22 May 2020

New National Party leader Todd Muller talks to Lisa Owen

From Checkpoint, 5:20 pm on 22 May 2020

New National leader Todd Muller has promised to focus on communities and the economy, but just a few hours into the job is light on policy specifics. 

He said it was essential to shore up job losses, but would not commit to a specific number. 

"I can't sit here and say 'here's a job target number' ... we're in a crisis, an economic crisis as a country, we're losing a thousand a day. 

"This country is looking for an alternative vision from the opposition to be able to frame up how we are going to recover in our communities at the local level because the New Zealand economy is actually the sum of all our small communities economic activity and it's that area that's actually being hammered at the moment.

Challenged that he would need specifics quickly with just 120 days left before the 19 September general election, Muller said the party had to get it right. 

"We've got 120 days but we have got to make sure that when we put an alternative vision that we have thought it through and it makes sense and it's relevant for New Zealand. 

"My focus is at rebuilding of New Zealand communities, and we will put policies in place that will capture imagination and will get people to sit up and say 'wow these guys got it, they understand me, they understand my family'." 

When asked, he did not rule out austerity under the National Party, but said that was a "yesterday kind of title". 

"Of course we need to spend, of course we need to stand by small businesses and families and communities and get them back on their feet."

He would not give any specifics yet on policy or performance indicators. 

"My total focus is to win the election. 

"I think the Prime Minister has done elements of her role extremely well, I think she's a great communicator, I think she's done a great job in terms of health response ... but the debate that sits in front of this country is how do we recover from the greatest economic crisis of our generation.

"The problem with this government is they're very good on rhetoric, when you hold their feet to the fire across a raft of areas they've had as a priority - be it transport, be it prison numbers, be it child poverty - they have failed."

National Party leader Todd Muller

National Party leader Todd Muller Photo: RNZ /Dom Thomas

He also would not speak about potential partnerships. 

"By the time we get to start of the election I will be very clear as leader who we will and will not work with.

"My total focus is our party. My total focus is on presenting our plan to the country. And my record actually is that if others over time can see the value in our strategy and are willing to work with us then I'm open to it, particularly with the Green Party. 

He said he had not heard from Peters today.

"I've been busy, I have not looked at my phone."

He also gave no indication of his position on doing a deal with the ACT Party. 

"This is all in front of us ... there'll be time for those conversations in the future." 

Asked how he knew he would be any better at the job than outgoing leader Simon Bridges, he said the voters would decide that. 

"I don't think you describe yourself as charismatic or not, my wife thinks I'm charismatic but she's just one voter and we need a few more than that." 

He seemed more than happy to continue to work with Bridges.

"The whole process was very respectful today... we had our respective pitches if you like and the caucus made the decision. 

"He's been an incredible contributor to this party ... and of course I'll leave him to have a few days to work out what exactly he'd like to do in terms of his future contribution to the party."

He said the two polls this week were the first the party had seen since before Covid-19, and he only made up his mind to tilt for the leadership on Wednesday this week. 

His new deputy Nikki Kaye is experienced and has twice defeated Jacinda Ardern in electorate races. 

Asked whether it would make more sense for Kaye to lead the party, Muller said she was fantastic but in the end it was his decision to put his name forward.

"I decided to put myself forward as leader on Wednesday, and we've made the decision today." 

"I decided to stand as leader and she put herself forward as deputy leader." 

Quickfire questions: 

Muller also answered a series of quickfire questions. 

Q: Spaghetti on pizza?


Dinner guest: Australia PM Scott Morrison or US President Donald Trump? 

"Scott Morrison."

Legalise cannabis?


Favourite native bird?


Person you most admire?

"My late grandfather."

What's your superpower?

"I'm a pretty good cuddler of the kids."


"Toddles, Toddie, Toddster. Anything with 'Todd' on the front and something on the end. I've had it since I was five and I'm 52 so and I've said it on national radio so I've kept it going."

First person you called after getting the job?

"Absolutely my mother."