Video: Chris Hipkins and Christopher Luxon's gaffes, walkbacks, climb-downs, 'what I meant' compilation

ANALYSIS: As the saying goes: explaining is losing in politics, and it seems National Party leader Christopher Luxon is taking his time to learn this old adage. 

He's not quite at the stage where he's gaffe-prone, but he's certainly heading in that direction. 

His latest face-palm moment was his chat with a Helensville farmer that was caught by Newshub's camera operator: "We have become a very negative, wet, whiney, inward-looking country and we have lost the plot and we have got to get our mojo back".

On Tuesday, Luxon said he was "calling the Labour Government wet and whiny".

"There's nothing wrong with New Zealand or New Zealanders. It's the best country on planet Earth and we have endless potential."

So just how often is Luxon putting his foot in it? How often has he learnt the art of the political walk-back in his year-and-a-half at the top of National Party? 

And while we're at it, what about Prime Minister Chris Hipkins? How's his gaffe-o-meter or foot-in-mouth-o-meter? 

For Luxon, there was his "what I meant" over the Clean Car Standard and clarifying the party's position on removing prescription fees.

He posted a video from Te Puke, when he was actually holidaying in Hawaii. He joked about the need for Kiwi women to have more babies if they don't like immigration. 

The list goes on. And who's often there to clean up the mess? His deputy Nicola Willis. She's had to clarify his comments on several occasions. She told Newshub Nation last weekend that it's typically just the result of her having to face the media on Thursdays.

Hipkins hasn't made too many gaffes while Prime Minister, but he's certainly had his fair share of head-in-hands moments as minister. 

There was his "spread your legs" press conference, when he actually meant 'stretch your legs'. 

He also had an awkward interview with Newshub Political Editor Jenna Lynch when he said Pacific Islanders don't holiday in Queenstown, then failed to back it up with any stats. 

He's had numerous awkward pauses/lost-for-words moments. 

Here's a list of some of the instances of Luxon and Hipkins' gaffes, or where they've had to walk back or clarify their comments.

Christopher Luxon's comments have raised eyebrows on several occasions.
Christopher Luxon's comments have raised eyebrows on several occasions. Photo credit: Newshub.

Luxon: Clean Car Discount (or is it Standard?)

National has attacked the Government's 'ute tax'. It was part of the 'Clean Car Discount' policy which included rebates for low-emission and EVs, but taxes on high-emitting vehicles. 

Luxon came out on AM in November saying National "would keep the Clean Car Discount" which actually includes a ute-tax. 

Labour's transport spokesperson hailed the move as Luxon having "seen the light" and done a "U-turn". 

The National leader just wasn't across the names of policies. He had actually meant the Clean Car Standard.

"I misspoke this morning. What I meant was we're gonna keep the Clean Car Standard," he later said. 

Hipkins: Tax pop quiz

Making a mistake during Question Time happens. But - as Education Minister Jan Tinetti has found out recently - it's important to quickly own up and correct any inaccurate statements.

Early on in his reign as Prime Minister, Hipkins faced a question in Parliament from ACT's David Seymour about the Government's revenue gathering and spending.

Hipkins said the Government was taking less tax out of the economy than a proportion of gross domestic product (GDO) despite the latest figures showing an increase.

Asked by journalists the next day about the muck-up, Hipkins admitted the mistake and said he hadn't expected a "pop quiz" about the numbers.

At the next opportunity, Hipkins rose in the House and corrected the record.

Hipkins is well known for his 'spread your legs' comment.
Hipkins is well known for his 'spread your legs' comment. Photo credit: Getty Images.

Luxon: Abortion and Roe v Wade

The US Supreme Court's decision last year to overturn the landmark Roe v Wade ruling, which gave women rights to abortion, was a historic moment.

It was also a fairly well sign-posted one with the draft decision leaked more than a month ahead of the June ruling.

An initial response by the National Party described the US ruling as "not a New Zealand issue", despite the move causing much trepidation and concern amongst the public. The party said abortion laws have been settled in New Zealand and wouldn't be relitigated.

Not long after that statement was provided to media, Luxon tweeted out his own thoughts.

"Roe v Wade is an issue for the American people who have a different set of constitutional arrangements than us. NZ's abortion laws were voted on and ultimately settled in the last parliament. These laws will not be relitigated or revisited under a future National Government."

Having not yet recognised the upset some women may be feeling, Luxon released yet another statement the next day, acknowledging the distress.

Hipkins: 'Unsubstantiated rumours'

After Cyclone Gabrielle hit in February, members of affected communities on the North Island's East Coast spoke of their concern about a jump in crime.

One such situation was from a roadworker Newshub spoke to who said their crews were held at gunpoint.

But speaking about the reports, Hipkins initially dismissed them as "unsubstantiated rumours". 

It riled up the Opposition which accused the Prime Minister of dismissing serious concerns from locals.

Hipkins later climbed down from his initial comment.

"If people took from one of the comments I made any suggestion that I was diminishing the way they were feeling, I certainly regret that."

Luxon/Willis: Prescription fees

It was one of the big announcements from Budget 2023: The Government would remove the $5 prescription fee from July 1.

The Health Minister said 135,000 adults didn't collect their prescriptions because of cost in 2021-22 and the policy would help low-income families, Māori, Pasifika peoples and disabled New Zealanders.

So what would National do about the prescription fees if it was elected on October 14? Repeal the removal, Willis said. It's a nice to have, but not be the priority, she believed.

