In his own words

Si­mon Bridges an­swers reader ques­tions.

New Zealand Listener - - SI­MON BRIDGES -

1. You stud­ied for your mas­ter’s in law at Ox­ford – has it been use­ful in your le­gal or po­lit­i­cal ca­reer?

I loved my time at Ox­ford, but I don’t think any­thing can pre­pare you for be­com­ing a Crown pros­e­cu­tor. It is a role of huge con­trast – I was deal­ing with some of New Zealand’s worst crim­i­nals on a daily ba­sis, at the same time as meet­ing in­spir­ing vic­tims who were slowly putting their lives back to­gether. That role shaped me as a politi­cian. As a coun­try, we need to be bet­ter at tack­ling the causes of crime while also be­ing tough on those who cause harm to oth­ers.

2. What would you rate as your most sig­nif­i­cant achieve­ment as a Gov­ern­ment min­is­ter?

Prob­a­bly my proud­est mo­ment is the work I’ve done to tur­bocharge the growth of the elec­tric-ve­hi­cle fleet as Trans­port Min­is­ter and as part of our re­sponse to cli­mate change. Peo­ple are al­ways go­ing to value per­sonal mo­bil­ity, but we do need a more en­vi­ron­men­tally friendly form of mo­tive power for our pri­vate cars. Un­der my watch, we com­menced build­ing the na­tional charg­ing in­fra­struc­ture that will al­low the fleet to grow and en­cour­aged the pur­chase of elec­tric ve­hi­cles for both the Gov­ern­ment and ma­jor pri­vate-sec­tor fleets.

3. What do you see as the three big­gest is­sues or chal­lenges fac­ing New Zealand?

I think the three most im­por­tant chal­lenges are, first, en­sur­ing we con­tinue to pros­per eco­nom­i­cally while help­ing those less for­tu­nate. There are many pol­icy choices here, and the an­swer is to pick those that lift peo­ple up with­out slow­ing our econ­omy down and dam­ag­ing peo­ple’s in­comes more broadly. Sec­ond, we need to keep im­prov­ing our en­vi­ron­men­tal out­comes while not dam­ag­ing the pros­per­ity of re­gional New Zealand. And, third, we need to em­brace con­fi­dently be­ing an open, pos­i­tive coun­try on the world stage, and not suc­cumb to some of the iso­la­tion­ist rhetoric we are hear­ing around the world, which would only dam­age a small coun­try like New Zealand.

4. Do you be­lieve the Labour-led coali­tion will be able to achieve the things it has pledged to do – for ex­am­ple, plant a bil­lion trees?

No, I think they are go­ing to have some real prob­lems. They are show­ing no signs of know­ing how to plant a bil­lion trees, and the steps they are tak­ing are prob­a­bly go­ing to re­duce tree plant­ing, not in­crease it. It’s the same with hous­ing and a bunch of other poli­cies. There is a ma­jor gap be­tween their as­pi­ra­tions and wish lists and their abil­ity to de­liver. They have also given most of the spare money the Gov­ern­ment will get over the next four years to the first-year ter­tiary stu­dents, which se­verely lim­its what they can do for ev­ery­one else. We’ll con­tinue to evolve our poli­cies in a num­ber of ar­eas, but our val­ues and our vi­sion are en­dur­ing. We are here to rep­re­sent hard-work­ing Kiwi fam­i­lies, small busi­ness peo­ple, young peo­ple start­ing out, re­gional New Zealand and those who are striv­ing for a bet­ter life. We’ll see rapid changes in tech­nol­ogy over the next 10 years, and that will be help­ful in some ar­eas, like the en­vi­ron­ment, and chal­leng­ing in other ar­eas. Our job is to be fo­cused on the in­ter­ests of our sup­port­ers and of New Zealan­ders more gen­er­ally. Our track record shows we can do that. 6. What about some of the other is­sues that have arisen re­cently? There have been a num­ber of is­sues with hos­pi­tal build­ings over many decades and the pre­vi­ous Gov­ern­ment dealt with them as they came up by sup­port­ing re­pairs and as­sist­ing in the build­ing of new fa­cil­i­ties – for ex­am­ple, Grey Base Hos­pi­tal, new build­ings at Christchurch Hos­pi­tal and the up­com­ing re­build of Dunedin Hos­pi­tal. These are reg­u­lar de­mands on tax­pay­ers’ fund­ing and gov­ern­ments need to make pro­vi­sion for them. We warned Labour be­fore the elec­tion they had over­promised with their poli­cies – for ex­am­ple, Ki­wiBuild and NZ Su­per Fund con­tri­bu­tions – and had no money left. They ig­nored this and are now claim­ing they can­not deal with is­sues com­ing to light.

My proud­est mo­ment is the work I’ve done to tur­bocharge the growth of the elec­tric-ve­hi­cle fleet as part of our re­sponse to cli­mate change.

mother has al­ways voted Na­tional, but his father cer­tainly voted Labour in the 80s. They are now Na­tional vot­ers. He hopes. “If I don’t get their votes for the next elec­tion, I’m in trou­ble.”

