Election 2023: Fringe groups threaten to hijack election campaign as minor parties open up divisive debates

The election campaign took a swerve from the centre on Saturday as fringe group Freedoms NZ hijacked Chris Hipkins' campaign visit to the Ōtara Markets.

The Labour leader spent the day launching his Māori and Pasifika campaigns - while minor parties were engaging in more divisive debates.

This little Chippy went to market. It did not go to plan as a group of Freedoms NZ supporters shouted "no more Labour pains" and "no more BlackRock" at the Labour leader - a taste perhaps of what's to come on the campaign as the fringe enters the fray.

"That's democracy in action my friend," Hipkins said.

Police were on hand but not required to get hands-on.

"It's freedom of speech so they are allowed to. We're only here to stop any obstruction," one officer said.

Hipkins told Newshub he hopes the election campaign won't be hijacked by the fringes.

But increasingly their issues are creeping into the conversation. The crowd in Ōtara was screaming at Hipkins to define a woman.

They're not the only ones. This week Winston Peters proposed policy around separate public bathrooms. ACT too is now fluttering on the fringes in its own propaganda podcast.

"Will my daughter end up going to a pool where there's someone that I consider biologically male in the changing room?" leader David Seymour asked on the podcast.

"It's an issue for a lot of people who say 'hang on a minute, I want to be able to reserve a space which is for what I regard as biological women'. Now I think people should be able to make those claims," Seymour added to Newshub.

The main party leaders are reticent to react.

"I'm not intending to promote legislation to legislate who can and can't use the toilet," Hipkins said.

"Frankly at a time when half of New Zealanders are worried about money on a daily basis," Luxon said.

But both calling out the ACT leader for his so-called joke about the Ministry for Pacific Peoples,  telling Newstalk ZB: "In my fantasy, we'd send a guy called Guy Fawkes in there and it'd be all over."

"I think the comments were inappropriate. I think they will have caused offence and hurt in the community and ultimately it's his decision whether or not he wants to apologise," Luxon said.

"I do think that political leaders need to be careful. The idea that you'd make a joke about blowing up an ethnic minority isn't really that funny," Hipkins said.

Labour launched its Māori and Pasifika campaigns on Saturday, while its old coalition crew fired up its social media team.

"Our commitment to you is NZ First will not return Labour to power," its candidates said in a campaign video. "We will not work with any party that promotes racism and separatism."

Shane Jones sang a Trumpian tune on TikTok.

"I'm back and making Northland great again," he said.

And he brought back the iwi-Kiwi debate - promising to put the 'K' back in the iwi.

He wasn't the only one invoking images of Don Brash's infamous iwi-Kiwi campaign.

"We are not faced with the John Key-Bill English-Christopher Finlayson National Party - we're faced more of the Don Brash National Party, a party that wants to drive a wedge between New Zealanders," Hipkins said.

But Luxon said he disagrees completely.

"I get Chris Hipkins is wanting to make things very personal because he has no record to run on, he has no ideas to take the country forward. I don't think he is the party frankly of Helen Clark and Michael Cullen either if that's the way he wants to play it," he said.

Decision 2023: back to the future.