Opposition leader Simon Bridges was in town last week, part of a national roadshow that included more than 70 towns across the country.
Speaking to a crowd of around 300 jammed into the Cambridge Health and Community Centre, Mr Bridges said the meeting was to give people the chance to get to know him. “In two and a half years’ time, I will be asking you to choose me as your Prime Minister,” he said. “You have a right to know me.”
He said he was also keen to hear what communities were concerned about, to ensure that the National Party has the best policies going into the 2020 election and provide the current government with a “real opposition” in the meantime. Part of that was staying connected with the electorate, hearing what he expected would be similar concerns up and down the country, he said.
“Labour didn’t do a good job in opposition,” he said, “I don’t want to make that mistake from opposition this time.”
Speaking briefly before opening up the floor for questions, Bridges said Jacinda Ardern’s government has “been left with billions and billions of dollars” in the coffers from the National Party’s time in office, and he was critical of some areas they are spending money in. Describing the government as having their priorities wrong, Mr Bridges was unimpressed by the $900M spend on “diplomats not doctors”, spearheaded by the Minister of Foreign Affairs and Labour’s coalition partner, Winston Peters. Bridges was also not a fan of the government’s initiative to give students their first year of study free but was quick to bring the dialogue back from the “doom and gloom”. “We live in a fabulous country,” he said.
Questions from the crowd ranged from dealing with the P epidemic, to future of the Piarere extension to SH1, to ditching MMP. The issue of 24-hour policing in Cambridge came up, as did issues of housing affordability, and climate change, among other topics of concern to locals.
Bridges, a former crown prosecutor, was not keen to endorse the suggested return to capital punishment for drug dealers but said the issue of P had been raised at every meeting he’d had so far. Placing the cause of the problem squarely at the root of gangs, Bridges said they are not the benign motorcycle clubs some people think they are. “They’re out there, peddling misery.”
And as for the extension of the expressway, Bridges said that in his view it is unlikely to proceed. “That road, I think, isn’t going to happen,” he said, describing the project as having been “almost there in terms of getting it up and running” before the change of government. Rather than doing a $350M road, Bridges expects the government to instead opt for $15M worth of safety improvements, “but that’s not going to cut it,” he said.
Describing his desire to travel around the country doing roadshows as “open ended”, Bridges said he felt that as a relative unknown compared with the likes of his predecessors John Key and Bill English, and he needs to make sure voters have gotten to know him by the next general election in 2020.
A large number of people were turned away, as the community centre was overwhelmed by the turnout, however Taupō MP Louise Upston said she would get the leader of the opposition back for those who had missed the chance to hear him speak.