Election 2023: Parliament's last day full of leadership barbs between National, Labour

Parliament was full of life on Thursday with politicians on both sides of the House clearly energised, keen to leave the wood-panelled halls of power behind to jump on the road for the election campaign. 

At the end of Question Time, after having to interrupt several animated exchanges between MPs to keep some order, Speaker Adrian Rurawhe said: "Korōria, hallelujah. That concludes oral questions for the 53rd Parliament."

MPs from National and Labour spent some of the day taking jibes at each other's senior leadership teams. 

On Thursday morning, Labour MPs Kieran McAnulty, the racing spokesperson, and Barbara Edmonds, the revenue spokesperson, fronted media for a press conference to criticise National's newly announced tax plans.

Their main target was National's plan to close an "online casino gambling tax loophole". Labour doesn't believe National's claims stack up.

When Newshub told McAnulty and Edmonds that National was coming down to respond and asked if they had a challenge for the Opposition, McAnulty called on National to "show us your figures", while Edmonds said, "your numbers don't add up".

But the first thing National finance spokesperson Willis said when it was her turn at the mic was: "First of all, I'd like to congratulate Labour's new leadership team that seems to have just dropped."

Questioned why she was referring to McAnulty and Edmonds as "Labour's new leadership team", Willis said Labour's finance spokesperson Grant Robertson was "too shy" to make what she called "baseless attacks" against National's policy, which she stood by. She also reckoned McAnulty and Edmonds "look quite good together".

But McAnulty and Edmonds earlier laughed off any suggestion they could become the leadership duo should Labour lose the election and current leader Chris Hipkins leave the job.

"Nah," McAnulty said laughing and shaking his head.

McAnulty and Edmonds laugh off suggestions they could be the next leadership duo.
McAnulty and Edmonds laugh off suggestions they could be the next leadership duo. Photo credit: Newshub.

Willis and National leader Christopher Luxon also faced barbs from Labour about leadership on Thursday.

During Question Time, Labour MPs yelled out comments suggesting Willis should be the leader. 

"Bring on Nicola," Peeni Henare said at one stage.

After clearly seeing Willis murmuring to Luxon before he asked a question, Hipkins said: "The most surprising thing about that question was that Nicola Willis' lips didn't move while he was asking it."

When Willis later stood up to ask a question, Hipkins can be heard saying: "Aw, Christopher has given up."

There was laughter from the Labour side when Luxon mixed up "company" and "country". The noise from the Government benches led the Speaker to stand up and remind the Labour MPs about the rules.

Nicola Willis and Christopher Luxon.
Nicola Willis and Christopher Luxon. Photo credit: Newshub.

But there was also heckling from National when Hipkins referred to Auckland Light Rail as an "intergenerational project". Labour has got flack for the lack of progress on the project. 

"Unlike the members opposite, we're not going to give up on that," Hipkins said.

"I notice, for example, some of the roading projects that National promised in the nine years they were in Government never started in the entire nine years they were in Government."

Luxon then asked: "Based on that, is KiwiBuild also an intergenerational project?"

Despite Willis' comment about shyness, Robertson has been more than happy over the past two days to criticise National's policy as a "voodoo plan".

The exchange between Willis and Robertson on Thursday was as spirited as usual. 

Willis asked Robertson whether he believed he had been a good steward of taxpayer money when spending was up, but "hospitals are in crisis, educational achievement is in decline and many New Zealanders feel worse off".

The Finance Minister responded by saying it didn't matter what he thought about it, but "what people like Fitch Ratings and Moody Analytics think about it". Fitch on Wednesday affirmed New Zealand's rating at AA+.

Grant Robertson and Megan Woods.
Grant Robertson and Megan Woods. Photo credit: Newshub.

Willis hit back by asking if it mattered more to him what Fitch thought than what New Zealanders think. 

Robertson said he acknowledged New Zealand households "have been doing it tough", but that "confidence is rising".

"Spring is coming. The Member should cheer up," he said.

Willis later asked if Robertson would join her as the "founding members of the Johnsonville Amateur Dramatics Society with a successful local performance of the 1988 young adult novel Holes".

That's a reference to a comment Robertson made on Wednesday that he believed the society would be missing her. Willis also cracked the Parliament up earlier this month after asking Robertson: "How big is his hole?"

Robertson said he would be interested in working with Willis on "honing our dramatic skills".

"I would like to be paid for mine. I don't want to be in an amateur dramatic society."

He also suggested the pair could reenact a cartoon of Robertson reading to kick Willis into a hole.

Afterwards, Willis asked if the lasting impression Robertson wanted to leave as Minister of Finance was having to "resort to putting up cartoons and calling people names because he had left the economy in such a mess".

Robertson replied: "No, Mr Speaker. I look forward to being back here, facing my eighth National Party finance spokesperson, delivering from here more of the professional dramatic performances."

The Parliament rises on Thursday. The election is just six weeks away.