Whaleoil transcript: Simon Bridges on slushy machines, trusting his colleagues & Jami-Lee Ross

Guyon:

And it?s Morning Report. Corrections spent just over a million dollars on 193 ice slushy machines for its staff in prisons to help them combat the heat over summer, National?s leader Simon Bridges says it?s wasteful and extravagant spending, he?s with me in the Auckland studio for his regular weekly interview. Good morning to you.

Simon:

Kia ora Guyon.

Guyon:

Extravagant wasteful spending ? you?re not a fan of these slushy machines?

Simon:

No, I think there?s two things. First is on the wasteful spending, I think we?ve seen more of it under this government, I mean whether is slushy machines or Shane Jones slush funds. I think there is more wasteful spending, so it?s right that we hold the government to account on that. I think the other broader point is, you know, it?s a million dollars, it?s not a hundred million dollars, but it?s still significant. And when you?ve got doctor?s strikes, when you?ve got cancer drugs? ah? in need of treatment that ah? ah? in need of paying for. When you?ve got ah? ah? mental health that clearly needs more funding? we need to make sure? that we are using the money right?

Guyon:

You could use that argument about anything at any point. You could say oh why are we funding the ballet when we?ve got people waiting for cancer treatment. We can walk and chew gum at the same time?

Simon:

That?s true. So, then you come back to the substance of the slushies. It?s comical apart from the fact that it is a million dollars and you just have to stand back and say 193 of these at nearly six grand a pop? ah? when prisons have dozens of them. Mount Eden I think has 20. That is excessive.

Guyon:

So, you?d rip out the slushy machines, would you?

Simon:

(Laughs). Well, they?re there now and I understand a number of them aren?t working. Ah, but I wouldn?t necessarily rip them out. I?m not going to divine?devise what the system is to keep staff cool because I?ve said? there will be issues there? and things to do? but it just seems to me? I come back to it? nearly six grand?

Guyon:

Are you going to come back for the coffee machines next?

Simon:

Ah, well? you know, if they?re incredibly excessive expensive coffee machines I don?t think that is a right for the public service?

Guyon:

What did you think about the one out in the whare kai there?

Simon:

That is not excessive?

Guyon:

What that all right?

Simon:

I think RNZ whilst you?ve had a little bit more from us is ah? um? not in the excessive category.

Guyon:

Hmmm. When there are lots of big issues like the one? some of the ones you mentioned, should you be spending your time on the slushies?

Simon:

Well let?s be pretty upfront about this. People understand the slushies. Ah? they can see those machines at nearly six thousand dollars?

Guyon:

Ah? so hang on, that?s an interesting statement. So, you picked it because it was? had cut through, you think people get this?

Simon:

I pick this because it is symptomatic of a wider issue which is ah? wasteful spending ah. you know, numbers trip off the tongue easily but 3 billion dollars for Shane Jones, 2.8 billion dollars in fees-free, 900 million diplomats, 2 billion dollars in Kiwibuild? very significant sums ah? but that doesn?t mean we should ignore?

Guyon:

None of which you can promise me today, you would change.

Simon:

Oh well, because I can really clear in election year, we will roll out um? exactly what we will do.  That?s the role of opposition Guyon, but? but the truth is I?ve made no ifs or buts about my deep scepticism for example about the fees-free. And if you take the? if you take the Shane Jones (indistinct)

Guyon:

You won?t? you won?t? you won?t commit to pull it back now? I?m on student loans at the moment? student fees? you?re not going to promise to? to? to make people pay for university, again are you?

Simon:

Ah. ah? not? not today. I?ve got to roll out what our policy is. But? but? I will do that before the election. I?ll be very clear and you know what I can say to you is 2.8 billion dollars ah? when you look across education, teacher?s pay, ah? smaller class ratio ah? early childhood education, actually funding quality tertiary education, I think there?s definitely better ways to spend that money.

Guyon:

Okay, um? looking at the Herald today, their headline on the story about you today is ?National leader Simon Bridges speaks out on leadership discipline and unity? and you are expected tomorrow to deliver a strong message to your caucus about the importance of discipline and uniting behind your leadership. Is that right?

Simon:

Let me tell you two things. You know how it works. ?Speaks out? is their words, not mine and I answer questions from journalists such as yourself?

Guyon:

But are you going to deliver a speech about unity and discipline?

Simon:

I? I never said that and certainly I wouldn?t comment on what I am going to say. Let me say this. I?ve come from a regional conference in Hamilton. They delivered a really clear message to me and our conversation and hundreds of members there. They expect us in the year of? so called year of delivery, to hold the government to account. They expect us to develop and show our positive plans and they also expect discipline and unity.

Guyon:

Have you got that at the moment?

Simon:

Well I think what we?ve got and what the members are responding to is media speculation about that.

Guyon:

Well hang on. That?s an important question, it?s a simple one, can you give me a straightforward answer? Have you got discipline and unity at the moment in your caucus?

Simon:

Well I am giving you straight forward answers?

Guyon:

Well, what is it?

