Good morning. It’s great to be back here at Rutherford College.
Twenty-four years ago I was sitting where you are, probably thinking, “who is this guy and how long is he going to talk for?”
It was as a student here that I got my first taste of the spotlight, in a production of Oliver.
I tried out for the lead, but instead was given the role of Undertaker.
Politicians like to think that everyone knows who they are but that’s not something I take for granted.
I’m the Leader of the Opposition. I replaced Bill English two months ago.
I am the person who is trying hard between now and the next election to persuade New Zealanders that I should be the next Prime Minister.
Whether that happens is ultimately up to you.
I’m assuming all of you will be old enough to vote in the 2020 election, and you should do so. Your vote is worth the same as your mum or dad’s vote, and the same as mine.
Each person has the same vote as everyone else. That’s pretty basic, and it underpins our democracy.
As Leader of the Opposition there is a view that I’m supposed to be grouchy and always complaining about things.
But that’s not me.
For a start, we live in the best country in the world.
OK, I am biased, but there’s evidence.
Of 200 countries, New Zealand is ranked first for overall prosperity, first for personal freedom and first for civil rights. You live in the least corrupt country in the world, and the easiest to do business in.
It wasn’t always the case.
Ten years ago, 30,000 people a year were leaving New Zealand to move to Australia.
Now more people are coming the other way.
New Zealand in 2018 is a successful, prosperous, confident country.
I want to ensure we stay the best in the world because being the best at anything – as some of you will already know – takes real work and can’t be taken for granted.
Other people, or other countries, want that title. If we slack off, it’s pretty easy to suddenly find we’re second best, or third best, or not even mentioned.
I don’t want that happening to New Zealand.
I want New Zealanders to succeed.
I want you to have opportunities to gain new skills, to get your first proper jobs and to follow your dreams.
Because I will be asking for your vote in 2020, I believe you have the right to know who I am. You should know what drives me and what I stand for.
I grew up a Westie – one with a blended background.
My mum is Pakeha and Dad is Māori.
We lived near enough to here that I walked to school. As a family, we weren’t well off, but we never went without.
I am the youngest of six children.
Looking back at my time here at Rutherford College, I was a bit of a swot.
I had some fantastic teachers who taught me that ideas matter.
Although when I was keen to talk about them – which was most of the time – I think my teachers thought maybe they’d made a mistake in encouraging me.
A few of them thought I was pretty cheeky.
I’d often find myself getting into what I’d call ‘robust debates’ with teachers in class. I think they just called it arguing.
So, no surprise, I got into debating. It’s a useful job skill for politics - although I can safely say Mum no longer writes my debate notes out for me on those little cards.
I suspect that sometimes when she sees what I’ve said on the news, she wishes she still did.
Growing up, my parents instilled in me a strong sense of right and wrong.
Dad was a Baptist minister at the church around the corner from here, so as well as being a supportive family we were taught the value of serving the community.
I liked music and for a while, I wanted to be a conductor. But I also wanted to do something that involved thinking and talking, so I studied law.
You are all facing decisions about what to do when you leave school.
For some, university will be the way to go. Others will find their niche in the trades. Some might move straight into a job.
If you know what you want to do, that’s great. If you don’t yet have a clue, that’s fine too.
When you’re young, it can seem like everyone else knows more about how the world works, and where they fit in. Believe me, most of the time, that’s not the case.
But not knowing what to do with your life is not an excuse for not working hard to better yourself.
In fact not knowing what you want to do is all the more reason to stick at education or training, or following your passion, because you need to be in a position to grab opportunities when they come up.
Most importantly, do something. Statistically, life outcomes are poor for people who sit around and do nothing.
Unless you win Lotto - and sorry to break it to you, but the chances are you won’t - success is always going to involve hard work.
Naturally, our start in life influences who we grow up to be.
But even those who have tough childhoods do not need to be defined or limited by that. All of us have the ability to better ourselves, and improve our lot in life.
That belief is part of what drew me to the National Party.
I am ambitious for New Zealanders.
I back New Zealanders to succeed on their own two feet.
I back enterprise, and I think that people who take a risk and do well, and those who work hard, and who contribute to their communities, should be celebrated.
I also have a fundamental belief in personal responsibility. You can take pride in doing well, but you should take responsibility if you do harm.
As I said, I studied law. First, in Auckland, then at Oxford University, in England.
The most important thing that happened to me at Oxford was that I met the woman I ended up marrying.
I’m not sure about the early impressions I made. After our first meeting, Natalie told her parents she’d met a handsome Japanese guy.
I was happy with the handsome. I was perplexed by the Japanese.
On our first date I bought takeaway coffees. I was trying to impress her so I bought a black coffee even though I actually liked it with milk.
Black sounded cooler.
I didn’t put the lid on properly. I spilt scorching black coffee all over my hand - burnt myself quite badly actually - which wasn’t very cool at all.
But it can’t have been all bad. By the end of that year we were married and she came back to Mount Maunganui with me.
We now have three young children. Emlyn who is six, Harry who’s four, and brand new Jemima who turned four months old just this week.
My career in the law led me to become a Crown prosecutor.
I was responsible for making the case to a judge or jury in court that someone was guilty and should go to jail.
