Christopher Luxon worries New Zealand's become 'inward', 'fearful' over the years, trade relationships suffered as result

Christopher Luxon worries New Zealand has become fearful, inward, and negative over the past few years - and now our trading relationships have suffered as a result.

The National Party leader has been visiting Singapore, Ireland, and the United Kingdom on a policy-finding mission ahead of next year's election.

In an interview with the Sydney Morning Herald while in London, Luxon said he hopes the impact of this inward mindset on trading relationships is only temporary.

"I do feel we've played a very fearful, a very negative, a very inward game over the last few years," he told the outlet.

"We get rich by doing business around the world, not by selling things to each other in New Zealand."

The Sydney Morning Herald claimed it was New Zealand's COVID-19 border closures and rules that made the country become inward, but Luxon clarified on Tuesday that his comments had nothing to do with Aotearoa's pandemic restrictions.

"My remarks were, generally, around a policy exchange speech I gave around saying that I want New Zealand to rediscover its confidence, ambition, and aspiration," he said.

"I do think we've become too internal, too inward, too fearful over the past few years. It wasn't about COVID remarks in particular."

Also in his interview with the Sydney Morning Herald, Luxon said he wants New Zealand to urgently welcome more temporary and permanent migrants to help boost productivity and alleviate inflation. He also wants to extend the eligibility age for working visas from 30 to 35 and allow repeat visits.

He said there are "massive skills gaps" and the country needs to open up to help address them.

"And the accompanying piece to that is making sure we've got the infrastructure to support it as well because we've done a poor job of syncing those two bits together ... but yeah, we're very pro-immigration."

Christopher Luxon.
Christopher Luxon. Photo credit: Getty Images

Luxon also praised Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern's recent travel to Europe, where she took part in the NATO summit and talks in London. She also visited Australia on her way back to New Zealand.

He said it's important that Ardern does the job of "chief salesperson" well since we're in a restarting phase of enticing people back to New Zealand after shutting borders, rather than a rebuilding phase.

Luxon was also critical of how Kiwis stuck overseas were treated, telling the Sydney Morning Herald it was "cruel and brutal" and had exposed a first and second-class category of citizenship.

"First and foremost, we think the Government should apologise - just acknowledge that we got it wrong - that would be a good first step," he said.

"And then I think there is a good conversation to be had about making sure that that wouldn't happen again."

Looking ahead to next year's general election, Luxon rejected suggestions that his "stale, male, pale" characteristics would be a drawback against Ardern. He said that while the Prime Minister has great communication skills, "New Zealanders want more than that".

He said he was focussing on getting a diverse list of candidates at the next election, adding that his business experience had proven that diversity brings "richer thinking".