Simon Bridges given coveted finance portfolio after stepping aside to let National elect Christopher Luxon

Simon Bridges has been given the coveted finance portfolio after stepping aside to let the National caucus elect Christopher Luxon unopposed. 

Luxon, who has only been in the job for a day, held a press conference in Tauranga on Thursday to announce that Bridges would be National's spokesperson for finance and infrastructure and would be third-ranked in the caucus. 

"He is ideally suited to prosecute the wasteful spending decisions, spiralling debt and rising costs of living occurring under the Labour Government," Luxon, the former CEO of Air New Zealand, said. 

"It's also critical that we reset New Zealand's approach to infrastructure and take a genuine long-term, intergenerational view. We need an overarching vision for New Zealand's infrastructure and new funding and financing mechanisms that can drive us into the coming decades."

Luxon said Bridges will "play a central and critical role" in the new leadership team, which includes Nicola Willis as deputy leader. 

"Simon will be an exceptional Finance and Infrastructure Minister in the next National Government come 2023."

The announcement of Bridges as finance spokesperson is a confirmation that the portfolio is no longer split into 'finance' and 'shadow treasurer' - an arrangement established under former leader Judith Collins. 

Simon Bridges will go head-to-head with Finance Minister Grant Robertson.
Simon Bridges will go head-to-head with Finance Minister Grant Robertson. Photo credit: Newshub

Andrew Bayly became 'shadow treasurer' with a focus on revenue in Collins' November 2020 caucus reshuffle while Michael Woodhouse took on the finance role. It remains to be seen what roles they will be given in Luxon's reshuffle, which is expected on Sunday.

Paul Goldsmith held the finance role in the lead-up to the 2020 election, but Collins stripped him of it after a multibillion-dollar fiscal hole was discovered in his economic plan

Speculation has been brewing that Luxon would give Bridges the coveted finance portfolio after the former leader - who put his hat in the ring for another go at the top job - announced he had stepped down to allow Luxon to be elected by the National caucus unopposed. 

"This morning I met with Chris Luxon and had a great discussion. I am withdrawing from the leadership contest and will be backing Chris," Bridges wrote on Twitter on Tuesday. 

"He will make a brilliant National leader and Prime Minister."

Bridges isn't without controversy. He was long rumoured to be eyeing up the leadership after Collins struggled to pick up in the polls. 

The leadership battle kicked off last week after Collins released a statement late last Wednesday night announcing she had demoted Bridges over an allegation of "serious misconduct".

It turned out it was National MP Jacqui Dean who, about five years ago, complained to then-Deputy Prime Minister Bill English about comments Bridges made in front of her and other colleagues. 

Dean later said she was "caught up in a political power-play", and revealed to the Otago Daily Times that she informed Collins weeks ago about the comments Bridges made. 

Bridges said last Thursday it was "desperate" of Collins to release the statement about him. Later that day, Collins was voted out as leader by the National Party caucus in a vote of no confidence over the way she handled the situation. 

Nevertheless, Luxon has promised "very important" roles for all of the former leaders currently in Parliament, including Bridges, Collins and Todd Muller whose brief stint in May 2020 lasted just 53 days. 

"They have a unique set of skills we need to tap into," Luxon said on Tuesday. "We'll set the baggage aside."