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Barry Soper: PM starts year by dodging questions

Barry Soper,
Publish Date
Thursday, 31 January 2019, 7:29AM
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Finance Minister Grant Robertson at the caucus retreat in Martinborough.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Finance Minister Grant Robertson at the caucus retreat in Martinborough.


Politics is about engagement with your audience, about selling the sizzle and about having them leave the meeting hall in no doubt that you're the pair of hands they want on the economic tiller.

Simon Bridges' State of the Nation speech in Christchurch should have been a breeze, he was preaching for half an hour to the converted.

The only applause he got though was at the beginning, as he was walking to the podium, and at the end, the obligatory stuff done out of politeness.

With this audience there was plenty of room for levity, for speaking off the cuff.

The local Nat who introduced him gave him the material he could have had some fun with, saying he'd been the party's leader since February this year.

Looking back on his last year, there's little doubt he would love the opportunity to start all over again.

An autocue would have helped, the Perspex screen that pops the words up in front of you and allows you to at least pretend to be engaging with the audience.

Most other leaders have used them but not Bridges, who was insistent on reading his notes, not deviating from the words typed in front of him, although despite his concentration, he misread a figure he spent the closing months of last year rehearsing, the $300 million he claims Labour's spent on working groups because they didn't do the work themselves in opposition.

He read the figure as $3m, but no one noticed.

Bridges is capable of much better, he's got a keen sense of humour and he should get out of the courtroom and use it.

But it's a pity he can't use his courtroom skills with the Prime Minister at the moment, who was dodging questions in a way that would have put Winston Peters to shame. Jacinda Ardern was at a spa retreat with her caucus in Martinborough and was standing alongside her embattled KiwiBuild Minister Phil Twyford, who dominated the time she spent with the media.

She'd just told her caucus this year was about delivery - but then failed to deliver or address questions about whether they'd meet KiwiBuild targets, the first of which falls due in July with the 1000 new homes they'd promised would be ready to move in to.

Hardly surprising considering fewer than 50 have been completed.

Instead Ardern again and again ignored questions about interim targets and repeated their target of building 100,000 KiwiBuild homes over 10 years, saying that's the goal.

The interim goals, even though she wouldn't say so, are now about as likely as Simon Bridges is of throwing away his speech notes.

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