Prime Minister Chris Hipkins and national leader Christopher Luxon have criticized the Electoral Commission as an estimated 1.4 million New Zealanders have yet to receive their easy voting cards.
The Electoral Commission said more than 3.4 million EasyVote packets have been sent to voters, of which about 2 million have already been delivered and the rest are expected to be delivered in the coming days.
“The Electoral Commission should have made sure voters received their simple voting cards before voting began,” Hipkins told reporters on a Zoom call today.
The Labor leader added: “The Electoral Commission has one job: delivering a successful election for all New Zealanders. To be this far away from an election and have so many New Zealanders who don’t have an Easy Vote card, and therefore believe they can’t vote because they don’t have one, is unacceptable.”
He said the Labor Party secretary had raised the issue with the Electoral Commission. Hipkins said there were “a million” voters who still had not received Easy Vote packages.
Luxon also said he was “disappointed” that the Electoral Commission had not yet sent out several Easy Vote packets, and one voter told him this morning they weren’t sure if they would be able to vote without them.
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Meanwhile, Auckland mayor Wayne Brown criticized Christopher Luxon after the National Party leader tried to allay any concerns about transport funding cuts by pointing to the hundreds of millions of dollars that remain in the council’s pocket.
Brown said scrapping Auckland’s regional fuel tax, which is part of National’s 100-day plan, would leave a $2 billion funding hole in transport projects such as the Eastern Busway.
Hipkins also criticized the plan, saying it was “robbing Peter to pay Paul.”
Asked about the shortfall while campaigning in Christchurch yesterday, Luxon said he still had money to continue the project as long as he had constructive talks with Brown after the election.
“There is currently $300 million unspent in this account that can be used to continue this project…Eventually we want to introduce a congestion pricing mechanism,” Luxon said.
“These are conversations that we will need to make sure are in sync and lined up.”
Late last night, Brown’s office responded: “The comments about unspent regional fuel tax funds miss the point. These funds have already been allocated to ongoing projects such as the Eastern Busway. Simply canceling these projects halfway by cutting off funding will not work.”
Brown supports eliminating the regional fuel tax, but only if it is replaced with other funding, without which there would be a “big hole” in the transportation budget. This would result in a 7 percent rate increase or the cancellation of $2.4 billion worth of transportation projects.
“This includes sensible projects such as the Eastern Busway, improvements to Lake Road, Glenvar Road, Lincoln Road and Botany Airport buses,” the statement said.
“After the election, the mayor hopes to sit down with the government, whoever it is, and come up with a plan that makes sense for Auckland.”
Luxon was responding to Chris Hipkins’ claims about further holes in National’s plans, while the Labor leader countered National’s claims that he was about to be removed so Labor could pass a wealth tax and capital gains tax, which Hipkins rejected.
Hipkins, speaking about Covid-19 isolation, says he is feeling better but is still testing positive.
“I know the Labor team is pushing hard for our plan,” he said. “They will continue to do this while I isolate.”
Hipkins also mentioned the Auckland mayor’s warning about scrapping the regional fuel tax.
“This is yet another case of Peter being robbed to pay Paul,” Hipkins said.
“It’s too much of a risk for Christopher Luxon,” he said.
Responding to National’s criticism that the Labor Party had made no progress in reducing poverty or improving Māori health, Hipkins pointed to smoking cessation, increased life expectancy and the building of 13,000 new “public houses”.
Speaking about the Reserve Bank’s official policy stance, Hipkins said inflation in other countries had “proven to be quite resilient”.
“This is another example of why now is not the time to cut taxes.
“Our plan is working. We are seeing inflation fall again in New Zealand.
“The downward trend will continue. A change in government is likely to lead to a resurgence in inflation.
“Any benefits people get from tax cuts will be quickly eroded by rising prices.”
Hipkins confirmed his willingness to participate in PressThe leaders’ debate will be held any day from Friday until next Thursday, but Luxon said he was “committed” and couldn’t find room in his diary.
Hipkins tries to portray this as Luxon “running for cover because he knows it will reveal him”, talking about the many holes he sees in National’s figures and the impact of National’s welfare policies on child poverty. Luxon rejected that claim, adding that indexing benefits to inflation better reflected changes in the cost of living.
