National's Christopher Luxon clarifies comments suggesting backtrack on health, education spending promise

National leader Christopher Luxon has clarified a government he leads will increase health and education spending "by the amount of inflation" after he appeared to backtrack on the promise.

His comments on AM on Wednesday morning - that suggested he was walking back a commitment to peg spending to inflation - were described as "concerning" by Labour's Chris Hipkins and received criticism from unions.

"As a minimum, our health and education spending will be increasing by the amount of inflation going forward in our government," Luxon told reporters later in the afternoon.

Appearing on AM, Luxon was asked if he stood by his promise after his finance spokesperson, Nicola Willis, told TVNZ's Q+A that National hasn't determined whether its spending increases would match inflation.

Luxon answered by saying his government would increase health and education funding every year, but wouldn't recommit to consistently hitting the inflation rate.

"I can tell you for many years it will probably be ahead of inflation, some years it might be behind but over the long run we are going to be increasing health and education consistently each and every year that we are in Government. So people shouldn't be concerned about that."

Hipkins later called Luxon's apparent U-turn a "gaffe" and "more evidence that you can't really trust [National]".

"Well, they clearly don't have a clear and consistent position," he said.

"You've got the finance spokesperson, the senior MP and their leader all saying different things about whether or not they will actually invest in health and education so that those systems can continue to rebuild and move forward as opposed to go backwards, which is what happened when they were last in government."

The Public Service Association responded to Luxon by saying health workers didn't want their profession "being used as a political football", while E tū said it was "appalled" by his comments.

Willis was asked on Wednesday afternoon if she and Luxon had been singing from different song sheets. 

"Absolutely not. Look, National's proud of its track record of increasing health and education funding in government, and obviously we will need to increase health funding at a minimum at the rate of inflation. 

"The point I made in an interview with Q+A is we're yet to determine how much we will increase health funding by next year, and of course, that may not just be the inflation rate. There are other things we need to consider, such as population growth and other pressures on the health system."

Willis did make that point on Q+A, saying future governments also needed to be alert to New Zealand's aging population and that nurses and doctors "rightly" expect pay increases.

"That means every Budget National delivers will include an increase in health expenditure. That will be a priority for me as Finance Minister, and how we achieve that, what the formula is, is something that we are looking at carefully," she told Q+A in July.

Hipkins was asked on Wednesday if Labour was also matching spending to inflation.

"If you look at our record, that has certainly been our record. Now, I acknowledge that at the moment we're in a high inflationary period and that's something that we're working through as a Government and as a country. But up until this year, we absolutely have increased health and education funding, at least at or ahead of the rate of inflation."

Pushed on whether Labour would commit to that in the future, Hipkins said it was National that was being inconsistent. 

"The National Party are making one comment one week, a different comment the next week. I think it very much seems to change depending on which audience they're speaking to. I think New Zealanders are entitled to know what they're actually committing to and what they're not."