Christopher Luxon says Government has 'lost the plot', lashes out over cost of living payment issues

The National leader is lashing out at the Government, accusing it of having a "total disrespect for taxpayers' money" and suggesting it has "lost the plot" after issues emerged about the implementation of the cost of living payment. 

The first tranche of the Government's support was paid out on Monday. The payment of $116.67 is the first of three, with the second and third portions coming on the first business days of September and October.

It works out at $350 and will go to Kiwis who earn $70,000 or less, aren't entitled to the Winter Energy Payment and meet several other criteria. 

However, several issues emerged with the implementation of the payment after it was revealed Kiwis living overseas had received it. The Government also came under fire after it was revealed only 1.32 million people received the payment, fewer than the 2.1 million the Government said were estimated to be eligible. The Inland Revenue Department (IRD) said this is expected to increase with the next rounds of payments as more tax returns are processed.

But that didn't stop the Labour Party from celebrating. On Tuesday the Party emailed its supporters saying it had paid the first tranche of payments to the 2.1 million people who were eligible even though at least 800,000 of those people are yet to receive it. 

Speaking with AM on Wednesday, National leader Christopher Luxon said the payment was an "utter, utter shambles and a total joke". 

"You literally can't make this stuff up, it's become the political version of the Office," Luxon told AM co-host Ryan Bridge, referencing Ricky Gervais' immensely popular television show. 

"This thing was made up on the fly in response to pressure from us [National] and the media. You've now got people getting it who shouldn't be, you've got 800,000 people that are eligible that aren't getting it and the Government has got no clue what's happening."

Luxon went on to accuse the Government of having a "total disrespect for taxpayers' money". 

"It's not the Government's money, it's taxpayers' money and they've worked hard, paid their taxes and done the right thing and you've got the Government spraying it around like they don't care.

"It's just absolutely been made up on the fly and away we go again."

The leader of the Opposition also lambasted the Party's email to its members suggesting it was false advertising to celebrate 2.1 million Kiwis being paid when only 1.32 million were.  

"[They've] launched a programme that has been rubbish implementation, an utter joke, a total shambles and then you make a pitch to your members to raise some funds off the back of it. 

"We really have a Government that has lost the plot and it's not just on this issue it's on education, it's on health, it's on housing, it's on crime, it's now on the economy. They literally cannot get anything done."

Luxon also reiterated his Party's calls for an independent investigation into the scale of the cost of living payment issues. On Tuesday finance spokesperson Nicola Willis said National is writing to the Auditor-General to request an investigation be launched. 

Willis said the issues surrounding the payment were a "significant misuse of taxpayer funding" and also said it could be an "issue of law" as the legislation enabling the payments explicitly says individuals are only eligible if they are "present in New Zealand". 

She wants ministers to apologise "for recklessly going ahead with a scheme that they were warned would lead to ineligible people getting payments".

But Revenue Minister David Parker has continued to defend the policy, saying on Tuesday the vast majority of recipients are in New Zealand and the "only alternative" to the automated process IRD used would be to have Kiwis apply. He said this would be costly, time-consuming and lead to some people missing out.

"We know that the vast majority of people who got PAYE at the end of last year are still in work, so we know the percentage of people for whom IRD's data is inaccurate is a very small percentage," Parker said. 

"I think Inland Revenue is doing a good job. The only alternative would be to make 2.1 million people apply for it and to consider those applications one by one, which, one, would have been an incredibly costly process, two, it would have cost a lot of money, and three, we know if you run application processes, a lot of people who are eligible miss out. So the process that we have chosen is preferable."

Parker was unavailable for an interview about the issues on AM on Wednesday.