Hipkins continued to question National’s revenue expectations from the proposed foreign buyer tax, which economists have described as a $2 billion hole. And as well as the impact of Auckland’s regional fuel tax cut, he pointed to the lack of dedicated funding in National’s water infrastructure plans if the Three Waters project is scrapped, which is also part of National’s 100-day plan.
National’s alternative to Three Waters is to allow councils to band together for borrowing purposes if they wish to do so, and Luxon said central government funding could be made available to authorities that still need help. This could come from $9.9 billion in unallocated operating reserves over four years and $8 billion in capital reserves in National’s budget plan.
The country’s 30-year water infrastructure investment gap is estimated to be somewhere between $90 billion and $185 billion.
Luxon visited a retirement village and shopping center in Christchurch, announcing longer postnatal stays for mothers of newborns (two to three days), free continuous glucose monitors (CGM) for children under 18 with type 1 diabetes and more training. places for psychiatrists and clinical psychologists.
The increase in postpartum stay was estimated at $19 million per year and for CGM at $5.2 million per year.
Hipkins said there was no tangible benefit to the announcement.
“They announced a 72-hour hospital stay for women during the election campaign back in 2009, and in fact the average length of hospital stay for women after giving birth has not changed. Women can stay in the hospital as long as they have a medical need to stay in the hospital now.”
He also noted that Pharmac is halfway through funding CGM, although it has been criticized for its slow progress.
National’s health spokesman Shane Reti said National wanted to expand the availability of CGM to pregnant women aged 18 to 25, then to women over 25 and then to people with type 2 diabetes, although there was no timeline for this rollout.
Luxon rejected any suggestion that he had chickened out Press’ leaders’ debate, saying that if Hipkins wanted to discuss people with whom he disagreed, he could talk about taxes with caucus colleagues David Parker and Ingrid Leary.
Parker made headlines when he dumped his income portfolio after Hipkins flouted a wealth tax, while Leary made comments at a public meeting about his personal support for a capital gains tax and a fairer and more transparent tax system.
Leary told Herald her comments about the tax system were a reference to the Tax Principles Act, which became law this year and aims to increase transparency and understanding through a new reporting system.
She said she supported Hipkins despite him ruling out the CGT, as did his predecessor Dame Jacinda Ardern, who was one of many in the caucus who personally backed the proposal but said she did not have a mandate to do so.
And Wellington Labor candidate Ibrahim Omer told a recent meeting that Labor had “not given up” on the idea of a wealth tax, earning him a rebuke from Hipkins, who said Omer was “wrong”. Omer later said he tried to tell voters that the issue was off the table for the next term.
All of this assumes a wealth tax and/or CGT will be passed as part of the Labour-Greens-Te Pati Māori governing agreement, National campaign chairman Chris Bishop said, or at least passed by Labor once Hipkins is ousted .
“The Labor faction desperately needs this. They want a wealth tax,” Bishop said.
“They’ve got a Green Party that’s pushing for a wealth tax and higher capital gains taxes. If you vote Labor, the Greens or the Maori Party, there will be a wealth tax or a capital gains tax, or possibly both.”
Hipkins laughed it off, calling it “amusing misinformation.”
Meanwhile, Act leader David Seymour has also published a health policy aimed at getting the most out of pharmaceutical products and improving access to new medicines.
This could be achieved, he said, by requiring the Ministry of Health to publish a drug strategy every two years, which would ensure regular performance reporting and international benchmarking of pharmaceutical companies.
It would also require MedSafe to approve within one week any drug or medical device approved by two foreign regulatory authorities with systems comparable to New Zealand’s.
New Zealand First has published its long-standing policy of holding referendums on social issues instead of MPs’ conscience votes in Parliament. This usually occurs due to social issues such as same-sex marriage, euthanasia or abortion.
Luxon will continue his tour of the South Island today and Hipkins will be back in his hotel room watching from the sidelines as his team takes on the campaign trail. But he will hold another press conference via Zoom.
Derek Cheng is a senior journalist who joined the Herald in 2004. He has worked at the press gallery several times and is a former deputy political editor.