Newshub Leaders Debate: Chris Hipkins hits Christopher Luxon with NZ First candidate quote, Winston Peters responds

The leader of the Labour Party has hit National leader Christopher Luxon with a quote from a New Zealand First candidate in the middle of Newshub's Leaders Debate amid questions about coalition negotiations after October 14. 

"We are the party with the cultural mandate and the courage to cut out your disease and bury you permanently," Chris Hipkins quoted an NZ First candidate as saying about Māori. The Labour leader did not name the candidate in question.  

"Christopher, you're willing to work with these people - why?" Hipkins asked Luxon. 

Luxon has said he would work with NZ First and "pick up the phone" to leader Winston Peters "to keep Labour and the coalition of chaos out". 

The question over whether National would form a coalition with NZ First has been swirling for months. The latter has been hovering at or above the 5 percent threshold needed to enter Parliament in recent polls. 

Luxon reiterated during Wednesday's debate he didn't want to work with NZ First - but would if he had to. 

"I am going to make the call if it means I stop you, Te Pāti Māori and the Greens coming to power," Luxon said told Hipkins. 

Hipkins immediately brought Luxon back to the NZ First candidate's quote, asking: "Do you think that's racist?" 

"I do," Luxon said. "I don't think that's acceptable at all." 

But Hipkins dismissed Luxon's comments. 

"Winston Peters described migration to New Zealand as an 'Asian invasion' and you're willing to have him around your Cabinet table?" 

Luxon pointed out Hipkins' Labour Party worked with NZ First under the previous coalition Government. Hipkins responded by saying he'd "never do it again". 

Peters, responding to the debate on Twitter, said "all they seem to be doing is talking about and attacking" him. 

"Maybe they should both have the courage to have me there to debate them properly," the veteran politician said. "Three of us would be there and only one of us would be ready."