NZ PM Luxon heads home after blunder-ful Japan trip

A gaffe trashing Kiwi business and a defence force plane breakdown has overshadowed Chris Luxon's most significant travel as New Zealand prime minister.

Mr Luxon has spent the week in Japan, meeting with Prime Minister Kishida Fumio, upgrading defence links, signing an information-sharing agreement and overseeing deals signed by Kiwi business.

However, the trip will be remembered for the near-failure of his delegation to get there, and his own sledge.

As is typical for New Zealand leaders, Mr Luxon travelled on the NZDF's Boeing 757, filling seats with eager business leaders looking to build ties or seal trade deals.

A 30-strong delegation to Japan included Air New Zealand chief executive Greg Foran, Rocket Lab founder Sir Peter Beck, and representatives of bank ASB, dairy giants Fonterra, Ngai Tahu Tourism and kiwifruit marketers Zespri.

On the eve of the travel, an overzealous Mr Luxon denigrated the strength of Labour's business delegations while talking up his own.

"I felt a lot of our delegations - the few we did do in the last six years compared to when I would go with (former Prime Minister John) Key on a few of them - had just got very watered down to the C-List," he told Newstalk ZB.

"I want the A-List being there ... not just tagalongs."

Awkwardly for Mr Luxon, several of those who travelled to Japan were also on previous trips under Jacinda Ardern.

Mr Luxon, a former Air New Zealand chief executive, was roundly chastised for the comments, including by veteran political editor Barry Soper.

"Luxon came across as a loose-lipped apprentice prime minister which he effectively is," he said.

"He now says he could have expressed it in a better way which is something of an understatement."

Unsurprisingly, given the need to maintain relations, few "A-List" or "C-List" businesspeople have chosen to make public criticism of Mr Luxon.

Breccan McLeod-Lundy, chief executive at Wellington-based technology consultants Ackama, sarcastically noted his designation.

"I am apparently now officially a "C-list" business leader. I wonder if I can get a certificate," he posted on X.

The comment is similar to previous slights, like a 2022 speech to London think tank Policy Exchange when Mr Luxon said NZ "businesses are getting soft and looking to the government for all their answers".

On the campaign trail in 2023, Mr Luxon was overheard telling farmers "We have become a very negative, wet, whiny, inward-looking country".

In both circumstances, a politically charged Mr Luxon attempted to criticise the Labour government, but instead whacked Kiwis.

Opposition leader Chris Hipkins said it showed his successor was a bully.

"Christopher Luxon is an A-grade expert on talking other people down, but when traveling abroad NZ politicians have a long bi-partisan history of talking NZ up," he said.

"He's the prime minister, he should start acting like it."

Business travellers on the Japan trip had another reason to be grumpy: two blown fuses on a stopover in Port Moresby meant they had to double-back to Brisbane before continuing to Tokyo.

The transit - made possible by Mr Foran, who diverted an Auckland-Tokyo flight to Brisbane for the delegation - stretched out to more than 40 hours.

It also brought to the surface a long-bubbling debate on whether New Zealand could afford to replace the 757s, which are primarily used for defence purposes.

Thankfully for the travelling pack, the patched-up 757 was repaired in Auckland and made it to Tokyo in time to bring them home to New Zealand: business deals done, but not all reputations intact.