OPINION: There was pin drop silence when former National Party leader Todd Muller recently addresses over 400 farmers at the DairyNZ Farmers Forum in Hamilton.
Less than two months, and just 53 days, since taking over the leadership from Simon Bridges, Muller resigned from the role this morning.
Muller, a former executive at Zespri and Fonterra, was first elected as the Bay of Plenty MP at the 2014 general election – taking over the seat from former longstanding MP and high-ranking minister in the Key government Tony Ryall.
Muller spent his first term in parliament (2014-17) as a backbench MP in the Key/English administration. He held his Bay of Plenty seat at the 2017 election and moved into opposition, with the formation of the Labour/NZ First/Green coalition.
He was given the climate change role in opposition and then took over as spokesman role for primary industries in August last year when former agriculture minister Nathan Guy announced his intention to retire from politics.
Muller’s strong agribusiness background saw him warmly welcomed, across the sector, into the role. However, his time in the role was only short and in May this year, Muller mounted a challenge for the National Party leadership – ousting Simon Bridges.
However, his 8-week stint in the role was dominated by media claims of gaffes and hiccups – including controversy over the lack of diversity on his front bench, resignations of long serving MPs, and last week’s fiasco about leaking of private health details by Southland MP Hamish Walker – which led to the latter’s deselection as a candidate and eventual decision to stand down at the election.
This morning, Muller announced he was quitting the leadership for health reasons, plunging the National Party into turmoil just 67 days before the general election. In a statement Muller said he was stepping down as leader "effective immediately" claiming he was "not the best person" to be leader.
The National party caucus is due to meet tonight and it is expected to elect a new leader then. Judith Collins is favoured to win the ballot.