The National Party’s campaign chairperson, Gerry Brownlee, says he made a “huge mistake” during electioneering when he suggested the government had withheld information on the latest Covid-19 outbreak in August.
Photo: Getty Images
Brownlee told Morning Report’s election special the party would be taking Sunday to let the election results set in, thank those involved in the campaign, and then regroup and think about the future on Monday.
In August, Brownlee caused an uproar when he listed an allegedly suspicious series of events, which included the Director-General of Health, Dr Ashley Bloomfield, telling New Zealanders to be prepared for a second wave and to get masks before a new lockdown was enacted.
“Then you saw the prime minister’s visit to a mask factory … along with Dr Bloomfield, after 103 days of no community transmission, having a test himself – all very interesting things to happen a matter of hours before there was a notification of the largest residential part of New Zealand going into a level 3 lockdown.”
Questioned by journalists, Brownlee said he was “just outlining facts … it’s an interesting series of facts”.
Today, he said: “I made a huge mistake. I made a flippant comment that then quite reasonably was construed as suggesting something that I didn’t intend to convey.
“I don’t think something like Covid-19 should be treated in any other fashion other than extremely seriously.”
He said sometimes when asked a question by a reporter on the campaign trail an answer would “run into the wrong spaces”.
“There’s no question that’s what happened a couple of times during the campaign.”
He says as the chairperson of the campaign, his responsibility for the result was a subject the party would have to discuss.
“As the chair of the campaign I’m there to make sure we get a structure that works for us. I think Judith campaigned incredibly well, we had good ground campaigns in the electorates. In the end I think there was a real tide for the Jacinda Ardern-led government and you can see that that’s the result.”
National had a “shocker of a year”, Brownlee said.
“When you look a bit untidy like that you can’t expect voters to say ‘we’d like to have that group of people in government’, it’s that simple.
“I think Judith inherited a difficult situation and made the best of it.”
He said the party did have a clear daily strategy, even though he’d heard someone say there was not.
“We had morning phone call with all candidates. We had a digest going out each day with key messages in it. That was generally by just after 8am each morning. There was a clear strategy, without a doubt.
“Now, you can have a strategy, but if it’s not being picked up by the people you are trying to attract for a vote, that’s a different matter.”
He said Collins should stay on as leader, but said it was for caucus to decide on.
As for himself, whether he stayed in Parliament after losing Ilam was something that would “have to be discussed over the next few days… It’s no more a done deal than the Greens being part of the current government. You just need time after these types of events to analyse everything that’s in front of you and work out what’s best for the National Party.
“It’s not a question that I can answer today.”