Jack Tame: Luxon wasn't seriously urging us to have babies

Christopher Luxon

Analysis: At Infrastructure New Zealand’s annual conference, Christopher Luxon made an off-hand comment during a live Q&A session about New Zealand’s aging population.

"Here is the deal – New Zealand stopped replacing itself in 2016. I encourage all of you to go out there and have more babies if you wish, that would be helpful."

It’s true, he said those words. I should know – I was the one interviewing Luxon at the time. But the subsequent reporting of the comment risked unfairly miscontextualising Luxon’s words.

The comments were totally light-hearted and made in the context of a conversation about labour shortages and the pressures of an aging population. I can’t imagine any of the hundreds of people in the room construed Luxon’s joke as meaning anything more. As the person sitting next to him, I certainly never interpreted the comment as relating seriously to women’s healthcare.

But once again, National’s Nicola Willis found herself in front of media, trying to add context to her colleague’s comments.

"It's not National’s position that people need to have more babies in New Zealand. We will never be a party that tells people what the right size for the family is that is a matter of individual choice, family choice."

Abortion laws

The whole thing stems from Luxon’s personal opposition to abortion. Despite promising repeatedly he has no plans to change anything about New Zealand’s abortion laws, any comment he makes even vaguely related to reproductive rights or women’s healthcare is seized upon by his political opponents as further evidence of a dark, unstated agenda.

Even if Luxon reneged on his word and tried to restrict access to abortion as prime minister, he’d need a majority of the House to support him. It just wouldn’t happen.

Luxon’s personal position on abortion was deserving of scrutiny when he entered politics and became National’s leader. If he explicitly comments on abortion, reproductive rights, contraception access or women’s healthcare, his position is worthy of scrutiny. Journalists will need little encouragement.

But it’s disingenuous to totally miscontextualise comments from a political leader for the sake of playing into unease over his personal values. There are MPs across the house who personally oppose abortion and none have been subjected to anything like the same treatment.

Few who saw headlines about Luxon ‘urging’ New Zealanders to have babies would have appreciated the context of his comments. Election campaigns are nasty affairs, but voters still deserve the truth.