By Gurbir Singh:
The ‘incredible turnabout’ at National party leader, Simon Bridges’ stopover in Hamilton this morning was evident of the immense popularity he enjoys in the Waikato region.
The jam-packed cafe hall with an estimated 350 plus supporters showed the goodwill generated over the years by the two local party MPs , David Benette and Tim Macindoe.
Bridges admitted this was perhaps the biggest gathering he had addressed so far in his ‘meet the New Zealanders’ road trip.
Simon Bridges who took over as leader of the National party in February this year from Bill English, is currently travelling around the country to meet and connect with as many New Zealanders as possible from all walks of life.
Before addressing local supporters in Hamilton, his first stop was at Cambridge, a suburban town of Hamilton where he addressed a similarly overflowing local hall.
The National leader fielded and answered questions on a wide range of subjects from eager listeners as he prepared grounds for next elections in 2020.
With an affable smile and a distinct charm, he diplomatically tackled some sensitive questions, including Maori and abortion issues.
Bridges who is a Māori of Te Āti Haunui-a-Pāpārangi descent and the first Māori leader of the National Party, has never tried to trade off his Māori heritage.
In reply to one question, he said, “I am proud of my Māori heritage, but I’m a New Zealander first.”
He also made his conservative stand clear on issues like abortion.
Some young girl students of local Sacred Heart College were keen to know how the National party proposes to involve youngsters in politics, and if he was in favour of including politics as a school subject.
Pointing to his own elevation and that of Jacinda Arden as a PM, he said that “we both belong to the new generation” and would welcome young politicians to their party. But he was not inclined either to lower the voting age or include Politics as a subject. “Already, you students have too many subjects,” he remarked.
When a concern was raised about the MMP voting system that enabled Labour party come into power, Bridges did not see any immediate changes happening to the voting system.
The National leader questioned the Government’s decision to inject about $900 million for diplomats, rather than making cheaper GP visits.
He also criticised the spread in the use of meth and gang culture in the country. Government’s aim to reduce prison population by 10% was not the answer,he added.
In answer to a question about a Massey school curriculum that included safe use of meth, he said his party would have dealt it in a different way.
He admitted and agreed that there was child poverty in this country, but the way government was pretending to solve it, was incorrect. Changes were needed in the welfare system to tackle the root cause. “It is important for solo mums to reveal name of child’s father as he,too, has a responsibility to contribute and raise their valuable child.”
Bridges also had a dig at the light rail project in Auckland at the cost of getting rid of highway extensions in Waikato.
As an opposition party, he admitted their hands are tied, but “our 56 MPs are available to listen to you, to understand your priorities and we will action it in 2020.”
Simon Bridges has been an MP since 2008 and he and his wife, Natalie live in Tauranga with their three young children.
In the last National-led Government, Bridges held several ministerial portfolios including Labour, Energy, Transport, Communications, Economic Development and as leader of the House.
Prior to standing for Parliament, Simon Bridges was a senior Crown Prosecutor in the District and High Courts.