Chris Hipkins' policy refocus called 'total shambles' by National, Greens want 'bolder solutions'

National's Christopher Luxon has labelled the Government's policy reprioritisation announcement a "total shambles", while ACT's David Seymour says it reveals how "hare-brained" the ideas were in the first place.

The Greens are welcoming the refocus on cost of living - including the minimum wage increase - but are calling for "bolder solutions" to help families make ends meet.

Prime Minister Chris Hipkins on Wednesday unveiled the first set of changes to the Government's policy agenda, including axing the TVNZ-RNZ merger, halting work on the social insurance scheme this term, putting the torch to the planned biofuels mandate, and throwing hate speech to the Law Commission.

The changes were an acknowledgement the Government has been trying to do "too much too fast", Hipkins said.

"This is the first and most significant set of decisions that reprioritises the Government agenda and sets out our new direction. It will help to provide greater bandwidth and resource for where focus is needed most – the cost of living."

Hipkins said the Government still believed in supporting public media - and is giving additional funding to RNZ and New Zealand on Air - as well as work addressing inequities. 

But Luxon, the National Party leader, said the announcement was a "total shambles" and "cynical politics" in an election year.

National, however, has spent the term opposing the TVNZ-RNZ merger, social insurance scheme, and hate speech.

"It proves you cannot trust Labour on absolutely anything. What we have seen is a massive amount of wasted money - Kiwis' money - a massive amount of wasted time and energy."

He said the Government hadn't completely scrapped the social insurance scheme - which Luxon calls a 'job tax' - or Three Waters. 

The social insurance scheme is off the table for at least this term and until there are significant improvements to economic conditions. Hipkins was also clear he believed there is still a need for reform in the Three Waters space, but how it goes ahead will require "careful consideration".

National Party leader Christopher Luxon.
National Party leader Christopher Luxon. Photo credit: Newshub.

Luxon said money that has already been spent on the likes of the TVNZ-RNZ merger could have gone towards supporting Kiwis through the cost of living crisis or on the health system. 

"Instead, what has the last six years of this Government been about? It was 'let's do this', then it's 'let's not do this'. Instead, we have wasted huge amounts of time, money and effort."

The Government also announced on Wednesday that the minimum wage will rise in line with inflation. On April 1, it will jump by $1.50 to $22.70 per hour. 

Prime Minister Hipkins said officials' analysis found this was unlikely to have a significant impact on unemployment as it is broadly in line with existing average wage growth,

"In tough times, it's critical to support those who struggle the most to make ends meet. Those on low incomes make impossible trade-offs between food and medical care, dry homes and a pair of shoes. These families need our support now more than ever and an inflation-adjusted lift in the minimum wage will mean thousands of New Zealanders do not go backwards."

Luxon said National supports "sensible" increases to the minimum wage and acknowledges "how difficult it is for low-income people at the moment dealing with the rising cost of living."

But small business people are also facing rising costs, he said, including higher interest rates and labour costs.

"We believe in small, good, consistent increases to minimum wage. Let's be clear, with inflation at 7 percent and growth of the minimum wage at 7 percent no one is getting ahead. It is not making them better off. We have a fundamental problem that we are not dealing with the underlying causes of inflation."

Meanwhile, ACT leader Seymour said the policy bonfire "shows how hare-brained Labour's failed and disgraced policies really are".

He pointed out statements by ministers previously defending the policies that have now been either scrapped or shelved.

ACT leader David Seymour.
ACT leader David Seymour. Photo credit: Getty Images.

"The reality is that none of these policies worked. If Labour wanted to look at their work slate, they'll find more policies they can dump like the clean car standard which taxes tradies to provide discounts for people buying Teslas.

"If Hipkins does keep dumping Labour's policies, what happens next? Well, Labour would be back to where they started in 2017, with big problems, big promises, and no solutions."

Seymour said the minimum wage hike would make it harder for businesses to take a chance on workers. 

Greens co-leader Marama Davidson said Aotearoa is "out of balance" and welcomed the focus on the cost of living. 

"Too many families are struggling to make ends meet, while those at the top are getting richer, and our planet is under pressure. We need action that works for everyone," she said.

"We're pleased to see the Prime Minister announce the minimum wage will be increased, but urge the Government to go further and raise this to the Living Wage."

The Greens want the refocus to "include picking up policies that help people - not just scrapping things". 

"This must include rent controls; liveable incomes; scaling up the Kāinga Ora build programme to deliver more affordable, warm homes; support for families to switch to low-cost renewable energy, and permanent half-price public transport."

Greens co-leader Marama Davidson.
Greens co-leader Marama Davidson. Photo credit: Newshub.

Green Party transport spokesperson Julie Anne Genter said the party supported stopping work on the biofuels mandate. She said submissions at Select Committee showed there were "major concerns about whether it's possible to source truly sustainable biofuel to meet the mandate".

"The decision to stop work on the biofuels mandate must be followed with urgent action to accelerate the shift to cleaner, more affordable transport alternatives. 

"The onus is on Ministers now to come up with a plan that will rapidly accelerate investment in low carbon and affordable transport options that are good for communities and the climate."

She said the biofuels mandate had been expected to contribute more than half of the total transport reductions the Government had planned to make by 2025. 

"It is now incumbent upon Cabinet Ministers to immediately find ways to make up for the shortfall."