15 Mar 2022

Bridges' departure elicits well-wishes and congratulations

5:57 pm on 15 March 2022

Fellow MPs from across the house have paid tribute to Simon Bridges' 14-year tenure in Parliament.

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Simon Bridges today. He announced his retirement at Parliament this morning. Photo: RNZ / Craig McCulloch

A former leader of the National Party and its finance and infrastructure spokesperson since December, Bridges today revealed his plans to leave Parliament within weeks.

Current leader Christopher Luxon has overseen a revival of support in recent polling, with Bridges playing a supporting role as the experienced and savvy politician to Luxon's successful political outsider.

Luxon said Bridges was a great friend who would be missed.

"It's going to be sad to see him go, he's been a very trusted friend of mine and a confidant for some time but I just wish him and his family all the very best as he makes these decisions.

"He really was an outstanding minister of transport was when I got to know him ... I look at things like his imprint and legacy around the different expressways that are around the country, he started things even like the City Rail Link, so he was right in the middle of the Key-English government, he was a very successful, young, senior cabinet minister and he carried himself always, I thought, incredibly well."

He said Bridges had led the party at a "pretty tough time and did that very well" and had been a great champion of the cost-of-living crisis National was criticising the government over recently.

Bridges has said he plans to look at commercial opportunities and spend more time with family - a decision Luxon said had his full support.

"He's a guy at 45 years old making a decision for himself and his family about his career and his next steps," Luxon said.

"In modern day politics it's pretty full on ... [he's] been here 14 years, he's been a member of the National Party for 30 years, he'll continue to be a member of the National Party but that's a long time in modern politics.

Luxon said the pair had talked about their experiences inside and outside politics, and Bridges had informed him of his decision in recent days.

"I really understand it because I've been there myself, where you're in a career path and a track ... in many ways for me leaving my corporate life to come into political life is the same kind of process.

"We're gonna miss him tremendously but ultimately this is a decision for Simon and he's owed that."

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern entered politics when Bridges did, and wished him well despite their clashes over his two years as opposition leader.

"I have known Simon Bridges for a number of years and over the course of that time I've seen the fact that he's not only taken those leadership roles, he's had a family - a young family, a growing family - and so really my only message would be to wish him well," she said.

"It would be a huge change of environment and pace, and one I'm sure that his family will be happy he's made so they see more of him. After all, you know, politicians are still human - and mums and dads often too."

ACT leader David Seymour said Bridges was one of the National leaders he has worked well with.

"I think he's been highly committed to the cause of better policy in New Zealand, for that I admire him," Seymour said.

"I've always enjoyed his company, and I wish him all the best, he's given a lot to Parliament, he's given a lot to his party and I think he deserves success and maybe a little bit more serenity in whatever he does next."

Finance Minister Grant Robertson similarly acknowledged and congratulated Bridges on his career and his decision to look at other opportunities.

"It won't escape anyone that we disagree on a lot of things but I enjoy the exchanges that we have and I look forward to some more in the future," he said.

"I think this leaves a big gap on National's front bench, I mean Simon's an experienced politician, somebody who's been around for a long time."

That gap did not appear to be weighing too deeply on Luxon's mind - he said he had a plan for who would fill the portfolios and would announce those tomorrow.

Bridges' departure will trigger a by-election in his Tauranga seat, but Luxon was confident of retaining that too.

"We'll have a really good candidate in Tauranga, can guarantee it. We've had already over summer a lot of really great people reaching out wanting to explore candidacy for the National Party for 2023 so we're gonna have a great candidate, and we're gonna put up a great fight, and I'm confident we'll win it."

It will also mean a loss of diversity from the front benches of the party, which has suffered criticism for it, but Luxon was confident that could also be remedied.

"The National Party isn't as diverse as we want it to be as a function of our very poor election result ... the work that I've - and we've - started and the work that we're gonna continue to do so that come 2023 we're gonna have a really diverse set of candidates.

"It's unfortunate we're losing Simon but at the end of the day, as I said, I fully respect his decision."

'I've been a characterful politician to put it mildly' - Bridges

Bridges told Checkpoint he was looking forward to giving his children a bit more normality as they had never known him to be anything other an MP "who goes away to a place called Parliament".

"I feel like there's never a good time for these things, but it's as good as it gets for National, we're on the upswing, we've got momentum, I'm 45, i'm keen to explore some other opportunities."

Asked if there were other reasons behind his departure that had not yet been publicised, he said: "I appreciate I've been [a politician of] conviction, I've been a characterful politician to put it mildly, and I've had my ups and downs and highs and lows, but there's no reason other than the ones that I'm giving you for what's happening, I mean it's a both sad and exciting time for me."

He said part of the sadness was potentially missing out on being a finance minister if National is elected.

"I'll be cheering for National from the sidelines and maybe I will be jealous of that next finance minister but I've made my decision."

Most of his colleagues found out about his decision this morning, he said.

"It's a bit like watching your own funeral, people start to say nice things about you and that's very kind."

Bridges will also be selling his home in Tauranga, where he has lived for 22 years. But he said it was certainly not a goodbye to the area, with his wife still owning a business there and his mum also residing in the area.

"I certainly intend to continue having a home in Tauranga because I love the city, I love the beaches."

Asked if he had already secured a new role, he said he was exploring new opportunities but he has no further details.

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