The highly-anticipated first showdown between Christopher Luxon and Jacinda Ardern saw the country’s new Opposition leader take on ICU bed capacity as his line of questioning.
By Anna Whyte and Irra Lee
"May I begin by congratulating the Member on his new role," the Prime Minister's answer started during question time on Tuesday, before focusing on the need for adequate staff per bed.
Luxon's next question then took a stumble while he shuffled his notes and apologised twice, before getting back on track.
"Why did her Government prioritise things like eradicating wallabies over increasing the number of fully staffed ICU beds?" he asked.
"Not only did we increase the amount of money that went into training our ICU staff, because that is the critical piece of the puzzle, we also have put in capital expenditure for ICU physical space as well," Ardern said in her answer.
ACT leader David Seymour, who had snagged a question before Luxon, jumped in asking about specific MIQ spots for nurses.
"At the peak of this outbreak, my recollection is that we've had 11 people in ICU," Ardern said.
"We've had capacity throughout the pandemic in our ICUs. We've had surge capacity of an additional 200 beds."
Luxon then asked if Ardern had instructed her Health Minister to increase ICU beds during the pandemic.
She repeated earlier points and said, "throughout this pandemic, our issue has not been pressure on our ICU. Our focus has been on making sure we don't have outbreaks that overwhelm ICU".
He later asked about Viaduct business owners who were "utterly confused by her traffic light framework, which suggests that they should already be at green".
"We are easing in at a point where we already have an active outbreak," Ardern said. "That's different from the rest of the times we've managed a framework before, and that's why we will be cautious about it."
Luxon then went back to ICU bed capacity, before Te Pāti Māori co-leader Debbie Ngarewa-Packer asked about the hospitalisation rate of Māori, which sits at 179 people this outbreak, making up 37 per cent of hospitalisations.
"What does the Prime Minister say, even against the warnings of Māori health experts, to the nation on why Māori are now experiencing more than 50 per cent, or making up more than 50 per cent, of the Delta cases?"
"The job is not done," Ardern said.
"So long as there is anyone that is unprotected by being unvaccinated, we have a job to do. We will not just rely on vaccines, though. Those countries who have had to quickly reimpose lockdowns and restrictions, and that's why we have the protection framework."
When asked about his question time debut on Tuesday morning, Luxon said he was planning to keep things "very relaxed".
“It’s really, for me, an opportunity to prosecute the case for the Government on non-delivery and not getting things done across a range of areas."
He said it was about putting “sustained pressure” on the Government over time.
“I actually really enjoy it. I want to master it, I really want to get good at it over time.
“It’s certainly different from the world I’ve come from. But, that’s exciting. I love embracing new things. I’ll get better and better."
Absent from the House on Tuesday was former leader Judith Collins.
“Judith Collins and I have agreed that she is able to take personal leave over the last five sitting days before Christmas," Luxon said.
"She will be returning in the new year. She deserves it after a busy year and I hope she enjoys time with her family."
When asked if Luxon taking on the leadership of the National Party would hurt ACT in the polls, Seymour said voters would reward any party if they offered solutions to their issues.
“ACT is that party, so I don’t see us going anywhere.”
He said ACT would continue to listen to people’s concerns and aspirations.
On her way to the House for question time, Ardern said she would acknowledge Luxon’s new role.
“But, otherwise, it’s another day in the office,” she added.