31 Jan 2022

National Party caucus retreat: MPs staying on message

4:03 pm on 31 January 2022

National's caucus retreat has kicked off in Queenstown with a pep talk from a senior British politician in David Cameron's former Conservative government.

Nicola Willis and Christopher Luxon - National Party

Nicola Willis and Christopher Luxon in Queenstown. Photo: RNZ / Anneke Smith

Cameron, a former British prime minister, was due to give the address himself but after testing positive for Covid-19, George Osborne stepped in instead.

MPs will be given a clear message about the need to sharpen up portfolio focus, get out and about and meet their constituents, and party leader Chris Luxon's expectations of conduct.

One in the spotlight is Whanganui list MP Harete Hipango, who attended two anti-lockdown and mandate protests, and more recently asked a staffer to edit the 'controversies' section on her Wikipedia page.

She was staying on message on arrival at the retreat this morning, declining to discuss details of a "confidential" and "private" conversation she had with deputy leader Nicola Willis.

"Thank you for your interest, I appreciate the concern, but to share that we all have a concern for New Zealanders in New Zealand and that's where my focus is," she told reporters.

"That's where my colleagues' focus is and that's where it needs to stay.

"So anything else other than that, it's with goodwill, it's with good intent, it's not about me, it's not about any of us as individuals; the care, the concern and the regard has to be for New Zealanders in New Zealand."

George Osborne at National Party caucus retreat in Queenstown

George Osborne at the National Party caucus retreat in Queenstown. Photo: RNZ / Anneke Smith

Former leader Simon Bridges, who lost out to Luxon in last year's leadership challenge, is also sticking to the script.

"We had a reset, we've got a strong leader, we've got a good leadership team and are very excited actually for National's prospects this year."

National MPs gather for their annual caucus retreat at the QT Queenstown

National MPs gather for their annual caucus retreat at the QT Queenstown. Photo: RNZ / Anneke Smith

Bridges - who now holds the finance portfolio - said there was a real sense of dissatisfaction with the current government, with people telling him "how they want us to do better, as we owe it to New Zealand to do that".

It was all about the economy, he said, "really focused on inflation" and rising prices which would cause financial pain for New Zealanders.

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Judith Collins Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

He said he thought the caucus could pull together again after the factional squabbling, controversies and dysfunction of past years.

This will also be the first public appearance back with the caucus for Luxon's predecessor, Judith Collins, since she lost last year's confidence vote.

Collins told reporters Luxon had no reason to worry about her being a destructive force in caucus, describing herself as "the ultimate team player".

"I'm very supportive of Christopher Luxon and Nicola Willis," she said. "I can work with everybody. We're all moving ahead."

Collins said she was delighted with her new responsibility as party spokesperson for science, research and technology.

"I'm extremely positive about the work that I'm doing and, of course, my electorate Papakura gets to see me an awful lot more now."

Collins declined to answer questions about the events leading up to her ousting last year, saying she was "focused on the future".

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