7 Dec 2021

National MPs align themselves with Luxon's new-page philosophy

5:06 pm on 7 December 2021

It is a new day for National MPs, who are turning to introspection as they settle into their new roles.

Christopher Luxon and Nicola Willis

Christopher Luxon and Nicola Willis Photo: RNZ / Angus Dreaver

Christopher Luxon made his Parliamentary debut as Opposition leader this afternoon, going head-to-head with Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern in the debating chamber for the first time.

It was hardly the battle of titans as billed - instead featuring some day-one jitters.

Luxon stumbled over his words a bit, but otherwise neither landed a knock-out blow; neither covered themselves with glory; both with room for improvement.

That was something Luxon himself acknowledged.

"It is certainly different from the world I've come from," said Luxon afterwards. "But that's exciting. I think I'll get better and better."

The National MPs arrived this morning for their first caucus meeting since Luxon took over leadership of the party last week, and announced a rejig of responsibilities yesterday.

Among other party business, they were there to elect a new senior and junior whip: Chris Penk taking over the senior role from Matt Doocey, and Maureen Pugh retaining the junior role, both unopposed.

Rhetoric from Luxon himself has largely centred on "turning the page" from party squabbles like the clash between Judith Collins and Simon Bridges which triggered Collins' removal as leader, and Luxon's ascendancy.

That attitude appeared to have caught on among the rank-and-file, with many offering timely observations.

"Yesterday was yesterday," Bridges said. "I think today is, ah, the future."

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Simon Bridges. Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

He said he had no "bugbear" with any of his colleagues, even Collins. Bridges was summarily demoted by her and had his portfolios stripped less than two weeks ago, but there was little sign of gloating after her own demotion from party leader to 19th on the list.

"I think the blend of the reset yesterday is going to make a big difference to National's performance ... in the end, I think what we've got here is a team where everyone has a contribution and Chris has done a very great job of blending skills and strengths to portfolio areas."

Another former leader, Todd Muller, had also clashed with Collins in the past but borrowed directly from Luxon's quote-book.

"I think it was pretty clear at the time that the two of us had a breakdown in the relationship but I'm not here to reflect on the history. I'm here to turn the page.

"Look, the thing with turning a page is that you actually have to turn the page. You actually have to say ... in my case, put the backpack of grievance down - and we all have that in our lives, things that you can hold on to which end up being destructive - or you can just put it down and say 'that was then, this is now' and we've got to move forward on that basis."

Todd Muller

Todd Muller. Photo: RNZ / Angus Dreaver

Muller had been planning to step down from politics after the 2023 election but after the change in leadership has decided to remain. Part of the reason for his demotion under Collins was due to his badmouthing colleague Harete Hipango to a journalist.

Hipango herself was similarly philosophical and happy to leave the past in the past.

"Life has its ups and its downs and I'm fairly settled where things are at. So as I say I'm just part of a team, I've got a job to do, and I'm here and I've been brought in, I've been brought back on a list, and there's no number at the moment, and I'm good with that. That's fine. Just got a job to do.

"Am I comfortable? I'm comfortable with everybody ... life teaches us that there are things that just happen. You just get on, dust yourself off, pick yourself up, and that's called life.

"You get to my stage in life, I've been around the block several times and I've been taken to task lots of times ... I'm well versed and I'm well prepared and as I say the focus is on not me, not on Todd, not on any of us as individuals but it's actually about getting things better for Aotearoa New Zealand."

Erica Stanford, an up-and-comer who was floated as a possible deputy during the leadership contest, and came away from yesterday's reshuffle with the education portfolio and an 18-rank promotion, hoped Collins would remain a force in the party.

"Judith Collins is an exceptional talent, she's been a really capable minister for many years, and I'm hoping that actually - and I know she will because she's already started doing this - she'll be a mentor to many of us.

Erica Stanford

Erica Stanford. Photo: RNZ / Angus Dreaver

"She gave me immigration and she's sort of had that steady hand on my shoulder the whole way, and I'm hoping that that will continue because she's got a lot of really good advice to give."

Collins herself was nowhere to be seen, apparently on leave. New Police spokesperson Mark Mitchell said that was not a sign of retribution against her.

"I just think that for various reasons sometimes caucus members take leave. Judith may have chosen to do that and it may have been as recent as today, I don't know. There'll be some explanation."

While the theme of looking to the future was uniform, for some it was less about moving away from past grievances with colleagues and more about forgetting a demotion they may not have expected.

"Everybody wants to progress and I've gone backwards, I'm not going to hide my disappointment, but that's a moment in time. I've got new challenges now and I'm looking forward to getting into them," said Michael Woodhouse, who lost his Finance portfolio to Bridges and dropped down the list from fourth to 18th.

"Look, today's a new day, I've got new challenges and I'm looking forward to launching myself into those challenges."

He will no doubt be kept busy, with five portfolios including Statistics, ACC, Sport and Recreation, State-owned Enterprises and Deputy Shadow Leader of the House.

Todd McClay - who tumbled from sixth out of the top-20 - also wanted to focus on the road ahead.

"It gives me the amount of respect I deserve. You can interpret that however you want," he said.

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Todd McClay. Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

"I've been given two very important jobs to do both in trade and in tourism, trade is one of the most important things New Zealand does - we're an export nation, the challenge for the government is delivering a high-quality deal with the European Union, it's been going on for a very long time. Tourism, where businesses are struggling - they don't understand the red light system, it was as late as Friday it was changed - so it's just a huge amount of work to do and as far as rankings are concerned it's not something I've focused on before."

Covid-19 Response spokesperson Chris Bishop went up four spots, but said he had got straight down to it last night with a lot of hard work.

"It's been a busy last few days, we've got the House this week - Christopher's first question, obviously, and a new leadership team - and five, six sitting days of the house still to go.

"A lot of work to do, so no celebrations yet, but you know - Christmas is yet to come."

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