Carmel Sepuloni blames former National Government for Chris Hipkins having to take backup plane to China

Acting Prime Minister Carmel Sepuloni says it's not her Government's fault Chris Hipkins had to take a backup plane for his trade delegation to China.

"I have to say… the $4 billion investment we've put in [to the Air Force] was on the back of nine years of a Government who barely invested anything," she told AM host Ryan Bridge. "I think it might've been a couple of hundred million that they put into the Air Force, at that time."

In remarks on Monday, the Opposition called out the Government after revelations a backup plane followed Hipkins as far as the Philippines en route to China in case his first aircraft broke down. 

The reason behind the second aircraft was due to several plane breakdowns in the past, including in Antarctica in 2022 while then-Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern was visiting. In 2016, then-Prime Minister John Key had to be rescued when an Air Force plane broke down twice, stranding him and a delegation of nearly 100 in Townsville, Australia en route to India.  

"We have a climate change challenge, I thought, in this country - so sending an empty 30-year-old 757 following a full one doesn't seem a good move," said National Party leader Christopher Luxon.

"Clearly it's a sign that the Air Force is concerned about the reliability of the first plane and we've seen instances of that now over a number of years."

Sepuloni acknowledged further investment in the Air Force was needed.

"When we took over, we recognised that. Over our term, already, we've invested, I think, just over $4 billion into the replacement of the planes.

"The P8s have started arriving, the Hercules start arriving next year and the 757s are due to be replaced between 2028 and 2030.

"When you have nine years of a Government that underinvests - and it's not just in the Defence Force, it was also in health and education - and then you're the Government that comes in, then you inherit a mess that you have to fix up which we have been focused on for the last six years alongside the other challenges that we've been faced with."

Hipkins will on Tuesday night (NZ time) meet with China President Xi Jinping.

He said there was a long list of issues to discuss with Xi - including the war in Ukraine - which he noted China was in a unique position to help with. 

The Prime Minister was hopeful the strong relationship New Zealand and China meant they could have full and frank conversations.