Over time, I was in charge of hundreds of trials, sometimes dealing with the worst things one person can do to another.
Assaults, rapes and murders.
It was a role of huge contrasts. Many days I was depressed by the dark side of human behaviour.
But other times I was inspired by the resilience of victims, and sometimes by previous offenders who were gradually putting their lives back together.
One particular case will be with me forever.
One morning, outside a Tauranga school, a guy called Tony Robertson, who already had a string of convictions, managed to convince a 5-year-old girl to get in a car with him.
He pretended to talk to her mum on the phone, and promised the girl Christmas presents.
Thank God, her brother, who was seven, went in to school and told the teachers what had just happened. They called the Police.
Immediately, Police organised a district-wide manhunt. One officer – Sergeant Dave Thompson - had a hunch on where such an offender might go.
He drove way out of town to Kaiate Falls.
There he found Robertson and the girl still in his car, crying. To this day, I believe Sergeant Thompson saved her life.
Like so many of our Police, he is a true hero.
For him, it must have been as rewarding as policing gets.
For me, my job was to prosecute Robertson. I tried to get him the strongest sentence New Zealand has, which is preventive detention. It means a person can be kept in prison their whole life.
Instead he was given seven and a half years in jail, and was let out in December 2013 because he’d done his time.
Less than six months later, he abducted a woman. This time there was no heroic police officer to save her.
Her name was Blessie Gotinco and Robertson raped and murdered her.
After that, he got preventive detention.
I’m sorry to relate to you such an upsetting case but it’s one reason why, as Leader of the Opposition, one of my priorities is law and order.
I don’t apologise for that. The lives of New Zealanders depend on it.
I believe in most people getting another chance, and I am a strong believer in rehabilitation to help people move away from a life of desperation and crime.
But I also believe that jail is absolutely the right place for some offenders.
It bothers me that the Government is talking about lowering the prison population, without explaining how it will lower the crime rate first.
In 2008 I was no longer satisfied just upholding the laws. I wanted to help make them.
That’s what Parliament does and I was elected as MP for Tauranga that year.
I became a Minister in 2012, and have since held portfolios focusing on the economy, infrastructure, transport, broadband and the Government’s finances.
Mine is a story about the benefits of strong families, hard work, education and giving people opportunities.
My values are the values of the National Party and, I think, the values of many New Zealanders.
You deserve to feel safe. I believe that law and order is important to the security of all of us, and our families.
But my top priority, which affects everything else, is to ensure that New Zealand has a strong economy.
A strong economy means more jobs and higher wages for Kiwis like you.
A strong economy means we can invest in the infrastructure and public services we need as a country, without raising taxes.
I talked earlier about how 10 years ago, over 30,000 people were moving from New Zealand to Australia every year. Some of you might have family members there.
That’s because Australia was where the jobs and opportunities were.
But when you finish school, I don’t want you to have to go to Australia to get your first job, or any job for that matter.
If you want to go on an OE, great – but it’s not great to be an economic refugee.
I want New Zealand to be a place you live knowing that you will have as many opportunities here as anywhere else. Actually more than anywhere else.
Those opportunities are thanks to a lot of hard work by Kiwis up and down the country.
It’s also thanks to the leadership of the National Government that encouraged entrepreneurship, creativity, innovation and job creation.
Those gains could be easily lost with the wrong government policies.
So for me, economic management comes first.
The final thing I want to cover with you is the environment and climate change.
The things that I think bring New Zealanders home, and keep us here, are family, friends, job opportunities and the environment.
Some of you might have seen that last month, the world’s last male Northern White Rhinoceros died in Kenya. There are two females left but you didn’t need to come top in Biology to know that it’s curtains for Northern White Rhinos.
These things are happening in the lifetime of your generation and mine, and they’re not only happening overseas. We have more endangered bird species here in New Zealand than any other country.
Protecting biodiversity is a human responsibility but it’s only one part of good environmental stewardship.
When I was Minister of Transport I announced a significant package of measures to help increase the use of electric vehicles in New Zealand, so that we use fewer fossil fuels to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and help tackle climate change.
New Zealand is a great place for electric vehicles, because three-quarters of our electricity comes from renewable energy. That’s the fourth highest in the developed world.
And we’ve been relatively successful – in just the last year there were around 4,000 new electric vehicles registered in New Zealand. That’s almost as many electric vehicles as have been registered in Australia, ever.
There is never a silver bullet solution to environmental problems. It’s always complex, but there’s never any solution unless you prioritise the problem.
I will be doing that.
Never assume that just because the Greens are supporting the Government that everything is going to be okay. It isn’t, and it won’t be.
As I said when I started, I used to sit where you are when we had a speaker at school and I’d think “who is he, or she, and how long are they going to talk?”
So the answer to the first part of that question is that I’m Simon Bridges, Rutherford College old boy, Auckland University and Oxford University grad, former prosecutor, a politician, a husband, a father.
Mostly, I’m a person who loves my country and is ambitious for New Zealand and for New Zealanders.
As for the second part of the question, I’m just getting started.
I want to talk to people in every part of New Zealand. Thank you for letting me start with you here today.
Thanks for your attention. Good luck with whatever you do next and, I hope, like me, you’ll always be proud to have come from Rutherford College.