NZ prime minister Hipkins shrugs off climate criticism
Chris Hipkins insists New Zealand will meet its emissions targets after scrubbing the climate policies of predecessor Jacinda Ardern, as his climate change minister declares himself "pissed off" with the changes.
Under the prime minister, Labour is reorienting towards "bread and butter issues", which is code for ditching unpopular or hard-to-implement policies in an election year.
In his first seven weeks, Mr Hipkins has taken an axe to the Labour government's work program, either scrapping or deferring a string of measures beyond the October 14 election.
A merger of public media entities, a social insurance scheme, hate speech reforms, speed limit reductions on regional roads, lowering the voting age and industrial relations tweaks have all been purged.
On the climate front alone, Mr Hipkins has axed a biofuels mandate, extended a fuel tax rebate, a cash-for-clunkers rebate to get Kiwis driving electric vehicles, a clean-car lease program and a container rebate scheme.
He also also slowed the pace of an Auckland light rail project designed to get cars off the road and removed policy advice to get regional councils to improve public transport.
Mr Hipkins said the government is "cutting its cloth to suit the times", saving $NZ1.7 billion ($A1.6 billion) from the ditched policies as economic forecasts predict a recession.
"We're taking the hard decisions because we know Kiwis are also making some tough calls," he said.
He also said the changes would "give ministers and wider government more bandwidth to deal with cost of living issues and the cyclone recovery".
At least one minister, Greens co-leader and Climate Change Minister James Shaw, declared himself "pissed off" with the changes.
"It's just exasperating and disappointing that we keep making short-term decisions at the expense of the future. It drives me nuts," Mr Shaw told The Spinoff.
Mr Hipkins warned the Greens of the changes earlier on Monday at a meeting, which he called "a really positive conversation".
Mr Hipkins said it did not lessen the government's commitment to climate action, telling Kiwis to "watch this space" for future plans.
"It's still a major priority for the government," he told Today FM.
"What we want to do is make sure that we're delivering on the commitments we've made around emissions reduction in the most efficient and the most effective way."
Local media have portrayed Labour's policy U-turns as a sign it is prioritising the cost of living crisis over the climate crisis.
Newsroom political editor Jo Moir said the changes meant "Labour has overtaken National as the party of doing nothing" and were "a depressing reminder of how cynical politics can be".
Luke Malpass, political editor at Stuff, labelled the new prime minister an "arch-pragmatist".
"Chris Hipkins wants to win. You can sense it come out of his every pore," he wrote.
On the polling front, Labour is doing well.
TVNZ released its latest poll on Monday night, showing Labour had eked ahead of its centre-right rival National 36 per cent to 34, with Mr Hipkins taking a commanding lead as preferred prime minister over Opposition leader Chris Luxon, 27 to 17.
"I'm really pleased that people have ... seen me as approachable," he told TVNZ, "but I know there's still a lot of hard work ahead."
In another setback for National, Mr Luxon tested positive for COVID-19 on Monday night, and must isolate for a week in a Wellington apartment as per NZ's pandemic laws.
"He is doing okay. But COVID is something that we're encouraged to rest when we have, and to recover from, and that's what he'll be doing," deputy leader Nicola Willis said.
LATEST NZ POLITICAL POLL
Labour - 36 per cent (down 2 per cent)
National - 34 (down 3)
ACT - 11 (up 1)
Greens - 11 (up 4)
Maori Party - 3 (up 1)
NZ FIrst - 3 (up 1)
PREFERRED PRIME MINISTER
Chris Hipkins (Labour) - 27 (up 4)
Chris Luxon (National) - 17 (down 5)
David Seymour (ACT) - 6 (steady)
Winston Peters (NZ First) - 3 (up 1)
Jacinda Ardern (Labour) - 2 (down 3)
* Poll undertaken by Kantar Public for TVNZ, surveying voters between March 4-8.