Who is Todd Muller?
Many New Zealanders and National Party supporters will be asking that question now and it is the major hurdle for the apparent leadership challenge from Muller and Nikki Kaye against Simon Bridges and Paula Bennett, just four months out from an election.
As The Herald went to press today the pair were yet to confirm their leadership bid but sources within the party have, and Bridges told media this morning that he faces a challenge from a joint leader and deputy leader ticket. This follows a terrible poll result for the party (slumping to 30.6 percent support) and himself as preferred prime minister (with just 4.5 percent support) released on Monday night.
Kaye, 40, is better known but has downplayed her leadership ambitions and is likely to be Muller's running mate. She entered Parliament in 2008, defeating Labour MP Judith Tizard in the Auckland Central race and breaking a 90-year hold on the seat by left-wing parties. She has remained the MP for Auckland Central, including — most notably for National voters hoping to defuse “Jacindamania” — two attempts to unseat her by the current prime minister (in 2011 and 2014). She is from the socially-liberal wing of the party.
Muller, 51, is the MP for Bay of Plenty and was first elected in 2014. He is the party's spokesman for agriculture, biosecurity, food safety and forestry, and sits on the Primary Production Select Committee. He is well-liked in the House and, most notably this term, led the National caucus position on climate change that saw a unanimous vote across Parliment for the Zero Carbon Bill.
After qualifying from the University of Waikato with a master's degree in politics and history, he began his working career as a staffer in the office of former Prime Minister Jim Bolger. In the private sector he rose to be general manager of Zespri, chief executive of Apata Ltd (a post-harvest service provider for kiwifruit and avocado growers), and more recently group director of co-operative affairs for Fonterra. He is a former Waikato University councillor and sat on the boards of Plant and Food Research and the Sustainable Business Council.
Bolger all but backed Muller to take over on RNZ's Checkpoint last night, saying it was a decision for caucus but Muller had the skills and experience to be National's next leader and for the Covid-recovery needs of the country.
Bridges told RNZ this morning he was confident he could see off the challenge and wanted to do it as soon as possible, maybe even ahead of next Tuesday's caucus meeting.