Hipkins admits regret over Covid-19, co-governance

Chris Hipkins has been strongly criticized over government debt and rising crime in a tough interview during the final weeks of the election campaign.

The Prime Minister also admitted regret over Labour’s handling of the quarantine and its failure to explain its embrace of “co-governance” as it shares power with Māori.

On Monday morning, Hipkins subjected himself to the rigors of a two-hour slot with talkback host Mike Hosking.

Hosking is not a fan of the Labor Party and has promised to leave New Zealand if they win the election.

The broadcaster is a staunch critic of Labour’s “addiction” to spending over its last two terms, which has created more debt by 2027 and no path to a surplus.

“Are we still blaming Covid? How long will we keep blaming Covid?” Hosking questioned Hipkins about spending billions of dollars more than promised operating allowances.

“Well, a lot has happened in that time, Mike,” Hipkins pleaded.

“If you look at some of our spending this year… I will not apologize for spending extra to help people get relief from cyclones and floods.

“We are supporting New Zealand even during an economic recession and inflationary pressures.”

Government spending is a big election issue for Kiwis, with Labor promising to cut the public service by 1-2%, and opponents National promising to cut it by 6.5%.

Hosking and others also blame increased fiscal and monetary spending for exacerbating NZ’s inflation problem.

The pair debated the country’s weak economic growth, which is worse than much of the developed world, with Hipkins urging a broader approach.

“Since the beginning or the beginning of the pandemic, New Zealand’s economy has been growing faster than Australia, faster than the UK, faster than the US, faster than the eurozone,” he said.

Hosking said, “I don’t believe you”, before Hipkins responded, “That’s what the facts say!”

Crime is also a major concern, with Hosking challenging Hipkins to explain a 20% drop in the prison population over five years and a 150% increase in bail given against the will of the police.

Faced with grisly examples of Kiwis accused of murder being released on bail and later committing new crimes, Hipkins promised a review.

Hipkins was also COVID-19 minister for much of the pandemic, and said he regretted the government positions.

“Moving from the elimination strategy … to vaccination, this was clearly the point where national unity around our COVID response fractured,” he said.

The Labor leader also blamed former Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern for differences over co-governance.

“I don’t think we’ve done what we should have done in explaining to the public what we’re doing and why we’re doing it,” he said.

The interview ended on a light-hearted note, with Hipkins and Hosking agreeing that the Prime Minister had eaten too many sausage rolls on camera during the election campaign.

“It’s become a compulsion,” Hipkins said, “Whenever the food comes out, cameras suddenly start hovering around me like bees and they don’t go away until I eat something.”

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