Election 2023: Chris Hipkins promises to 'campaign vigorously' as MP attacks National's 'mingy' offering

The Labour Party has come out with fighting talk on Tuesday morning as its support continues to slide downwards, with some MPs hitting out at National over its policy to return the $5 prescription fee.

Leader Chris Hipkins acknowledges his party is going into the election campaign polling behind National but says Labour will "campaign vigorously." 

"There is always a tension between being positive and scrutinising your opponents," Hipkins said. 

"They have been scrutinising us very vigorously over the last six months. I would say they have been relentlessly negative about the Government and we haven't been as negative or as critical about their approach. Maybe we should be a little more."

He denied that meant making the campaign nasty, but Labour would point out issues with National's policies as they come up.

"We are going to be fighting back," Hipkins said.

Support for the Labour Party has trended down over the past year after a bump when Hipkins took over the leadership with former Prime Minister Dame Jacinda Ardern in January. 

In the last Newshub-Reid Research poll earlier this month, Labour was at 32.3 percent. That is down from 38 percent in January. The 1News-Verian Poll on Monday night showed Labour on 29 percent, with National and ACT easily able to form a Government.

Speaking to reporters on Tuesday morning ahead of the Labour Party caucus meeting, Hipkins said it has been a "difficult couple of years". It's also been a difficult few months for Labour, with numerous ministerial scandals - including having its Justice Minister arrested. 

He said he was optimistic about Labour's chances.

"I have only been seven months in the job and I acknowledge during that time I have had to deal with some really difficult issues. I am looking forward to getting on the campaign trail and talking to New Zealanders about my vision for the future and what I hope to achieve in the job."

He was confident there wouldn't be any more ministerial snafus.

Hipkins said Opposition policies deserved greater scrutiny. 

"I certainly hope there will be increased scrutiny of how the National Party and the ACT Party are going to pay for the significant promises they are putting before the electorate at the moment. Christopher Luxon seems to be telling people they can have a whole lot of extra stuff and tax cuts and not increase Government borrowing. That simply doesn't add up."

Asked why Labour's recent announcements - like removing GST from fresh fruit and veges and paid parental leave extensions - weren't resonating, Hipkins said it takes some time for people to hear about policies and for them to have an impact.

Labour's finance spokesperson Grant Robertson also made a similar point.

"Things often take time to filter through. Good and bad things take time to filter through," he said. 

"Policies are a package. Individual policies very rarely carry an election. We have a campaign coming up. I think we do have a good story to tell. We have just to get out there and do it."

He said a party's support isn't typically brought down by just one factor, but by multiple. 

"It definitely has been a difficult time in recent months but we are at the beginning of a campaign period and we have a good story to tell about what we wanna do and about what is at risk if we lose Government."

Other Labour MPs came out on the attack, including Deborah Russell. 

"I think the problem is, we are not paying enough attention to who actually pays for stuff. In terms of the National and the ACT Party, they are promising all sorts of cuts and they are not being public about them."

While ACT has released an alternative Budget with how the party would make savings, National is promising to release more costings prior to the Pre-Election Economic and Fiscal Update in mid-September. National has said it will cut wasteful spending, pointing to larger projects like Three Waters and reducing consultancy spending.

"I mean, look at that mingy thing they have done with prescription charges. I think that is what we need to focus on at the moment... What we are seeing is parties are being very dishonest about what their policies mean.

"That National and ACT Party are refusing to say how they are going to pay for stuff. They are promising all sorts of cuts. They are not talking about how it's going to impact on ordinary New Zealanders. What we need to do is make sure ordinary New Zealanders know how much we are going to support them with the cost of living."

National has pledged to bring back the $5 prescription fee for everyone but superannuitants and those on low incomes. Labour removed the co-payment in the Budget in May and since then, 3 million free prescriptions have been filled. 

The money brought in by the co-payment would go towards paying for 13 cancer treatments under National's policy. The Cancer Society welcomed the policy but said there would also need to be funding for the staff to administer it.

Health Minister Dr Ayesha Verrall admitted Labour has a "fight ahead of us". 

"I am determined to be in that fight and to be making the point that the health system is at risk with a National-ACT Government," she said. 

"We have already seen in the National Party cancer announcement the sort of cuts that are in store. We have seen they plan to cut the policy to waive the $5 prescription fee in order to fund a flashy cancer announcement that even the Cancer Society says won't work."

Nanaia Mahuta said Māori in particular have a "huge amount to lose" if Labour falls out of power.

"When I think about the reform of the health system and the Māori Health Authority, that is set to go. When I think about lifting the minimum wage under our Government and what a difference that has made for Maori families, that is under threat. 

"The removal of co-payments for prescriptions. We only need to go into our small communities and see the reality of whanau who made decisions about whether or not they got their medicine or paid some other bills. Now they are not having to worry about that. That will be set to go. So we should be really worried."

Willie Jackson was "unsurprised" by Labour's latest polling given recent events, but doesn't think the party's out of it.

He's also continuing to back Hipkins as the leader.

"He is a great leader. He is passionate. He is the boy from the Hutt. He hasn't had a great run over the last couple of months. Some of us have let him down. We have got to get in behind him. We have to get in behind this campaign. 

"We have to show the public how dangerous the ACT-National Party are. This is a dangerous right-wing setup that New Zealanders shouldn't have to confront."

National leader Christopher Luxon said he was "just focused on what New Zealanders have been talking now for months".

"The number one issue is actually, and this election is going to boil down to, who are the better economic managers? So that we can actually rebuild the economy, reduce the cost of living and then have the money and the wherewithal to actually invest and deliver better public services."

He said his party wasn't taking anything for granted.

Luxon wouldn't speak about whether National supports ACT policies, saying that would happen as part of coalition negotiations. 

Asked whether voters deserve to know what policies National could support from ACT, Luxon said: "What voters need to know is what National Government's policy [is]."

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