His English wife, whom he met at Ox­ford and who now has her own PR com­pany, comes from a staunch Labour-vot­ing Coven­try fam­ily. “She’s a fair-dinkum work­ing-class Coven­tar­ian who voted Labour.” He likes left­ies, has lots of lefty friends. “Left­ies are gen­er­ally more in­ter­est­ing. They like to have fun.” But he's the leader of the Na­tional Party and so: “If you want to get some­thing done, get some Na­tional Party mem­bers around you; if you want to have fun with no achieve­ment, get some left­ies around you.”

His father-in-law, who worked for a car­maker that shut down dur­ing the Thatcher years, still loathes her to this day. He re­garded his Tory son-in-law with sus­pi­cion at first, but has now, ac­cord­ing to said Tory son-in-law, been won over.

Itend to be­lieve him – if re­luc­tantly. I’d hoped he’d be su­per smarmy, petu­lant and bad-tem­pered. I’d also re­ally hoped he’d sound so much like a yokel that I’d need to pro­vide sub­ti­tles for his quotes. He didn’t sound any more like a yokel than Key to me, and man­gling the English lan­guage didn’t do Key any harm.

I won­der why he doesn’t sound posher, though. Ox­ford Univer­sity, where he did a post­grad­u­ate law de­gree, could have filed the rough edges off. Per­haps it made him ex­otic. He just laughs and says his wife-to-be thought he was Ja­panese when they met.

Some peo­ple get ex­er­cised about how Māori he is or isn’t. He doesn’t. He says he feels Māori “sim­ply from an ex­ter­nal per­spec­tive, be­cause all my life, in Te Atatu [where he grew up], at law school, peo­ple have per­ceived me as Māori”. What does an­noy him is the view – “and let me give you the blunt, most crass one – that Māori vote Labour, not Na­tional. Well, it’s rub­bish. We’re not some mono­lithic kind of group that all think the same – just as Pakeha New Zealan­ders aren’t.”

He was a suc­cess­ful lawyer and it shows. Be­ing a lawyer is good train­ing for pol­i­tics. He’s a de­cent de­bater. And he’s good at the tricks. When I say I’m about to ask him a hy­po­thet­i­cal ques­tion, he in­ter­jects: “You are al­lowed to ask them in Par­lia­ment but the an­swerer doesn’t nec­es­sar­ily need to an­swer.”

He has a keen sense of mis­chief and seems to en­joy ham­ming it up. If he does have a tem­per, he’s not about to un­leash it on a jour­nal­ist while he’s on his mis­sion to win the pub­lic over. He’s good at learn­ing and has learnt from a shouty 2013 Camp­bell Live in­ter­view on off­shore drilling ex­plo­ration. “Not my finest mo­ment.”

He’s not silly. He was head boy at West Auck­land’s Ruther­ford Col­lege; a crown pros­e­cu­tor at 24; he went to Ox­ford. He was a goody-goody. He joined the Young Nats at 16. He claims to have got drunk on a num­ber of oc­ca­sions, which he then ad­justs to “oh, I don’t know about drunk”. He has never smoked dope. He loves an­i­mals, and if he had time to have a hobby, it would be fly fish­ing. He is prob­a­bly a bit good-look­ing but blows the met­ro­sex­ual vote with “we know more and more New Zealand men use mois­turis­ers and prod­ucts. I’m not one of those yet.” He’s con­ser­va­tive and a Con­ser­va­tive, a bit of a young codger who was prob­a­bly born that way. He’s 41 go­ing on 60, with a boy­ish sense of hu­mour.

He voted against same-sex mar­riage and has long said he did so be­cause his elec­torate wanted him to. I want to know what he thought. He says his Chris­tian back­ground meant that at the time, he re­garded mar­riage as “a fun­da­men­tally re­li­gious in­sti­tu­tion go­ing back thou­sands of years and so I thought: ‘Well, I’m go­ing to vote against this.’ Would I do the same now? I don’t think I would … You know, it’s been pos­i­tive.”

This is him be­ing his earnest and se­ri­ous self, as be­fit­ting the Leader of the Op­po­si­tion. A bit later, the blokey joker makes an­other ap­pear­ance. Apro­pos of God knows what, he says of a Press Gallery mate of mine: “You just tell her next time she talks to me, she shouldn’t do it on the toi­let.” Umm. What? “Well, you just ask her.” He has promised not to pull pony­tails but can’t re­sist a spot of leg-pulling.

I fall into his trap and ask her. She is pre­dictably out­raged, say­ing he is the one who talks to peo­ple, on his cell­phone, on the toi­let. Fur­ther de­tails are sup­plied, which, to main­tain the dig­nity of the Lis­tener, I shall re­frain from shar­ing. Yes, yes, very naughty.

When I phone this mate, she asks, “What did you think of him?”

I sigh and say: “God help me. I think I liked him. He’s funny.” “Yeah,” she says, “you can for­give a lot in a politi­cian with a sense of hu­mour.” I’m with the press sec­re­tary, though – that smarmy suit has to go. And should he ever phone you, don’t ask where he’s call­ing from.

What does an­noy him is the view that Māori vote Labour, not Na­tional. “Well, it’s rub­bish. We’re not some mono­lithic group.”

5. In a pe­riod of pro­found global change, what do you see as the next step for the Na­tional Party?

Melt­ing mo­ment: John Camp­bell and Si­mon Bridges go head to head in 2013.

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