New National Party leader Todd Muller: ‘I’m not interested in opposition for opposition’s sake’

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Todd Muller says his “absolute focus” as the new National Party leader will be New Zealand’s economic recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic.

Muller has addressed his first media conference as the new National Party leader after defeating incumbent Simon Bridges in a special caucus meeting this afternoon.

Watch the media conference here:

“First and foremost I am about what’s best for you and your family, not what’s wrong with the government.

“I’m not interested in opposition for opposition’s sake. We’re all tired of that kind of politics.

Muller said New Zealanders have made many sacrifices over the past few months.

“You have put a lot on the line to get us through this crisis and now we must begin taking another step forward to rebuild our country, to rebuild our economy, and to restore the livelihoods of New Zealanders.

“Only a National government can provide the leadership to do that. That is why we must win the next election.

“We should all be proud of what we have achieved together. Covid-19 has hurt us. My absolute focus as the National Party leader will be New Zealand’s economic recovery.”

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Photo: RNZ /Dom Thomas

He said the size of the task was enormous.

“I will bring my all to it. Yes, I have run a business, I can read a balance sheet and a P and L (profit and loss statement), and I know a good one from a bad one. And I will bring those skills to the Prime Ministership. But that is not what drives me.

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“What drives me is community, the people who help their elderly neighbours with the lawns on the weekend, the dad who runs the food stall at the local school fair, the mum who coaches a local touch rugby team.”

He said the main focus of this election would be the economy.

“But not the economy that bureaucracy talks about, it’ll be the economy you live in. The economy in your community, your job, your main street, your tourism business, your marae, your local rugby league club, your local butcher, your netball courts, your farms, your shops and your families. And this is the economy National MPs are grounded in.”

National MPs met behind closed doors at midday, hearing addresses from both Bridges and Muller before casting their ballots.

Auckland Central MP Nikki Kaye was also named as the new deputy leader, replacing Paula Bennett.

Muller said today’s vote was by secret ballot, and they did not know what the numbers were.

“We never do, it’s not part of our tradition.

“We always have moments, every party does, we have internal debate, the feeling in that caucus was incredibly focused on the task at hand.”

National's new leader Todd Muller.

National’s new leader Todd Muller. Photo: Getty Images

Muller praised the government’s handling of the Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic, but said the government’s efforts elsewhere were not good enough.

“I am the first to admit and acknowledge that the government’s handling of Covid-19 was overall impressive, and I think most New Zealanders would feel the same.

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“But to measure your performance as a Cabinet on your ability to manage a crisis … against the threshold of do you have the capacity sitting around a Cabinet to design an economic recovery when all your performance measures in the previous two and a half years have been a failure? I think that doesn’t work, I think the country knows that doesn’t work.”

“We’re a caucus of remarkable talent … the problem with this government is they’ve got two or three strong performers, and 17 empty seats in Cabinet.”

Muller confirmed that Paul Goldsmith would stay on as finance spokesperson – apparently the first time Goldsmith was hearing of it – and also thanked Bridges and former deputy leader Paula Bennett.

“Simon has worked hard as leader and has given the job his all. Both he and Paula have served the country well.”

He said Bridges was a very talented politician and he would welcome the former party leader if he wanted to continue contributing to the National Party at a senior level.

Unlike Bridges, Muller said he had not ruled out working with Winston Peters and NZ First.

Muller said in a statement afterwards that he was focusing on “Team National” and its role in helping the country rebuild after the Covid-19 pandemic.

“My focus as leader is our country’s economic recovery and the strengthening of every community throughout New Zealand,” he said.

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He said his perspective on social views come from his Catholic faith – he has been Catholic since he was a small boy.

He said Kaye had a different view, but that represent’s the party’s ‘broad church’.

Kaye said Muller was probably the most decent person she knew and had incredible strength and authenticity.

She said he had an extraordinary ability to pull people together.

For his part, Bridges said he regretted nothing and the past two years had been a “heck of a ride”.

Bridges posted a tweet thanking New Zealand and saying the result will leave him with “more time for the most important job I have” referring to his family.

Two polls this week that showed a sharp decline in voters’ support for National and little taste for Bridges’ leadership seemed to seal the previous leader’s fate.

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