If Simon Bridges was Prime Minister: 'I would do three things' to fix Ihumātao standoff

If Simon Bridges was Prime Minister, he says he would back police at Ihumātao, tell the protesters to go home, and would never have got involved like Jacinda Ardern did. 

Bridges, leader of the National Party, has been critical of Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern's response to the protests over a planned Fletchers housing development in south Auckland. 

He said he would have handled things differently if he was the Prime Minister, telling Magic Talk he feels Ardern has not been consistent enough in her stance on the matter. 

"I would make really clear I back the police. We have a situation at the moment where that just doesn't seem to be... [The Government has been] kinder to the protesters, it seems to me, than they have to the police.

"I worry that what we are seeing more and more, certainly under this Government, a sense the police are just sort of social workers. It's not a backing of our men and women in blue."

Bridges said there are three things he would do about the standoff at Ihumātao if he was Prime Minister. 

  • show support for the police officers
  • tell the protesters to go home
  • not get involved in the conflict in the first place

"What worries me greatly about the Prime Minister's lack of leadership around this is that she waded in and now she won't say boo about it. She's missing in action - we just don't know what her position is."

Bridges said he's concerned that, since Ardern intervened last month and negotiated a temporary halt to construction while a solution was sought, it "runs the risk of reopening the full and final Treaty settlement process". 

"If we go down this track, and the protestors are rewarded, we'll reopen that process and more than that, we'll reopen something that's been sacrosanct, and that's that private land hasn't formed part of that Treaty settlement process."

The people of Ihumātao were evicted during the Land Wars in 1863. The land was acquired by the Crown, and granted to the Wallace family, Pākehā settlers who farmed it for the next 150 years. 

Five years ago it was named as a Special Housing Area and in 2016 Fletcher Building bought it with plans to build almost 500 homes. The company agreed to return 25 percent of the land it owned in agreement with local iwi, but protesters say it's not good enough. 

Bridges said iwi leaders "are happy" and that they "want to see houses built". 

"I do think that the Prime Minister and the Government should send the firm message that we back the police and that [the protesters] should go home so that we can build some houses," Bridges said. 

"Yes, it's a free world, but I think that message and that clarity from the Government about their position is right, and then we could get on with building some houses.

"I'm not just doing this for fun or for giggles, I feel very strongly about this."

Bridges' comments come amidst several tense moments on the frontline at Ihumātao, including a protester being caught racially abusing an officer after police numbers increased. 

It prompted former MP Hone Harawira to publish a Facebook post aimed at police at Ihumātao in which he said "get those white f**kers off that front line". 

Bridges said police should be able to "exercise their full independence and do things as they see fit rather than the approach we have at the moment where it seems to me they're not being backed". 

He condemned Harawira's comments, labelling them "racist" and "disgusting".