By Mick Jensen
Rangitata MP Andrew Falloon has been called a “Minister of the future” in a future National government by party leader Simon Bridges, who was in Ashburton last week for a public meeting.
More than 200 people turned out at Hotel Ashburton to hear Mr Bridges speak about his party’s vision for the future at the Connecting with Communities regional roadshow.
He praised Mr Falloon for his hard work in the electorate in his first term as an MP and said he had a bright future.
The Ashburton meeting was something like his 27th in the regions over the last few months, he said.
There were two key jobs to do in his role and the first was to hold the current government to account on its policies and decisions.
The second was to get out and around the country “to listen and engage” with voters.
Similar issues and ideas had been raised at community meetings, but they all helped with developing a plan for New Zealand.
That plan would give voters “a real choice for the 2020 election”, when he asked to be considered as Prime Minister.
Mr Bridges said he was “worried about the economy under Labour” and the impact that was having on businesses and farmers in Mid Canterbury and around the country.
The latest gross domestic product per capita figures were going backwards already, the cost of living was rising and there were more taxes and compliance costs being imposed.
Education, transport and housing affordability were other concerns, he said.
Mr Bridges took questions from the floor, including a question on regional roading.
Priorities had changed and there was no longer a four-lane highway planned between Christchurch and Ashburton by Labour, he said.
“Four lanes would have been a game-changer. It would have increased efficiency, production and safety.
“Now it brings ‘uncertainty’, as does the decision to reduce the regional highway budget by $5 billion over the next decade, which will largely affect the South Island.”
Speaking on health and education spending, Mr Bridges said there had been significant spending on both under National.
“It might not have been perfect, but neither are ‘in-crisis’ as some would have you believe.”
Addressing another question on Worksafe and health and safety legislation posed by a Mount Somers quarry owner, Mr Bridges said “dangerous stuff” like mining needed to be treated seriously, whereas legislation didn’t need “to be so hot” in, say, an accountant’s office.
Answering another question on the Dairy Industry Restructuring Act (DIRA) review, he said the Act was “about right” and was balanced.
He didn’t want to see DIRA used as a “political plaything” and didn’t believe “sticking it to big companies” by politicians was good for confidence.
Mr Bridges agreed with another questioner that there needed to be plans in place to support tourism and that there should be further investment in tourism infrastructure.
A tourist tax was not the answer, he said, because we didn’t need another tax and it would not raise that much anyway and would affect tourism levels.
When questioned on industrial relations and better pay, Mr Bridges said he supported a small minimum wage rise each year, but believed the 90 day work trial legislation was “bad for employment”
He said more unionization under the current government meant no real gain for workers and would likely mean pay negotiations and conditions laid down from the Beehive, which was a “recipe for more unemployed’.
Mr Bridges said one of his biggest anxieties was the “brain drain” and more people moving to Australia.
When told that “his lot were less bad than the current lot”, and had “stripped the economy of some of the good stuff” over the previous nine years, Mr Bridges said he disagreed.
“We were much better off with the economy of 2017 than we were in 2008.”
He said his vision for the economy was not for the government to “stick its oar in”, but rather to support business and farming with the right information and right laws and “to get out of your way”.