12 Dec 2016

It's Bill and Bennett - Paula Bennett likely NZ's next deputy PM

11:30 am on 12 December 2016

Paula Bennett, who will officially be voted in as the National Party deputy leader, and therefore deputy Prime Minister, next week, says it's been a long and emotional week.

Paula Bennett speaks to media after Simon Bridges pulled out of the race for deputy PM.

Paula Bennett speaks to media after Simon Bridges pulled out of the race for deputy PM. Photo: RNZ / Sarah Robson

"It's been quite a six days I must say, beginning with a bit of emotional shock with John Key stepping aside and then of course the party and the caucus working out next steps from there.

"It's been a great contest of ideas this week.

"Simon Bridges is just someone I hugely admire, I've actually enjoyed the last few days, we're good mates, he just has such a huge role to play now and in the future but I just really respect the decision he's made this morning.

"I don't want to get ahead of myself - the caucus makes its decision on Monday and I'm feeling quite confident, but there's still a process to go through.

And she said Mr Bridges was "absolutely a contender", as a man with an "awesome brain and great personality".

"Look, at a different time ... I'd vote for him, so I always thought he was well in the race."

She said this past week had been an "emotional roller-coaster" and a very long week.

"But it had been enjoyable, it's been us resetting, testing where where we're at, where we want to go, who the best people are to lead us in that and in that respect I love it, I love the politics of it."

Mrs Bennett said she had worked very closely with the presumptive Prime Minister, Bill English, in her various portfolios, and they had a very good working relationship.

Mr English and Mrs Bennett had the backing of many of the party's senior ministers and MPs, with Jonathan Coleman and Simon Bridges pitching more towards the backbenchers.

But Mrs Bennett said that has not created caucus disunity.

"They [bankbenchers] perhaps saw things there and differences and weighing that up, this has been a really clean fight ... absolutely no animosity anywhere."

She said the message from the backbenchers had been received loud and clear and the new leadership team would be including the broader caucus more in the likes of policy development.

"We've been under the leadership of John Key for ten years, it is time for a bit of renewal and it's time for a bit of refresh."

Mr Bridges announced he was pulling out of the race to be deputy at a media conference in Auckland this morning.

"While my numbers were good, they weren't good enough and in truth it was never about me, it was about having a contest and ensuring that great ideas were talked about," he said.

"I know that this coming government, this new government under Bill English and Paula Bennett leading us is going to be a great one, and that's very much as I was saying, with Bill English we have someone with undoubted strengths and stability, huge experience and acumen that he's going to bring to this role and serve New Zealand incredibly well."

Mr Bridges and Mrs Bennett were the only two contenders to have publicly declared their bids. By late Friday it was becoming increasingly obvious Mrs Bennett had majority support among the caucus, and the backing of National's senior ministers.

RNZ's count last night had 23 National MPs supporting Mrs Bennett and 10 backing Mr Bridges.

A candidate needs the support of 30 MPs to win the role.

Bridges exits deputy leadership race

During his announcement Mr Bridges paid tribute to Mrs Bennett as a "fantastic deputy leader" and a "massive talent".

He said over the past week the governing National Party had been able to hold a contest, but in a unified way.

Mr Bridges said he believed he had support from about a third of the caucus, but did not have enough support to win.

Simon Bridges pulls out of deputy PM race:

He said he and Mrs Bennett were "great mates" and he had spoken to her before the contest for deputy, during it and again this morning.

"We also knew this was going to be a firm, a strong contest, but a really fair one.

"At the end of it, whatever happened, we'd both get on the with the job and be really close working colleagues and I absolutely know that's going to happen."

He has pledged his full support to Bill English and Paula Bennett as the new leadership team.

And Mr Bridges said he believes Mr English will keep faith with MPs outside the Cabinet, and listen to their message about the need for change and rejuvenation.

"Bill English gets it.

"I know that he has been listening, he's been having conversations with me, with others and he understands that we need to keep all the strength we have as a government, stability, the strong story, but we do need to to evolve and I know he's up for that."

The caucus will meet on Monday morning to vote in Bill English and Paula Bennett as leader and deputy respectively.

The outgoing Prime Minister John Key will formally tender his resignation to the Governor-General on Monday after, at which stage Mr English will be sworn in as Prime Minister.

Mr Key, the Tourism Minister, was in Christchurch yesterday for his final day of official engagements, and has said he would wrap things up and clear out his office over the weekend.

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