Todd Muller

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In May 2020, Muller challenged National Party leader Simon Bridges for the leadership on a joint ticket with Auckland Central MP Nikki Kaye. [37] The reasons cited were poll results in a Newshub Reid Research Poll. [38] [39] The day prior to the challenge, he had publicly denied having leadership ambitions and supported Bridges despite a media endorsement from Jim Bolger. [40] [41] A One News Colmar Brunton poll released the evening before the coup had Muller with the support of 0.2% of voters as preferred prime minister compared to Jacinda Ardern on 63% and Bridges on 5%. [42]

Muller won the resulting vote on 22 May 2020 with more than 29 votes cast for him. [43] The party's caucus was said to be evenly divided over whether the leadership change was the correct course of action. Along with Kaye, MPs in National's group of liberal MPs such as Chris Bishop, Amy Adams, and Nicola Willis were among those supporting Muller's run. [44] [45] Senior MP Anne Tolley, a conservative, was among those who spoke out in opposition to Muller's leadership challenge, calling it "nutty stuff", [46] announcing that she would be retiring shortly thereafter. [47] Another National MP, speaking to media on the condition of anonymity, described Muller in contrast to Bridges as a "pale, stale male". [48] Judith Collins, a Bridges rival, and senior MP Gerry Brownlee joined Muller at his first press conference. [49]

Leader of the Opposition

Muller announced his shadow cabinet on 25 May, with senior caucus member Amy Adams announcing she was reversing her previous decision to retire. Other senior positions were given to Muller allies Chris Bishop and Nicola Willis. Bridges ally Paul Goldsmith was retained as finance spokesperson. Muller stated former leader Simon Bridges was offered a shadow ministerial role but declined, saying he was taking time to consider his future. Bridges quickly stated he was taking "time out" and would stand and help win the next election. [50] National MP Jo Hayes criticised Muller for the lack of ethnic diversity present in the new frontbench, telling media: "This is not good. We need to remedy this or you [the party leadership] need to front it and take it head-on and say why. You need to give a better explanation." [51] On the same day, Newshub reported that several National MPs were already leaking to media against Muller and his deputy Nikki Kaye, four days after the leadership change had occurred. [52]

On 27 May, another leak against the leadership was made to Newshub claiming the campaign chair, Gerry Brownlee, had set up an "intelligence unit" to find negative information on political opponents. Brownlee said the leaks were "disappointing," untrue, and had come from "bitter backers" of former leader Simon Bridges. [53] As a result of the leaks to media, inability to fend off criticism over his "Make America Great Again" cap display (see below), and allegedly poor television interview performances, Muller was criticised by commentators traditionally supportive of the National Party, including Mark Richardson. [54] Fellow conservative commentator Mike Hosking opined in his New Zealand Herald column that "Todd Muller's first full day out including Parliament was little short of a disaster." [55]

New Zealand First, who had been relentless critics of Bridges and who Bridges had ruled out as coalition partners in any future government, warmed to the new leader. MP Shane Jones said that "... I do sense coming from [him], good vibrations in contrast to Paula and Simon." [56] Muller indicated he would be willing to work with New Zealand First to form a new government after the 2020 election. [57] He had previously known New Zealand First leader Winston Peters when Peters had been the National Party MP in Tauranga and Muller had led the Young Nationals at Waikato University. [57]

Muller's first major speech was delivered at the Te Puna rugby club on 14 June 2020 and focused on the economy. Referring to the "decent society" policy under the Jim Bolger-led National Party of the 1990s, Muller stated that the New Zealand economy was not "truly internationally competitive or agile enough [or] as green as [it] should be." Muller's economic pitch was described by The Spinoff as "arguably pretty indistinguishable from the sitting government." [58] Muller also distanced himself from some previous iterations of the National Party by describing the Treaty of Waitangi as the nation's "founding document." [58] However, the speech drew attention for several new gaffes. An event organiser inadvertently hung the tino rangatiratanga flag upside down behind the podium and Muller accidentally referred to himself as having joined the Labour Party. [59] [60]

On 7 and 8 July, Muller moved to sack Hamish Walker after the first-term MP admitted to leaking personal details of COVID-19 patients to the media. [61] The weekend after, Muller refused to appear on Q+A to discuss the incident and directed his inner circle to focus on National's energy policy to be announced the next week. [62]

That energy policy was never announced. To the surprise of most commentators, Muller resigned from the leadership before 8:00 a.m. on 14 July 2020, stating, "I am not the best person to be Leader of the Opposition and Leader of the New Zealand National Party at this critical time for New Zealand" and that the role had had a negative impact on his mental health. [3] At just 53 days, Muller is the shortest-serving leader of any political party represented in Parliament in New Zealand's history. [63] After being replaced as leader by Judith Collins, and taking sick leave for nearly four weeks, Muller stated in interviews, "I had anxiety. I had experienced that quite severely and I had panic attacks" [64] that began on 27 May, five days after taking the leadership. [65] He also ruled out another bid for the party leadership. [64]

Post-leadership

Third term in Parliament

In the 2020 New Zealand general election held in October, Muller retained his Bay of Plenty seat, defeating Labour candidate Angie Warren-Clark by a margin of 3,415 votes. [66] He was assigned responsibility for internal affairs and trade in the Shadow Cabinet of Judith Collins. [67] Muller also became a mental health advocate, sharing