Simon:

And the straightforward answer is there?s media speculation by that so by definition we can do better.

Guyon:

So, you?ve got some problems with discipline and unity?

Simon:

No. No, I?m not suggesting?

Guyon:

Well you said you could do better.

Simon:

What I? what I see ah? is media speculation about that um? and members, by which I mean rank and file of our thousands of members saying ?hey, come on, we want to see better from a national caucus.?

Guyon:

Okay. So? so? so you?re signalling or singling out some members of caucus for speaking to the media are you?

Simon:

No, I?m not necessarily doing any such thing. I? I?m just answering your questions, which is to say, you know we?ve got a job to do as the National Party. I think we are in very good shape for (indistinct) to do that. And there?s three things we need to do: ah? hold the government to account; develop positive plans and actually make sure we hold our shape ? we are disciplined and unified.

Guyon:

In what sense could you do better on that front? You?ve said that to me, you?ve said we could do better.

Simon:

I am simply acknowledging media speculation that rank and file members are responding to and what they want to see. That is a constant refrain from leaders of the National Party about the need ah? to make sure we are doing a good job in that department. All three areas of the wheel, if you like, need to be ah? moving well and I?m going? we are going to make sure that?s going to happen?

Guyon:

What are you going to say in terms of discipline?

Simon:

I don?t talk about what I am going to say at caucus. My comments if you read the piece have been that this is this is a constant thing that ah? that John Key, Bill English and I bang the drum on as leaders of the National Party.

Guyon:

So, are you saying to them ?stop speaking to the media about this??

Simon:

No, I?m saying any such thing. I wouldn?t discuss them on the radio in any event. I? I?m simply reflecting at a broader level, now if you think about where we are at inside of eighteen months in, you got a shiny new government, a bit like a shiny new car coming out of the car yard. Um? there?s been a rallying effect from ah? tragedies and I mean no ill of that, that is in a sense right, already there?s dings on the car whether it?s capital gains tax, whether it?s Kiwibuild whether it?s year of delivery. For us, it?s about maturely understanding where we are at, but accepting also, that actually as we hold the government to account, as we develop our plans, as we are strong and unified, we have a very good crack at being the next government.

Guyon:

To take your car analogy, there?s someone else who wants to get in the driver?s seat.

Simon:

(Laughs). Well, you know?

Guyon:

Someone who is known for crushing cars.

Simon:

No one has said that to me, yeah? If you know otherwise and you want to do interviews on that, you can talk to other people.

Guyon:

Do you trust Judith Collins?

Simon:

I am not going to make any comments about (indistinct)? my colleagues?

Guyon:

So, you can?t even say you trust her?

Simon:

I trust my colleagues, I believe?

Guyon:

Do you trust Judith Collins?

Simon:

I believe we?ve got a fantastic caucus, I?ve made clear to you though, members of our Party?

Guyon:

Can you answer that question: do you trust Judith Collins?

Simon:

I trust my colleagues.

Guyon:

It?s interesting though isn?t it, that you won?t say you trust her.

Simon:

Well, you can draw all the ah? ah? ins and outs you like Guyon, ah? but? but the reality is I lead a big party, um? we need to make sure we are disciplined?

Guyon:

Have you? have you? have you?

Simon:

? unified, that?s one I think of three important spokes, as we seek to be government in 2020.

Guyon:

You?ve gone from a car to a bike in your analogies?

Simon:

Well, you know I?m not saying I?m a poet with perfect metaphor, similes and ah? analogies.

Guyon:

No. Ah? um? have you spoken to Judith Collins about the leadership?

Simon:

No, but there?s nothing about that that?s unusual. I mean the reality of this is we?ve been on a two-week recess of my 54 colleagues. I may have spoken to? not even half of those, that?s the way it rolls. We?ve got caucus tomorrow, I am looking forward to that, ah? I am always talking to all of my colleagues when I can.

Guyon:

Is it a bit frustrating and you know, I realise us in the media have a role to play in this as well because you see these stories and they self-perpetuate and on it goes. It?s pretty hard to get out of the? out of the rut when it starts.

Simon:

No, I don?t think so. And look, I don?t think it is frustrating. I think it?s, as I say a mature understanding of where we are at. Eighteen months into what should be a shiny new government, but one frankly, what the polls show us, New Zealanders are sceptical of. Um? they?re not as shiny as they should be this early on because they are not delivering on the things they said they are. That?s not good enough. To get to government from National?s perspective, what we also need to do in terms of drawing out those issues is make sure people see. And you asked it and in election year we will, whether it?s fees-free, what we would do differently, and we also have to hold our shape and make sure we are disciplined and unified. That is a fundamental rule of politics.

Guyon:

 Hey, Jami-Lee Ross has got a new podcast out.

Simon:

(Laughs).

Guyon:

Are you gonna be listening?

Simon:

Pregnant pause, ah? I? I? I don?t think I?ll be spending any more time on Jami-Lee Ross.

Guyon:

Fair enough. Thanks very much for your time.

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