National MP Paula Bennett leaving politics, eyes up the business world

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National MP and ousted deputy leader Paula Bennett has announced she will not be standing at the upcoming election.

Paula Bennett announcing her retirement from politics.

Paula Bennett said she would be taking her skills to “the business world”. Photo: RNZ/Dan Cook

Bennett is stepping down immediately from her number 13 party ranking and all portfolio responsibilities.

The Upper Harbour MP says she has had an incredible time in politics and was looking forward to her next career – in business.

Bennett said she had always wanted another career after politics and now was the right time to do that.

She said she would be taking her skills to “the business world”.

“I think it’s time for me to put me first, and I think that means a new career. This is me being really selfish for the first time in 15 years and saying what do I want out of life?

“Obviously there’s been some reflection for me over the last three or four weeks… I always felt that I’d been contributing to the country and the National Party but as I say for the first time in a long time, I got to not think about a leader and not thinking about a political party and instead think about what I wanted.”

Talking about her time in politics, Bennett said while she was thrilled to be chosen to take the Waitakere seat in 2008 and later the Upper Harbour seat. She said she believed Jake Bezzant – the current candidate for Upper Harbour – would do an outstanding job and wished him all the best.

She said she had many people to thank and credited her success to the people she had worked with.

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“You know, the 17-year-old solo mum who dropped out of school ended up being deputy prime minister of this country, and when I looked at that and what I’d achieve I knew that I could draw a line very proudly and comfortably under that and move on to my next challenge.”

She said she was particularly proud of her work as social development minister and child youth, and family for six years.

“I became the minister as we were feeling the brunt of the Global Financial Crisis, vulnerable families and communities needed our help and I ensured they had it. But they also needed hope of a better future for them and their families.

“I set about reforming the welfare system, with more emphasis on what people could do, increasing our expectation on people to get work-ready and look for a job and changing the system so more help was available for them.

“Many think being a minister is a hands-off role, I loved being hands-on.

“Interestingly, it has been in the last two-and-a-half years that I have probably learned the most.

“The whole thing though has been a hell of a ride and I have loved it.”

Missed the announcement? Watch it here:

On the controversy around her role and time as social development minister, she said: “I get that people won’t agree with everything that we did, but we were ambitious and I believed in people and their abilities, and I do despair at the moment that there’s an expectation that a lifetime on welfare can be an option for people and it almost feels encouraged, whereas I think it should be a backstop.”

But she said she had no regrets. “It’s better to stand for something and some people not agree than to achieve nothing and have everyone say ‘well she had a nice time and earned her wage’.”

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Bennett was rolled as the party’s deputy leader and campaign chair in a leadership coup carried out by Todd Muller and Nikki Kaye last month.

Following the coup, Bennett publicly supported the new leadership team, after they came under fire for the lack of diversity following a caucus reshuffle.

Bennett was cited several times by Muller as an example of a Māori MP on the party’s front bench.

At the time, Bennett said she thought the new leadership line up had done a “remarkable job to start with”.

“We have a proud history of the work we’ve done with Māori in this country and I reckon that these guys, and we can, continue to do that; judge [us] on the actions of what we do, not actually the overall ethnicity of some of those on the front bench.”

Discussing the upcoming election, Bennett said the new team had a good shot.

She said she intended to keep her National Party membership alive and the party had told her there was always a place for her.

She said Muller had expressed his gratitude for her and her work, and told her she would be missed.

Bennett said she was open to opportunities and was not tied up with anything as of now.

Bennett was first elected to Parliament in 2005 as a list MP, and served as the MP for Waitakere from 2008 to 2014, and was first elected MP for Upper Harbour in 2014.

In her 15 years in Parliament, Bennett has held 14 portfolios including social development, state services, associate finance, climate change and police, and also served as deputy prime minister between December 2016 and October 2017.

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