On 11 March 2021, Muller's Sunscreen (Product Safety Standard) Bill was pulled from the ballot. This Bill would allow consumers to seek redress under the Fair Trading Act 1986 if the sunscreen that they used was found to be weaker than its label. [68] The bill passed its first reading on 7 April 2021. [69] On 2 March 2022, the bill passed its third reading with unanimous cross-party support. As a result, sunscreen producers whose products fail to provide the protection they promised can be fined under the Fair Trading Act. Muller stated that the new legislation would give New Zealand customers confidence in sunscreen products that they purchased. [70] The Sunscreen Product Safety Standard Act 2022 received royal assent on 8 March 2022. [71]

Retirement announcement, reversal, and re-announcement

On 16 June 2021, Newsroom published an article on returning National MP Harete Hipango featuring negative comments from some MPs. [72] At a late-night meeting on 22 June 2021, Muller admitted to the National caucus that he had been one of the MPs quoted, and apologised for the comments. [73] He also admitted that for several years he had been providing inside information about the party to Richard Harman, the proprietor of the political news website Politik. [74] According to the New Zealand Herald, Collins threatened to have the caucus vote to suspend him if he did not step down, while Chris Bishop urged him to leave with dignity "for the good of the party." [75]

The next day, Muller announced that he would not stand for re-election at New Zealand's next general election. [76] Muller declined to comment on any connection between his admission of speaking to Newsroom and his retirement, [73] and cited health reasons for the resignation. [77] He also took six weeks of leave after the announcement. [77] Collins refused to say why Muller was resigning, or whether she felt Muller should leave Parliament before the next election. [77] On 30 July 2021, Newsroom reported that Muller would not be returning to work at Parliament that week as scheduled, but would instead take a further three weeks of leave. [78] A week later, 1 News reported that Muller would not attend National caucus meetings when he did return to Parliament. [79]

On 21 August 2021, the Bay of Plenty Times published an interview with Muller where he stated that he intended to return to Parliament when it next sat and to serve until the end of the term, despite speculation that he would leave earlier. In reflecting on his decisions over the previous 16 months, he said "I'm comfortable with what I've done with one exception – clearly my comments with respect to Harete [Hipango] were a mistake and I've apologised for that." Concerning the fallout from those comments, Muller said he bears Judith Collins "no ill will," while acknowledging that "the relationship between the two of us has broken down." [80]

In December 2021, Christopher Luxon took over leadership of the National Party from Judith Collins. Subsequently, Muller announced that he had reversed his decision and would not retire. [81] It was reported that Luxon asked him to stay on. [82] Muller became the National Party's spokesperson for oceans and fisheries and internal affairs in the Luxon shadow cabinet. [81] In October 2022, Muller also became National's acting spokesperson for agriculture, biosecurity, and food safety after Barbara Kuriger resigned from those positions due to a personal conflict of interest. [83] Following a reshuffle in January 2023, Muller was confirmed as National's agriculture spokesperson and also became the party's climate change spokesperson. [84] [85] He was promoted to 12th place in Luxon's shadow cabinet. [85]

In March 2023, Muller announced he would, in fact, leave politics at the 2023 general election, stating that he did not "have enough fire in the belly for the job" and that he would like to spend more time with his family. His spokesperson roles were assigned to other National MPs. [86] In exit interviews, he said that he did not think that his mental health would withstand the pressures of a ministerial role. [87] [88]

Political views

Todd Muller
Todd Muller 2023 cropped.jpg
38th Leader of the Opposition
In office
22 May 2020   14 July 2020

Muller takes a socially conservative position on issues such as abortion, euthanasia and drug liberalisation. [89] He voted against the Abortion Legislation Bill and the End of Life Choice Bill, and supported the Contraception, Sterilisation, and Abortion (Safe Areas) Amendment Bill and Conversion Practices Prohibition Legislation Bill.

He has called for greater action on climate change, having worked with Jacinda Ardern's government on the Zero Carbon Bill. [90]

Muller is an admirer of American politics. [91] He received attention in 2020 for his intention to display a 'Make America Great Again' cap in his Parliamentary office as part of a collection of American political memorabilia, with a Muslim community leader calling on him to leave it at home. [92] Muller responded that he was "very comfortable" including it in his collection and that he hoped people would understand the context of the display. [93] He later changed his mind and decided not to display it. [94] After seeing both of them speak in person, Muller stated that he believed Biden was better at delivering speeches than Trump. [95]

During his valedictory speech, Muller called for New Zealand to be realistic about its ability to address climate change based on its "size, distance from market, infrastructure vulnerabilities, and balance sheet capacity." He also criticised political parties for using mental health policy as a "regular political sport" and called for bipartisan action on addressing mental health. Muller has also expressed concern about growing partisanship on issues relating to Māori and the Treaty of Waitangi, which in his view is fuelling a level of political toxicity that is corrosive to our society." Muller also talked about the need for partisanship on these issues. On the issues of voting and representation, he stated "I believe one person, one vote is the bedrock of democracy, but bedrocks can be built on, so where there is inequality in political representation, we should be open to ensuring these voices can see a pathway for greater representation. For if our political institutions are to endure, they must reflect our changing country." [96]

Personal life

Muller and his wife Michelle have three children. [8] [97] Muller is a practising Catholic. [98] Muller has had five skin cancers cut from his body, prompting his interest in legislation regulating the use of sunscreens in New Zealand. [68]

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New Zealand Parliament
Preceded by Member of Parliament for Bay of Plenty
2014–2023
Succeeded by
Political offices
Preceded by Leader of the Opposition
2020
Succeeded by
Party political offices
Preceded by Leader of the National party
2020
Succeeded by