Election 2023: Willie Jackson clarifies claim ACT, Nats would lower minimum wage made during boisterous election debate

Willie Jackson took fire at ACT leader David Seymour and National's Paul Goldsmith in a boisterous election debate on Tuesday night, which included the Labour MP making the claim that the Opposition parties wanted to lower the minimum wage.

Jackson initially said the two parties would seek to abolish the minimum wage, raising the eyebrows of Seymour and Goldsmith, who suggested it might be "disinformation". It was then asserted by Jackson "they'll lower the minimum wage".

"They are so selfish… We know what a [National-ACT] Government would do.

"They will scrap everything. They don't care about the individuals. They don't care about the communities."

Both Seymour and Goldsmith later told Newshub their parties weren't planning to lower the minimum wage, though the ACT leader said there would be a moratorium on any further increases if it got its way.

Asked by Newshub about his claim, Jackson said he had meant to say National and ACT wouldn't raise the minimum wage.

"I think when you are on stage, sometimes a little bit out of context, that's what I actually meant, that minimum wage won't move with them," he said.

However, Labour has come under fire in recent days for another incorrect claim. It said on social media that a National-ACT Government could reintroduce interest to student loans, despite that being neither party's policy. 

Labour leader Chris Hipkins has acknowledged that was a "human error" and the post has been edited to remove the claim.

The minimum wage is currently $22.70. Since Labour came to office, it has increased progressively from $15.75.

During the last National Government's tenure, it rose from $12.

Seymour told Newshub the minimum wage has been "rising very fast".

"That has put real pressure on businesses. We actually need an economic recovery," he said.

"We would keep it where it is for a couple of years, reflecting the fact it is has risen so fast lately. We wouldn't put it down."

Goldsmith said National has historically increased it "steadily" in a way "businesses can afford it".

"Willie just makes stuff up. There has been a lot of disinformation from Labour in the last few days."

Asked if National would increase the minimum wage or hold it, Goldsmith said: "Every year you take a judgement."

The debate, hosted by the Taxpayers' Union, also featured Green MP Ricardo Menéndez March, Te Pāti Māori president John Tamihere and New Zealand First candidate Jenny Marcroft.

But it was Jackson, Seymour and Goldsmith who sniped at each other throughout the night. 

On crime, Jackson praised the work by Ardern and Hipkins to pressure Australia into tightening up its 501 deportation scheme. That scheme had previously seen a number of gang-linked deportees sent back to New Zealand despite few ties here.

"You are not going to see these gangsters come over anymore… We take crime very seriously. You have seen the investment in terms of police," Jackson said, though Marcroft interjected that NZ First was behind the additional funding for police.

Jackson went on to say it would be a "dangerous country" if ACT got into power, claiming the party would allow military-style weapons back on the streets. Seymour has disputed this, saying ACT would repeal "rushed legislation" and implement a more "fit for purpose" Act.

Seymour told the crowd while Jackson may say Labour takes crime seriously, "criminals don't take Labour seriously".

Discussions of co-governance took up much of the debate, with Seymour asked to defend his party's policy of having a referendum on treaty principles.

He said there was a need for an "honest and open conversation".

"The way the Treaty has been interpreted by the tribunal and the courts over the last 50 years is incompatible not only with the Treaty itself and the events surrounding its signing, but incompatible with the values of liberal democracy and one person, one vote that have made society succeed."

Jackson said Seymour was suggesting "he knows more than all the judges of the last 50 years" and was taking a different approach to former Prime Ministers.

"You are without a doubt the Donald Trump of New Zealand politics. Trump did the same thing, 'the judges don't know anything.'"

Seymour later hit back at that "silly argument".

"I wish I was as powerful in reality as I am in Willie Jackson's mind," Seymour said. "The truth is, it is not about me. It is not about me being smarter than the courts or previous Prime Ministers, it is actually about a simple idea: universal human rights."

He said just because things have been done one way in the past, doesn't mean it should stay that way.

Seymour earlier on Tuesday made a comparison between Trump and the Labour Party.

"[Trump] tries to bamboozle people with his alternative truths and mistruths," he said on Tuesday morning.

"What happens is people lose faith in their institutions. I ask Labour, if they want to criticise our policies, we have lots of policies they can criticise without them criticising policies we don't have."

The ACT leader's previous comment that Nelson Mandela would have supported his party was also raised during the debate, with Jackson saying: "I met Nelson Mandela, I would reckon he would say, 'lock David Seymour up.'" 

Goldsmith said Labour had done some "radical" things in Local Government, referring to a Bill to allow an equal number of Māori ward and general ward seats in Rotorua (it was scrapped) and another that guaranteed Ngāi Tahu members could sit on the Canterbury regional council.

Wrapping up at the end of the debate, Jackson said National and ACT would "get rid of everything".

"They will get rid of women's affairs. They would get rid of Māori affairs. They would get rid of Pacific affairs because David Seymour wants to blow them up.

"That is the sad thing. I want a New Zealand for everyone, David wants to blow people up." 

ACT has a policy of abolishing multiple ministries, including the Ministry for Women and Ministry for Pacific Peoples. Last month, he joked about sending "a guy called Guy Fawkes in there [the Ministry for Pacific Peoples] and it'd all be over". 

Seymour said Labour was trying to "bring the fear". 

Menéndez March, Tamihere and Marcroft all promoted their party's messages.

The Green MP said there was a need for an end to short-term thinking and criticised other parties for using one-liners and quips to discuss issues on crime, instead of using an evidence-based approach. He said Labour had held the Greens back on trying to take climate action.

Tamihere asserted Te Pāti Māori was not a race-based party, but an "indigenous-based party" that believes in the need for a grown-up conversation on tax (the party is proposing multiple new taxes, including on wealth). He said the country won't solve its issues if it keeps tinkering.

Marcroft, the former NZ First MP who is trying to return to Parliament, faced several questions about her party's policies on public toilets. It believes there should be "separate, clearly demarcated, unisex and single-sex bathrooms".

She said while these were headline-grabbing policies that the media ran with, New Zealand First also had policies to tackle the cost of living, like removing GST from fresh food, vegetables, meat, dairy and fish.