The National Party's new leader Todd Muller has taken aim at three Labour ministers who he says have a record of failure.

Speaking with Mike Hosking on Newstalk ZB this morning, Muller singled out Phil Twyford, Kelvin Davis and Willie Jackson for their poor performance while in Government - contrasting them with his new team following a caucus reshuffle.

Muller rolled out his oft-repeated claim that the Government has "three heavy lifters and 17 empty chairs" but said it was not just a throwaway line.

"You go through the rest of the Cabinet - Twyford, Jackson, Davis, just three off the top of my head - they have a record of abject failure."


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Jackson told the Herald he stood proudly behind his work as the Minister of Employment, adding that "if Mr Muller wants to go down that road it won't end well for him".

In the role he had overseen the Government's overall employment strategy, including rolling out an apprenticeship programme, engaging young people in employment and delivering the lowest unemployment rates in over a decade, particularly for Māori.

His focus had turned to ensuring vulnerable communities weren't left behind in the economic recovery to Covid-19.

"We are working hard to invest in training and upskilling so that all New Zealanders will benefit as we recover from this pandemic, so I'll leave the silly games to Todd as he seems to have a lot of spare time on his hands."

Employment minister Willie Jackson says Todd Muller is playing
Employment minister Willie Jackson says Todd Muller is playing "silly games" after Muller said Jackson had a "history of abject failure" in government. File photo / Mark Mitchell

Twyford, who is Minister for Transport, also stood by his record of achievements - listing 10 that included stopping the sale of state homes, ending the meth testing debacle, reforming planning rules, beginning the largest state housing build in generations and securing record funding for the transport sector.

"I'm looking forward to seeing Todd Muller's record."

Transport minister Phil Twyford says he also stands on his record. File photo / Bevan Conley
Transport minister Phil Twyford says he also stands on his record. File photo / Bevan Conley

Davis, who is Minister for Corrections, Māori Crown Relations: Te Arawhiti, Tourism and Associate Minister of Education, said his portfolio work, with "a solid record of progress in all priority areas," spoke for itself.


"If we want to talk abject failure I would point to a new party leader who has completely missed the mark by having only two Māori MPs ranked in his top 20," he said.

"That's an abject failure to recognise and appreciate Māori voices, Māori decision-making and the communities that Māori MPs represent."

In Corrections, Davis said the National-planned mega-prison at Waikeria was scrapped in favour of a smaller facility alongside a 100- bed mental health unit, that was the first of its kind in New Zealand. The prison population had also been safely reduced, he said.

"We're the first Government to finally address the over-representation of Māori in our prisons with our Hōkai Rangi strategy, and we're being more effective at reducing reoffending by supporting thousands of additional offenders per year with mental health and addiction issues.

National Party leader Todd Muller says his MAGA hat will stay packed in a box when he moves office. Video / Audrey Young

Covid-19, which has decimated the tourism industry - one of Davis' other portfolios, had also been kept out of prisons so far.

"Since Covid-19, we've seen significant support for the tourism industry, from broad-based initiatives like the $13.9 billion wage subsidy scheme, through to the targeted $400 million Tourism Recovery Fund I announced as part of Budget 2020."


As the Minister for Māori Crown Relations: Te Arawhiti, Davis said he has focused on improving Government engagement with Maori communities, iwi and other Māori organisations and looking at creating new partnerships and upskilling the public sector.

"I set up a new agency, the Office for Māori Crown Relations – Te Arawhiti to support the Crown in being a better Treaty partner and they've developed a new Māori Crown Relations Capability Framework – which has been adopted across the public sector, and provided advice on 25 partnership opportunities.

"As part of our Māori Covid response Te Arawhiti supported 43 Māori groups with developing their own pandemic response plans."

As Associate Education Minister (Māori Education), Davis said he's particularly proud of the wins for Māori Education in Budget 2020, with a total of $400 million for Māori Education.

Davis has also established Te Ahu O Te Reo Māori to support plans to integrate te reo across education and Te Kawa Matakura, an education programme that will grow future young Māori leaders through mātauranga and te reo Māori.

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On Monday Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern took issue with Muller's "17 empty chairs" description, saying she stood by her team and Muller's comments were just politicking.


Muller has said that of Labour's list he had been impressed with the Prime Minister, Andrew Little, David Parker and "at times" Grant Robertson.

But speaking to Hosking this morning he said the Government had a record of being "high on rhetoric and low on delivery", - ticking off KiwiBuild, transport, light rail, tourism and Corrections as examples. New Zealand's attention was turning to those areas, he said.

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"Understandably when we're in the middle of pandemic and it's a global crisis and you have the whole apparatus of the state focused on one single objective - locking people up in their homes and keeping us safe - they have achieved it.

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"Collectively with the support of New Zealanders ... and the rigour I think that the Opposition put on the Government, we have achieved that; credit where credit is due."

But he said Labour were a "dishevelled Government" when it came to economic strategy and delivery. "It's time to be serious now ... it's no more just woolly slogans."

Muller specified that a National government would still be spending money but in a different way to Labour.


"We've signalled clearly this is the time for government to spend money - we're not in any way arguing for austerity."

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National's focus would be on protecting jobs and economic recovery, primarily by giving small businesses the confidence to get up and running again.

But Muller did not give details of any new policies.

"Our approach, which we've already signalled, is cash in the hand of businesses now - the GST refund policy was an example of that, the immediate write-down of new investments ... and more in that space will come," he said.

"You will see over the next period that we will put elements of our plan out to the public and I have every confidence that it's going to appeal."


Asked by Hosking if he was more liberal than people realised, Muller said that description fitted his deputy Nikki Kaye but "not so much me".

Newly elected National Party leader Todd Muller speaks to media with his new deputy Nikki Kaye looking on. Photo / Getty Images
Newly elected National Party leader Todd Muller speaks to media with his new deputy Nikki Kaye looking on. Photo / Getty Images

Who is Todd Muller, the MP who defeated Simon Bridges?

He was a "rural conservative guy" whose background was in agribusiness.

"That's the classic broad church National Party leadership style. She, of course, is an urban liberal from Auckland, I'm a provincial conservative living in Tauranga ... I think the balance fits the National Party and I think the balance fits the country."

Asked if his leadership takeover had come sooner than expected, Muller said "most of us" had assumed they would go through to the election but in recent months it had become clear that the leadership needed examining.

He did not say what portfolio former National leader Simon Bridges would be offered but said he would "certainly" include Bridges in a Cabinet if he was pulling one together right now.


He said his colleagues and the public had been very positive in their reactions following the change. The public could see National had "an alternative vision for this Government's economic carnage".