The new prime minister appears to have got off to a rollicking start with the business community, enjoying what he described as a “constructive” meeting with senior members of the community in Auckland.
The hour-long, closed doors discussion at the Auckland Business Chamber was Chris Hipkins’ first engagement since being elected leader of the Labour Party and, therefore, prime minister.
It’s a hugely symbolic gesture for Hipkins to have chosen his first major event to be a) a business discussion and b) in Auckland, the city which suffered the most under pandemic restrictions brought about by his tenure as Covid response minister. The government has been criticised for ignoring business concerns under Jacinda Ardern and this meeting appeared to signal a reset in that relationship.
Speaking to media after the meeting, Hipkins said it had been a positive discussion. “I found a really receptive audience in terms of business leaders who wanted to work with the government,” he said.
Unsurprisingly, issues like labour shortages were top of mind for business leaders, said Hipkins. “Right the way across the workforce you are seeing skill shortages in the labour market. They have given feedback on wanting certainty in some key government policy areas.”
Despite criticism from the opposition over the rate of the minimum wage, Hipkins said this was not an issue that was raised in the meeting. Instead, there were a range of policy areas that businesses wished to see the government slow down on (Hipkins told The Spinoff he had not given business leaders a heads up on what projects might be culled back).
Business Chamber head Simon Bridges was reassured by the meeting with Hipkins and said business leaders were equally pleased that this had been the first engagement for the new prime minister. Now, said Bridges, there just needs to be a plan on the table.