National MP Simon Bridges has been given the key finance and infrastructure portfolios by new leader Christopher Luxon, who says he trusts Bridges “absolutely” after the recent leadership change.
Luxon made the announcement today, the first major move of his leadership ahead of a wider re-shuffle next Monday.
Bridges was supposed to appear alongside Luxon, who had travelled to Tauranga for the occasion, but his son had had an accident at school an hour before the announcement and Bridges was at the hospital with him.
Luxon said the rest of his reshuffle would be set out on Monday, but he had decided to announce Bridges as the finance spokesman and 3rd in caucus early because of its importance.
“I want to signal that Simon is a really critical part of my team going forward”.
Luxon said he and Bridges had been “good friends” since Luxon was at Air NZ and Bridges was transport minister.
He said Bridges had the skills and “intellectual heft” needed for the finance portfolio.
“He has a good brain and a great work ethic.
“Simon Bridges taking it to Grant Robertson is going to be a great contest.”
Luxon also indicated that the door was open for Todd Muller to stand again in 2023 rather than resign. Muller was pushed to announce his resignation after former leader Judith Collins learned he had anonymously badmouthed colleage Harete Hipango to a media outlet.
Muller is yet to say whether he is hoping to now remain in Parliament, but Luxon said there would be a role for him as well as Collins, if they stayed.
On rebuilding National’s credibility, he said it was about starting to deliver.
“I come with no baggage from recent events. Caucus have wanted me to do that job, pull them together and unify them.”
He said to the 413,000 voters National had lost “we want you back”.
Luxon was elected unopposed as National’s leader on Tuesday. Nicola Willis was elected as his deputy.
Bridges pulled out of the race an hour before National’s caucus was due to vote and announced he would support Luxon, but he has not spoken publicly since.
Although he did not have enough support to win the leadership, he does have a significant base of support in caucus.
Luxon said the economy would be a priority for National and it intended to hold Labour to account over its spending decisions and the rising cost of living.
He said spending on hospitals and roads was important but “blowing cash on nice-to-haves is quite another thing”.
“High inflation is like a thief in your pocket, making it harder to live. That’s why public spending must be brought under control – otherwise we will keep seeing costs rising faster than wages.”
He said it was important the economy was sustainable, and that meant spending effectively and with discipline.
“New Zealand needs a strong economy so we can invest in better core services like healthcare, education and police.”
Luxon said it was also important to reset the approach to infrastructure to take a long-term, intergenerational view.
Parliament is in recess this week, but will return next Tuesday when Luxon will go head to head against Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern for the first time.
Luxon was elected leader after Collins was removed in a vote of no confidence by caucus last Thursday.
That was prompted by her attempt to demote Bridges over comments he had made to MP Jacqui Dean at a caucus function in 2016, which Dean had mentioned to Collins in recent weeks.
Bridges – who had apologised to Dean soon after the remarks – had claimed it was a desperate bid by Collins to hold onto her leadership as speculation mounted he planned to roll her.
Shane Reti stood in as interim leader for the four days until the caucus met to elect a new leader – and Bridges withdrew after realising he did not have enough support.
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