Simon Bridges says he's not a 'heartless bastard'

The AM Show 30/10/2019

Simon Bridges wants to block some gang members getting the benefit, but he won't stop them accessing healthcare because he's not a "heartless bastard".

On Tuesday evening, the National Party leader confirmed that if his party comes to power in 2020, it will "block gang members from the dole if they can't prove they don't have illegal income or assets".

It comes ahead of the party releasing its social services discussion document on Wednesday which will outline its plan for social investment.

Speaking to The AM Show on Wednesday morning, Bridges said determining who was a gang member was "relatively easy" considering police hold a gang list. 

He said on 2016/2017 data, 92 percent of gang members have been on the benefit for an average of nearly nine years, meaning the policy could have a big impact.

While Bridges wouldn't go into detail about what else may be proposed in the discussion document, he confirmed gang members would still be able to access taxpayer-funded healthcare.

I am not quite the heartless bastard you might want to portray me as.

"I do want to crack down on gangs because I say they are peddling methamphetamine and violence," he told The AM Show.

The policy also won't involve the partners and children of gang members having their access to education and benefits cut. 

"This is not the policy. This about gang members and cracking down on them."

The National Party has also dropped the idea of fining parents of school dropouts if they don't enter work, education or training - something high-profile National MP Judith Collins previously told The AM Show wasn't something she supported.

But Bridges said the discussion document will still reflect his party's intention to see youngsters enter some sort of education, training or work. 

"I think what you will see is some serious ideas around social investment, around social welfare, social housing, and a big focus on young people actually because we do want to make sure they are in education, training or work, not sitting at home playing Playstation," he said.

Asked for his thoughts on limiting the number of children people could have if they had a limited income or how many children someone can get financial support for, Bridges said those weren't ideas his party were looking at. 

"We live in a compassionate society and I think the other side of the coin to cracking down on gangs is actually social investment, it is making sure you have targeted help to prevent this stuff in the first place.

"I do think there are things we can do to help people plan for families, to be sensible around these things, but not that sort of policy.

It is a fair go, not a free ride. Where people can work, they should.

Bridges has taken an increasingly tough line with gangs recently.

Earlier this month he clashed with the head of the Mongrel Mob's Waikato chapter Sonny Fatupaito after being invited to an event held by the gang.

Fatupaito offered Bridges an "opportunity to see first-hand the radical changes that are being made in our confederation" with a focus on the wellbeing of the family. 

But Bridges declined the invitation, saying although he believed that "there will individual gang members who do good for their whanau and community", he had "seen first-hand the misery caused by gangs, particularly in their crime and peddling of drugs and violence, not least to women".

"Thank you for your letter and invitation, but until you and your gang hand over your guns and stop all involvement in drugs and violence I have no interest in meeting with you."

The AM Show / Newshub reporter Jamie Ensor