Bennett to serve as acting PM while Key, English are out of NZ

Felix Marwick, Claire Trevett of the NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Thursday, 27 October 2016, 5:17a.m.
Paula Bennett is acting Prime Minister today (NZME).
Paula Bennett is acting Prime Minister today (NZME).

UPDATED 10.14am For the first time since 2008, a woman is about to have the top political job in the country, albeit in a temporary sense.

Every time the Prime Minister leaves the country the next ranking minister in his cabinet becomes acting Prime Minister in his absence.

However today, with John Key in India, and Bill English, Gerry Brownlee and Steven Joyce all out of the country as well, the job will fall on the shoulders of fifth-ranked Social Housing Minister Paula Bennett.

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She's taking a light-hearted approach to her new responsibilities, saying she was thankful the Air Force fixed Mr Key's transport woes and got him out of Townsville and on to India.

READ: Faulty switch on Boeing 757 left John Key stranded en route to India

"I was thinking 'I hope that plane keeps going because I'll lose my day if the Prime Minister comes back early, but it's looking all good," she said.

She marked the occasion with a new pair of shoes.

Her first duty was advising the Governor General to grant Royal assent to new legislation.

She was also to attend a ceremony for the Governor General to receive the credentials of new ambassadors and High Commissioners to New Zealand.

"It's 9.25 and all is calm in the country. I've landed in the capital without incident so you can all rest easy, and quite frankly I'm finding the job quite easy so far.

"I'm going for a steady hand."

Asked if she was worried people would see it as a sign she had more permanent aspirations for the job she said "no more or less than the three above me that are often acting Prime Minister."

She said it was noteworthy primarily because it was so rare that the fifth ranked minister stood in for Key.

Bennett said the role was not going to her head, but her friends and family were another matter.

"I have had requests. Someone wants me to give them an island. I think that's a stretch too far. My husband wants to be referred to all day as 'the First Bloke.'"

The job did entitle her to the services of the Diplomatic Protection Squad, but she had decided it was unnecessary. 

"I did ask [Key] if I could take over Premier House for the day and he said 'go for it.' So that was kind. But I don't plan to."

She had started the day with a joke attempt at flexing her muscle, sending a friend a photo of herself at the Air NZ counter pretending to order herself a private jet. 

Bennett's time at the top will end tomorrow morning after Brownlee returns from Europe.​