Christopher Luxon denies working with Simon Bridges to take National leadership

High-profile National MP Christopher Luxon doesn't expect his party's leadership position to go vacant anytime soon and claims he's not working with Simon Bridges to take charge.

Ever since the former Air New Zealand chief executive announced his intentions to become an MP prior to the 2020 election, there has been speculation he's gunning to be leader. Rumours surfaced earlier this year that he may tie himself to Bridges, the former party leader, as a ticket.

Bridges has always denied that - as recently as Friday morning - while Luxon wouldn't rule out a tilt at the leadership when asked by Newshub in June.

Speaking to The AM Show on Friday, Luxon said he's focused on his electorate as well as understanding his party - which was devastated at last year's election and has had a list of scandals since - parliamentary processes and his spokesperson portfolios. 

"That is really what I am fixated one, just being able to get into that work," he said. "It has been seven months, eight months down the road and there is still a lot to learn."

"We know we are coming through a tough time. I am joining the organisation at the bottom is the way I like to think about it. I have done a lot of turnaround jobs and this has been a really important one to be part of this team doing it." 

He said National needs to rebuild trust with Kiwis so they can see it as an alternative to the current Labour Government. 

"People are getting jacked off with the Government not actually delivering stuff and getting things done. What they want us to do is solve problems, get things done. It is starting to come together. I know we have a lot more work to do."

He pointed to National MPs Nicola Willis, Simeon Brown and Matt Doocey as doing well in their portfolios - housing, police and mental health, respectively. 

But he denied he is forming a leadership ticket with Bridges. 

"Absolutely not. He is another one doing a great job on all our Justice portfolio issues and prosecuting the cases to the New Zealand people," Luxon said. "We have got to get those messages through so we actually stay focussed on what matters most to Kiwis." 

"If we do that job right, we build back trust, we build back relevance and we will be a viable alternative."

The AM Show host Duncan Garner pushed him on the question of leadership, asking whether he would take it on if MPs came to him, urging him to do so.

"No. I am really focused. I have come to Parliament, been there seven months, got a lot to do and a lot more to learn. I want to make a contribution to the team and be part of that team.

"I think we have got the genesis of something coming through. I know we have got a lot of work and I know we have work to do with building trust back with the New Zealand people but that work has begun."

And if there's a vacancy in the top spot?

"There is not going to be a vacancy. I think we have got a great leader in Judith. She has got an incredibly tough job coming in at this part of the cycle," Luxon said.

"She is stabilising the show and she is getting us each individually focused on what we are supposed to be doing. She is holding us accountable for actually leading the charge and making the points on our respective portfolios."

Luxon and Collins.
Luxon and Collins. Photo credit: Newshub.

One of his portfolios is Local Government. Local Government New Zealand is hosting a conference in Blenheim this week that Luxon is attending.

He told The AM Show the biggest issue in the sector at the moment is the Government's proposed Three Waters reform

"Essentially, we have 67 councils that control water all over the country and the Government is on a bit of a concentration and centralisation kick trying to put it all into four different water entities," Luxon said.

Local Government Minister Nanaia Mahuta said in June that establishing the four entities to take control of drinking water, wastewater and stormwater infrastructure would save ratepayers thousands of dollars and better ensure the billions of dollars of investment in services can be made. 

"The data shows the case for change is compelling," she said. Without these changes DIA modelling shows that even at the more conservative end of estimates, the average household bill for water services could be as high as $1900 to $9000 by 2051, which would be unaffordable for many communities."

However, some councils don't support the move, worried about a lack of accountability to ratepayers and that those which have invested millions in infrastructure already won't have a big say. Luxon also says it will lead to a "bloated" service with just more bureaucrats. 

"Our view, very simply, is we think there is a problem in some parts of New Zealand around our water management. Some of it is done well, some of it is challenged."

He said National would get behind the Government on Taumata Arowai, a national regulator to administer and enforce the system. 

Bridges last week denied teaming up with Luxon. That came in the wake of horrific UMR polling for Collins and National. It showed ACT's David Seymour as rating higher than Collins in the preferred Prime Minister stakes, while National had fallen to 24 percent, below its election night 25.6 percent support. In the May Newshub-Reid Research poll, National recorded 27 percent support.

The National Party has been rocked by a multitude of scandals recently, such as candidate Jake Bezzant allegedly impersonating his ex-girlfriend online by sending other men nude images of her as well as questions about how both Nick Smith and Todd Muller's resignations came about.

Collins came to the leadership role after a tumultuous couple of months for the party. In May last year, Muller rolled the embattled Bridges for the top spot, but he then stepped down in July to deal with health problems. Collins rose to the role, being given what she has called a "hospital pass".