Todd Muller made his first visit and last visit to Timaru as National Party leader for a meeting last Wednesday. Two days ago he resigned as party leader after 53 days in the position. Timaru Courier reporter Chris Tobin went along to last week’s meeting.
One name was never mentioned during a Todd Muller speech at the Bullock Restaurant & Bar last Wednesday.
That name was Hamish Walker.
Mr Muller arrived in Timaru for a luncheon meal hosted by the South Canterbury Chamber of Commerce while the Hamish Walker controversy raged and Mr Walker’s name was on many people’s lips.
The fresh-faced back-bench MP for Clutha-Southland revealed he had received confidential information on active Covid-19 patients from ex-party president Michelle Boag and leaked it to the media.
As Mr Muller stepped out of his car to enter the restaurant, National’s board was believed to be determining Mr Walker’s fate at a meeting in Wellington.
Not long after, at 12.20pm, the news flash came – Mr Walker was gone. He had resigned.
But in the Western-themed Bullock restaurant, amid pictures of Clint Eastwood, a bucking bronco cowboy and other Western ephemera there was not a flicker as Mr Muller started outlining National’s policies and plans post-Covid 19.
The sold-out event included the mayors of Waimate and Mackenzie, Craig Rowley and Graham Smith respectively, as well as Timaru’s deputy mayor Steve Wills.
Mr Muller said the global economy was under the greatest pressure it had been in at least a generation.
The speech’s general theme was that Labour had squandered what National had left after the 2017 general election and National had the business savvy to claw the country back.
By February of this year big surpluses had disappeared, he said. Now with Covid-19 a total of 40,000 jobs had been lost by April and, according to Infometrics, the number was expected to reach 80,000 by September and as high as 250,000 to 300,000 after then.
Child poverty had worsened, promised houses had not been built and work on roads of national significance had been cancelled under the present Government, Mr Muller said.
“We’re going to borrow $140billion over the next four years,” which “will take us back to the early ’90s. In four years we’d be back to that position,” he said.
Large borrowing, high spending and tax, and no accountability were characteristics of the present Government, Mr Muller said.
National’s answer was a prudent running of the economy, he said.
National would invest in infrastructure, commit to opening up the country’s borders, be open to foreign investment and change the Resource Management Act.
And the core of the country’s economy was the rural sector.
“Successive governments have looked for reasons to constrain rather than partner with rural New Zealand.”
The Government gave little acknowledgement to farming, he said, drawing claps from one attendee.
“I have one supporter here,” Mr Muller quipped.
He criticised centralising vocational training, and said National would spend where there was social need and the party would be more business-friendly.
“It is small and local businesses that will drive economic recovery, not from bureaucratic processes in Wellington.”
After taking questions from the floor Mr Muller agreed to answer a few questions from The Courier before leaving.
Would he and National work with Winston Peters and New Zealand First to form a possible government?
“No, we don’t intend to,” was the emphatic reply.
Would National, if elected, continue with the present Government’s shovel-ready projects?
“We don’t critique the projects. There’s not enough of them.”
He described the Government’s introduction of the projects as “pedestrian”.
Would the Provincial Growth Fund be continued under National?
National would have to say more on this when it made infrastructure announcements, he said.
And what about Mr Walker? Was the situation he had caused damaging and a setback for National?
“I’m extremely disappointed, and pleased it has been resolved.”
Then he was whisked away to Ashburton for a news conference, where he would talk some more about Mr Walker’s resignation.