NZ PM Chris Luxon vows to get ‘fragile’ nation off the dole

Chris Luxon didn't mince words in detailing his plans to change NZ's welfare state.

Chris Luxon didn't mince words in detailing his plans to change NZ's welfare state. Photo: AAP

New Zealand Prime Minister Chris Luxon has pledged a major crackdown on long-term welfare recipients, telling them “the free ride is over”.

Mr Luxon delivered his first “state of the nation” address as Prime Minister in Auckland on Sunday, describing New Zealand as “fragile” and laying the blame for a loss of “mojo” at the former government’s feet.

At a campaign-style event in front of National Party supporters, Mr Luxon used the speech to pledge tough answers to difficult challenges.

A central theme was welfare reform, given a growing number of Kiwis on unemployment benefits receiving long-term welfare.

“There are 70,000 more people on a Jobseeker unemployment benefit today than there were in 2017,” he said, referring to a six-year spell when New Zealand’s population also grew by 500,000 people.

Trapped on welfare

“Even more catastrophic is that if you do go onto a benefit, you’ll stay there for longer.

“For the 2000 young people receiving a youth payment or young parent payment, they are now expected to spend an average of 24 years of their working life on a benefit.”

Mr Luxon said his government unapologetically cut spending on the unemployed, saying he was prepared for “tough choices”.

“We’ll do everything we can to help people into work, but if they don’t play ball the free ride is over,” he said.

“I won’t apologise for making tough choices to support young people off welfare and into work, because 24 years languishing on welfare means no hope. It means no opportunity. It means no dignity from work.

“I will not apologise for tough love.

“All Kiwis, of course, have a right to support when times are tough but with that right also comes responsibility.

“The responsibility to look for a job, or to train for new opportunities.

“And if you don’t – make no mistake – there will be consequences … there will be sanctions if you don’t take that support seriously.”

The welfare crackdown comes as unemployment rises in New Zealand, which is in a technical recession, making job-searching harder.

Mr Luxon’s National party won last October’s election pledging to reduce government spending, and has already made ground on that promise, making $NZ7 billion ($A6.6 billion) in cuts at a mini-budget last December.

Finance Minister Nicola Willis has ordered further cuts from government departments, writing to public sector chiefs asking for suggestions ahead of the May 30 budget.

In this speech, Mr Luxon laid out a laundry list of promises his government has come good on, including axing Labour’s clean car rebate, light rail plans, fuel taxes and industrial relations reform.

The speech was a throwback to the election campaign, when his National party ended six years of Labour-led government.

‘Back on track’

The 53-year-old peppered his speech with campaign slogans, including their pledge to “get New Zealand back on track”.

While Mr Luxon leads a three-party coalition, including his Nationals with right-wing minor parties ACT and NZ First, but his speech made no mention of his coalition partners.

Instead, there was a huge focus on what Mr Luxon described as “a big turnaround job” left by Labour.

“Not everyone will like it, but I think Kiwis need a Prime Minister that levels with them … I have to level with you New Zealand and say – the state of the nation is fragile,” he said.

“Kiwis are a resilient bunch. But the last government treated us like a country that had lost its mojo. And because of that, we did.”


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