The cost-of-living crisis, substandard healthcare and roads, growing separatism and establishing better connections between Northland and Auckland were among the hot topics raised during National leader Christopher Luxon’s visit to Kerikeri today.
The opposition leader touched down at Kerikeri airport around midday and was joined by National’s Northland candidate, Maungaturoto farmer Grant McCallum for a quick walk around town before fronting a packed public meeting.
First up was a closed-door meeting at Whitelaw Weber chartered accountants followed by a walk through Kerikeri CBD.
At “Real” real estate agents, Sharon Roberts told Luxon what she was regularly experiencing in her role as a sales consultant.
“I’m hearing the same thing from everybody. We’re losing a lot of people who are selling their houses and going to Australia.”
Sales consultant Pete Gentil asked how National would deal with growing separatism in New Zealand.
Luxon told Roberts National wanted to make the country “a place people wanted to start a business and raise a family and make a contribution to the community”, and told Gentil that while “people have their own identity, we’re all Kiwis, we’re one country and we have one law”.
Luxon was impressed with the customer service at Churchills Fine Meats & Deli, where he joked with customers and talked to staff about staff shortages and their butchers’ training programme.
It’s also where Kerikeri resident and National supporter Nola Blainey told Luxon of her plans for the fresh cut of meat she’d just bought.
Luxon stopped outside Cafe Zest to chat with Gaye and John Maurice from Kaikohe, asking Gaye about her foot which was in a “moon boot”.
Gaye told Luxon she’d been on the hospital waiting list four years before she got surgery, which prompted Luxon to comment on the increase in waiting list times across the country.
Out of earshot, Gaye – whose dog was wearing a blue jumper – said she was “a big fan” of Luxon. “I love him, he’s the best thing out from John Key.”
Luxon and McCallum picked up lunch at Feast cafe before heading to the Kerikeri Sports Complex for a packed public meeting of more than 400 people.
The biggest issue facing Northland – like the rest of New Zealand – was the cost of living, with inflation at a 30-year high and wages not keeping up, he said.
The cost-of-living crisis was “without a doubt the biggest issue”, which was “hurting Kiwis big time”.
“Kiwis up and down the country are skipping meals, they’re lining up at foodbanks and half of New Zealanders are now worrying about money on a daily basis,” Luxon said.
“That’s because of government spending and band-aid economics.”
National would address the underlying causes by getting rid of red tape, addressing worker shortages by opening up some immigration settings, and not passing costs onto businesses.
The party would also provide tax relief to workers by adjusting tax brackets for inflation, he said.
“If you care about people, you run a good economy so people aren’t going through so much pain and suffering.
“You can’t pass costs onto businesses, that just leads to higher prices. We’ve got businesses that want to grow but can’t because of worker shortages.”
Luxon said roading and having “strong connections” between Auckland and Northland were also important.
“Road connections are the single biggest thing needed to advance Northland. We have a lot of infrastructure we’ve got to develop across the country.”
Luxon said the current Government’s focus on centralisation and control – such as Three Waters, replacing 20 district health boards with Health NZ and replacing 16 institutes of technology and polytechnics with one mega polytech Te Pukenga – “hasn’t been working, all it has done is created bureaucracy”.
The Government has played “identity politics”, Luxon said, “pitching New Zealanders against others”.
“Rural vs city dwellers, landlords vs tenants, employers vs employees and Māori vs non-Māori.
“We’re all New Zealanders first and foremost. We have to keep working to maintain unity.”
Luxon also talked about tackling growing crime, including ram raids and gangs who “peddle in misery and drug addictions”.
It was “outrageous” the town of Ōpōtiki was totally shut down because of recent gang tensions, he said.
The state of New Zealand’s education system was “alarming” and healthcare “worrying”, he said.
“We have a broken economy, law and order and a broken government. We have to turn the government around and get it back on track. We have to fix the economy to reduce the cost of living.”
Luxon and McCallum also attended a National Party Northland Electorate mid-winter Christmas fundraising dinner at the Bay of Islands Golf Club.