on Tuesday said the party would propose amendments to the legislation – a move that was broadly expected – in response to public submissions received in the select committee stage.

"There was sort of two thematics coming out about that [bill]: design guidelines and flexibility for local government. We want to digest that feedback and propose some amendments to that legislation.”

Newly appointed National Party leader Christopher Luxon, on Tuesday.
Newly appointed National Party leader Christopher Luxon, on Tuesday.

Three Waters and He Puapua

Luxon had also been pursuing the National Party’s concern over possible co-governance arrangements with Māori, particularly within the Government’s Three Waters reform as the party’s local government spokesman.

Luxon has not heavily pursued the Government over the He Puapua report – a report about how constitutional arrangements could change to grant Māori more power in the coming decades – which featured in former leader Judith Collins’ attacks on the Government.

Collins had similarly used the He Puapua report to raise concern over the Government’s creation of a Māori Health Authority.

Luxon has been beating the drum of opposition against the governance arrangements for new water entities proposed by the Government, which would provide Māori equal representation on governance groups. But he did not refer directly to Māori governance when talking about these issues on Tuesday.

"The bigger issue on Three Waters is it's got a very confused ownership and governance structure. That's what we're fundamentally opposing. These are assets that are owned by local ratepayers, and local residents, and local councils that have been taken away by Government,” he said.

Health and social investment

On health reforms, he said it was not “the smartest thing” to be restructuring the sector during a global pandemic.

“We need the healthcare system ruthlessly focused on the task of keeping New Zealanders safe.

“This country where we have issues around inequality and inequity, we need to really identify and target the people that need real targeted interventions, and enable [them] to put them on a pathway where they can be independent and not dependent on the state.

“This notion that say [former National leader] Bill English developed around social investment, I would say ... is another thought that we need to be able to bring to life.”

There may be more changed in policy to come. Luxon said deputy leader Nicola Willis and senior MP Louise Upston had recently begun reviewing of the parties policies, before the change in leadership.

“We will continue that work, we might sharpen up a few aspects of it. But that's a conversation to come in coming weeks.”