Less than 24 hours later, and it was Luxon walking this one back for the party.

Luxon said National didn't believe in the policy being universal, but could remove the fees for those who "most desperately need it".

"I think targeting it to people with community services cards, for example, targeting to people with super gold cards would actually be the way in which we would go about doing that."

He said: "I think if I can pay, I should pay". 

A couple of weeks after the Government's Budget announcement, the National leader confirmed the party wasn't looking at a carve-out for those who need regular contraception prescriptions. They would go back to paying the $5 fee.

"We don't want to see any change [...] We are making sure we can help with people who desperately need help with their prescription charges. We want a targeted approach."

He did not consider people needing regular contraception prescriptions filled as having "high medical needs".

The comments caused outrage from Labour, with comparisons being made to the situation in The Handmaid's Tale and one minister going as far as to incorrectly say National wanted to "stop women's access to contraception". 

Willis came out the next day saying National's position was no different to the situation currently and the party could remove the fee for low-income Kiwis. National also wanted to look at further subsidies for longer-acting contraceptives. She severely criticised Labour's response.

National's Nicola Willis has had to address some of Luxon's comments.
National's Nicola Willis has had to address some of Luxon's comments. Photo credit: Getty Images.

Hipkins: 'Spread your legs'

During one of the many COVID-19 press conferences, Hipkins - who was minister in charge of the response at the time - made one of the most amusing political slip-ups of recent times. 

Discussing what was and wasn't allowed during the restrictions of the time, Hipkins confused 'stretching your legs' with 'spreading your legs'

"Look, it is a challenge in higher density areas for people to get outside and to spread their legs when they are ahh, um, ahh when they are surrounded by other people."

He acknowledged his mix-up later in the media conference. 

"Right, I shall go and stretch my legs, I'm sure you will all have fun with me later".

And boy did New Zealand have fun. The moment went viral on social media, was printed on mugs, and was later awarded Massey University's Quote of the Year award.

It's not the only COVID press conference Hipkins is well-known for.

Ahead of a shift in the country's traffic light settings, Hipkins fumbled his way through an explanation of the new mask rules

He at one point shut questions down while he waited for clarity from staff, later blaming brain-fog as a result of a recent COVID infection. 

Luxon: Are you in Te Puke or Hawaii?

A video posted on Luxon's Instagram showed him meeting with IT workers and volunteers and learning how logs become wood at a sawmill.

"Today I'm in Te Puke, the heart of Kiwifruit country," he said.

It turns out he wasn't. Instead, Luxon was on holiday in Hawaii.

He admitted the posts should have been captioned differently "to make clear it was in recent days, not on the day". He said he didn't personally make the posts, but took responsibility for it.

"We made a mistake and we own up to it, we front it," he said. "We should have captioned the post differently. That's what we should have done."

Hipkins: Pacific Islanders don't holiday in Queenstown

Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, when New Zealand's borders were shut, Hipkins faced questions about when we may welcome Pacific Islanders back.

He explained that New Zealand didn't want to open the borders and allow COVID-19 to spread to the islands.

ACT's David Seymour asked if he would like to explain that to Hawke's Bay horticulturalists with fruit rotting on the ground or Queenstown tourism operators going broke for a lack of tourists.

Hipkins responded: "I think in regard to the latter part of the question, the member might like to consider how many of the people from those countries would be spending their money in Queenstown."  

The suggestion was that not many Pacific Islanders went to Queenstown.

He initially defended the remarks in a media standup, but admitted it was an "assumption" he didn't have data to back up.

"They tend to be coming to New Zealand for family reasons and work reasons and health reasons and other reasons. I think it's an assumption that's probably a fair one." 

Later in the press conference, Hipkins acknowledged he may have got it wrong

"To be honest, whilst we've been having a conversation about something else, I've reflected upon that. If anyone from the Pacific was offended by my comments then I absolutely apologise for them. I did not mean to cast aspersions on people from the Pacific Islands," he said. 

"It could be seen as an unfair assumption, I absolutely accept that. I hadn't properly thought that through and certainly if people were upset by that, I did not mean to cast aspersions."

Luxon: Babies, babies, babies

"Here is the deal - essentially New Zealand stopped replacing itself in 2016. I encourage all of you to go out there and have more babies if you wish, that would be helpful."

It came out of nowhere during a question and answer session at an infrastructure conference in Christchurch last week.

According to others in the room, no one batted an eyelid at the comment, which was in response to questions about immigration.

But it whipped up concern among others given Luxon's pro-life stance, and Willis was forced to explain his joke to journalists at Parliament.

"It was a joke and I understand people there laughed," she said. "That is the decision for individuals and their desires and circumstances." 

"I wasn't there to hear the joke but what I understand from those that were was that it was seen for what it was: an off-hand remark." 

She was even asked whether Luxon's comments were akin to Nazi Germany's eugenics programme. 

Hipkins: Trans-Tasman bickering

In 2021, then-Australian Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton and now-Liberals leader said a planeload of deportees sent to New Zealand were "trash". 

Hipkins later said: "This is Australia exporting its garbage to New Zealand. Their criminal offending has been in Australia."

But he quickly walked that back, realising his description of deportees as "garbage" was similar to Dutton's "trash" comment. 

"I didn't mean to suggest that that is what I am calling them. Those are Peter Dutton's words, not my words," he said. "Those are not my words; those are Peter Dutton's words. If he is describing them that way, then he is saying Australia is deporting its rubbish to New Zealand."