The National Party has elected its first Maori leader and put in place a ‘Team Westie’ leadership that Simon Bridges said he hoped would be able to appeal to a wider cross-section of New Zealanders.

“Like me, she’s a Westie and a Maori, and I’m going to enjoy working with her immensely,” Bridges told a news conference in Parliament’s Legislative Chamber.

Bridges said he would not be announcing his policy platform today and would spend time talking to New Zealanders in coming month. He said he had no intention of changing the main policy platform, but suggested some tweaks.

“We do need to look at our emphasis in some areas, including the environment and the regions,” he said.

He said he would focus on attacking the Labour-New Zealand First coalition Government.

“We will hold this Government to account and be an alternative Government in waiting, because New Zealanders,” he said.

“This Government takes our economy for granted,” he said.

Bridges said he would reshuffle his front bench at a later date, although he indicated he would include former Finance Minister and Campaign Manager Steven Joyce in his leadership team, saying he saw a role for Joyce in finance and the economy.

He said he had not offered anyone a specific portfolio, but said National needed to highlight its experience.

“That’s important. You want to see the heft that we had in Government, but we can’t go into the election with the same plans we had,” he said.

Two ballots required

He said he was elected after two ballots and declined to give further detail.

Bridges said he aimed to appeal to a broad cross-section of New Zealanders, and highlighted National’s connection with Maori voters in businesses.

“I hope Maori are proud of me. Our first Maori leader and first deputy leader as well. I want to appeal to a broader cross section of New Zealanders. I hope Maori will have a second look at us. Clearly we’ll be seeing Maori in buisness. They’re as aspirational as any other group,” he said.

For the past two weeks frontrunners Simon Bridges and Amy Adams have campaigned amicably alongside fellow candidates Judith Collins, Mark Mitchell, and Steven Joyce.

Newsroom’s Sam Sachdeva suggested this morning whoever wins would face an uphill battle in dethroning Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.

Ron Mark replaced

Meanwhile, and perhaps not coincidentally, Fletcher Tabuteau has ousted Ron Mark as New Zealand First’s deputy leader, saying his new role reflects his commitment to the party since its creation.

Tabuteau, the parliamentary undersecretary for foreign affairs and regional economic development, was announced as the party’s new deputy by leader Winston Peters.

In a press release, Peters congratulated Tabuteau on his appointment and said the caucus had decided to support him “after careful consideration”.

“New Zealand First extends its immense gratitude for the service of Ron Mark as deputy leader, Peters said.

New New Zealand First Deputy Leader Fletcher Tabuteau (left) with Shane Jones shortly after the election. Photo by Lynn Grieveson.

“The party recognises Ron is an integral member of the team and we look forward to him playing a key role in the current government in his capacity as Minister of Defence and Minister of Veterans Affairs.”

Tabuteau, in his second term as a New Zealand First MP, is a former economics lecturer and maths teacher who has been a member of the party since its inception.

In a statement, Tabuteau paid tribute to Mark for his stint as deputy and said he looked forward to working closely with Peters and the rest of the caucus.

“There is a lot of work to get on with and I am up to the challenge with a great team of people around me…

“I look forward to being a part of the party leadership as we look to consolidate the past 25 years and look to the future as an integral part of government, mindful as ever that we will continue to grow our membership and support base.”

Mark, the Defence Minister, had been deputy since July 2015 after deposing the incumbent Tracey Martin.

Winston Peters and Ron Marks after the election. Photo by Lynn Grieveson
New Zealand First Leader Winston Peters and then Deputy Leader Ron Mark shortly after the election. Photo by Lynn Grieveson.

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