"Most New Zealanders are unemployed but they don't know it yet."

Those were the words of National Party leader Todd Muller, who wants to see New Zealand open up its borders to Australia as swiftly as possible to ease the crippling economy struggling on its knees.

National leader Todd Muller chats with Apata Group's managing director Stuart Weston. Photo / George Novak
National leader Todd Muller chats with Apata Group's managing director Stuart Weston. Photo / George Novak

He said Kiwis needed an economic Covid-19 recovery plan that "works for New Zealand families" and "gives people surety about their future".

While confident the opposition party would deliver that, Muller said details on what that looked like and how they would support small businesses through their recovery would not be available for at least a few days.

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National Party leader Todd Muller signs the board. Photo / George Novak
National Party leader Todd Muller signs the board. Photo / George Novak

Muller made the comments at Apata Group Limited in Whakamarama, his first media opportunity on home ground since taking over as opposition leader from Tauranga MP Simon Bridges, to talk to staff and hear first-hand how business was going post Covid-19 lockdown.

What Bridge's role might be was still unclear, with Muller saying details of conversations he has had with the former leader were between him and his caucus.

"... in a time of national crisis at level four [Apata] managed to set themselves up to export kiwifruit around the world and done an incredibly successful job and its been a great privilege to walk around the business, which I have personal connection to."

During the visit of the Kaimai Packhouse, Muller spoke with staff, packed boxes and added his name to a yearbook wall, which acknowledged the thousands of people from around the world who had worked in the shed over the years.

A former chief executive of Apata, which was co-founded by his late father Mike, Muller said there was no better place to start.

Nearly one week into his new position, Muller said he and the National Party were unified in helping New Zealand through "a time of acute national crisis".

"Our GDP is expected to drop at such a level that we have not seen in 160 years, we have 1000 people losing their jobs a day. Most New Zealanders are unemployed but they don't know it yet," Muller said.

Todd Muller helps with some packing. Photo / George Novak
Todd Muller helps with some packing. Photo / George Novak

"We have an extraordinary crisis in front of us and our caucus is totally focused on developing an economic recovery plan that works for New Zealand families and it gives people surety about their future."

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"We can't open up all the presents all in one day. We've got to stagger them but New Zealanders, I have every confidence, will be very interested in what we have to say."

However, he said their priority was to open up the New Zealand economy as fast as possible, hoping to see a transtasman bubble operating to help boost the economy and look towards opening other markets around the world.

"We've been very clear that we think the Government should prioritise it, with great haste of course. They need to balance the importance of keeping us safe but I think it's very important that they prioritise that and at the same time have the capacity to have concurrent conversations with other jurisdictions in the world to be able to work out the next steps in opening those markets too."

Muller said he had enjoyed his first week in leadership, receiving plenty of support from his family.

Apata's managing director Stuart Weston said having Muller's visit was bittersweet, given his late father was one of the founders, but he and the staff enjoyed playing host.

"Todd's dad was one of the founders of Apata back in 1983 and sadly he passed away but he was great man and so it's bittersweet that Todd should come back here to visit us, but never the less a real thrill," Weston said.

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Todd Muller signs the board. Photo / George Novak
Todd Muller signs the board. Photo / George Novak

He said it was good to have Muller's name added to the "yearbook", after he "packed some boxes".

"That's kind of like a yearbook of all the staff that come through. We'll have employed, over the season, about 1200 staff and there's a real connection that happens in the shed. It's a special time so it serves as a yearbook. We've got them from years gone by with all these people from all these different countries signing their names and making a little comment."