Waka Kotahi bought new unbranded hi-viz jackets for PM, entourage for highway re-opening

Newshub can reveal Waka Kotahi bought new unbranded hi-viz jackets for the Prime Minister and his entourage to re-open State Highway 25a last year.  

Prime Minister Christopher Luxon says the spending sounds like a waste of money, but admitted he had no idea about the effort.  

It was last year that the Prime Minister helped re-open a highway that was almost a year in the making. Luxon was less than three weeks into the job.   

He did it in an unbranded kit, without a te reo Māori name on the hardhat.   

Newshub can reveal that Waka Kotahi staff had to buy special gear for the occasion, unbeknownst to the Prime Minister.  

"I've got no idea what you're talking about," Luxon said on Monday.   

At the start of December, Transport Minister Simeon Brown issued a directive to Waka Kotahi to use their English name first.  

Internal messages obtained under the Offical Information Act show one staffer saying it had been indicated it was likely they wouldn't be able to use Waka Kotahi branded hi-viz.  

"So that is an awful lot of new vests someone will have to pay for. Sigh," they said.  

That someone was the taxpayer, who forked out for 18 new fluro orange jackets totalling $304.90.  

When Luxon was questioned about an agency buying unbranded hi-viz jackets for a prime minister and his entourage, he replied: "For me?" 

Newshub asked if he thought that would be a waste of money.   

"I would have thought so but I go to a venue, I get out of a car, I get given PPE and I go look at a project so I'm not quite sure what you're getting at."  

Newshub asked to speak to the Transport Minister about this but he was too busy with meetings for an interview. His office said the direction to buy new protective gear didn't come from him.  

"The minister has to take responsibility for this," said Labour's transport spokesperson Tangi Utikere.   

"It seems that he's more interested in having his officials sort his wardrobe rather than focusing on the transport issues that Kiwis expect him to be focusing on right now."  

Staff also had to source non-branded hard hats, with one asking another how many helmets their colleague had.   

"We're short two because they have Waka Kotahi branding on them. Sad face."    

The colleague replied saying some helmets have branding, but the media can wear them, it's only the ministers and those who will be interviewed who need unbranded, that's the PM, Transport Minister and mayor.  

Luxon said he didn't think agencies were wasting money to fulfil the obligations of the Coalition. 

"We haven't gone through a programme talking about that. Many agencies have proactively gone about doing it - doesn't come at huge cost."