New Zealand Prime Minister Chris Luxon has responded after Australian cricket star Usman Khawaja said the leader told him his official residence had been “condemned” and was unfit to live in.
On Monday night, Luxon and Sports Minister Chris Bishop hosted the Australian and New Zealand cricket teams at the prime minister’s official residence in the Wellington suburb of Thorndon.
The festivities, which included a Maori welcome and a cricket match on a specially mowed field, took place outdoors on a beautiful summer afternoon.
Luxon, who described himself as a tragic Test cricketer, spoke to the players for an hour and told Usman Khawaja that he could not live in the house.
“The prime minister said he couldn’t live in his place,” Khawaja said.
New Zealand Prime Minister Chris Luxon (pictured) has responded after cricket star Usman Khawaja said the leader told him his official residence had been “condemned”.
Khawaja (second from right) said Luxon (front row, third from left) made the comment at a meeting of the Australian and New Zealand cricket teams on Monday (pictured).
‘He said it was doomed, the kitchen was doomed… I said, “Why don’t you live here?” He said: “Actually I’m not allowed, he was convicted.”
‘I said that?!’ You’re the Prime Minister, fix it!’
“He said, ‘Oh, that costs money.'” I say, ‘surely there’s some money in the New Zealand system!’
A Luxon spokesman said the prime minister disputed Khawaja’s account, saying he never used the word “convicted.”
“He told them he was living in his apartment because Premier House has well-known maintenance problems,” the spokesman said.
The prime minister has been coy about his living conditions since taking office in November last year.
Wellington newspaper The Post reported earlier this month that Luxon was living in his Wellington apartment, one of seven New Zealand properties the wealthy former executive owns without a mortgage.
The national leader, who lives in Auckland, faced criticism for accepting a $29,000 annual allowance while staying in his own Wellington apartment as an MP.
Luxon has not been living at his official residence due to “maintenance issues”
As Prime Minister, he is now entitled to a $49,000 donation if he does not live in Premier House.
The Post report says Luxon received a report on the work needed at Premier House and was reflecting on it.
“Premier House requires a significant amount of work, so the Prime Minister will consider this before making any decision about residing there,” a Premier House Board spokesperson said.
The decision to renovate Prime Minister’s House would go against the coalition government’s promises to rein in public spending.
Luxon’s government is in the midst of a tough round of budget cuts, aiming to reduce the public service by NZ$1 billion (A$940 million) a year, including spending on consultants.
The prime minister (pictured playing cricket at his official residence) disputed Khawaja’s account, saying he never used the word “convicted”.
Khawaja said he told Luxon: ‘What?!’ You’re the Prime Minister, fix it!’ when they informed him about the status of the official residence
However, there is a widely held view that Premier House needs some renovation, with former Finance Minister Grant Robertson saying in 2020 that it “has a slight 80s motel vibe”.
“On the night of the Netball World Cup final I stayed the night at Premier House and I can tell you it badly needs an upgrade upstairs… it’s not up to par,” she said.
Then-Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern opted not to carry out the renovations because she was “not someone who liked to spend money on herself,” according to Robertson.
On Monday night, Mr Luxon enjoyed a conversation with Test captains Pat Cummins, Tim Southee and others.
In a short speech, he told the players that he was “probably the biggest fan of Test cricket” of any New Zealand prime minister, and said he played corridor cricket with Mr Bishop in Parliament while he was in opposition.
“We were imagining ourselves playing with you,” he told the test teams.