Paula Bennett

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Paula Bennett
Paula Bennett in 2018.png
Bennett in 2018
18th Deputy Prime Minister of New Zealand
In office
12 December 2016 – 26 October 2017
Prime MinisterBill English
Governor-GeneralPatsy Reddy
Preceded byBill English
Succeeded byWinston Peters
Deputy Leader of the Opposition
In office
26 October 2017 – 22 May 2020
Prime MinisterJacinda Ardern
LeaderBill English
Simon Bridges
Preceded byKelvin Davis
Succeeded byNikki Kaye
Deputy Leader of the National Party
In office
12 December 2016 – 22 May 2020
LeaderBill English
Simon Bridges
Preceded byBill English
Succeeded byNikki Kaye
18th Minister of State Services
In office
8 October 2014 – 26 October 2017
Prime MinisterJohn Key
Bill English
Preceded byJonathan Coleman
Succeeded byChris Hipkins
14th Minister for Women
In office
20 December 2016 – 26 October 2017
Prime MinisterBill English
Preceded byLouise Upston
Succeeded byJulie Anne Genter
35th Minister of Tourism
In office
20 December 2016 – 26 October 2017
Prime MinisterBill English
Preceded byJohn Key
Succeeded byKelvin Davis
38th Minister of Police
In office
20 December 2016 – 26 October 2017
Prime MinisterBill English
Preceded byJudith Collins
Succeeded byStuart Nash
5th Minister for Climate Change Issues
In office
14 December 2015 – 26 October 2017
Prime MinisterJohn Key
Bill English
Preceded byTim Groser
Succeeded byJames Shaw
Member of the New Zealand Parliament
for Upper Harbour
In office
21 September 2014 – 17 October 2020
Preceded byconstituency established
Succeeded byVanushi Walters
Personal details
Born (1969-04-09) 9 April 1969 (age 52)
Auckland, New Zealand[1]
NationalityNew Zealand
Political partyNational Party
Spouse(s)Alan Philps[2]
Alma materMassey University (BA)
OccupationRecruitment consultant

Paula Lee Bennett (born 9 April 1969) is a New Zealand former politician who served as the 18th deputy prime minister of New Zealand between December 2016 and October 2017. She served as the deputy leader of the National Party from 2016 to 2020 and as MP for Upper Harbour from 2014 to 2020.

Bennett previously represented the electorate of Waitakere, which was abolished prior to the 2014 general election.[3][4] She held the Cabinet portfolios of State Services, Women, Tourism, Police, and Climate Change Issues in the fifth National Government until 2017. She retired from Parliament at the 2020 general election.

Early life and career[edit]

Bennett was born on 9 April 1969 in Auckland, New Zealand, the daughter of Bob Bennett and Lee Bennett. She has Tainui ancestry[5] through her half-Māori paternal grandmother, Ailsa Bennett.[6] Her father had a flooring business in Auckland, then in 1974 bought the village store at Kinloch, near Taupo. Bennett attended Taupo-nui-a-Tia College in Taupo. At 17 she gave birth to a daughter, Ana, and raised her alone while working in hospitality and tourism-industry jobs or, at times, receiving the Domestic Purposes Benefit.[1][7][8]

In 1992 Bennett moved to Auckland,[9] where she worked in a rest home, first as a kitchenhand and then as a nurse aide. She began studying social work at the Albany campus of Massey University in 1994.[7] She became the welfare officer of the Massey University at Albany Students' Association, then, in 1996, the president, which she said gave her a taste for politics. She discontinued the social work component of her course of study, leaving simply social policy,[7] and graduated with a Bachelor of Arts.

After graduating, Bennett worked as an electorate secretary for Murray McCully, National Party member of Parliament for East Coast Bays, until the 1999 general election. She then worked as a recruitment consultant for several years and assisted McCully in the 2002 general election campaign.

Political career[edit]

New Zealand Parliament
Years Term Electorate List Party
2005–2008 48th List 45 National
2008–2011 49th Waitakere 41 National
2011–2014 50th Waitakere 14 National
2014–2017 51st Upper Harbour 9 National
2017–2020 52nd Upper Harbour 2 National

Fifth Labour Government, 2005–2008[edit]

In the 2005 general election Bennett stood as the National Party candidate for the Waitakere seat, with a ranking of 45th on National's party list. She failed to win Waitakere,[10] but entered Parliament as a list MP.[11] National did not have sufficient parliamentary support to form a government.

In opposition, Bennett was appointed National's associate spokesperson for welfare and liaison to the community and voluntary sector under Don Brash from 2005 to 2006 and associate spokesperson for education (early childhood education) under John Key from 2006 to 2008.[12][8]

In the 2008 election, she unseated Waitakere MP Lynne Pillay, winning the seat with a majority of 632.[13] Bennett was appointed to several cabinet roles in the new National-led government.

Fifth National Government, 2008–2017[edit]

Bennett as Deputy Prime Minister, with Prime Minister Bill English, 2016

As a senior minister in the Fifth National Government, Bennett was best known for leading social welfare reforms as Minister of Social Development from 2008 to 2014. During that time she was also Minister of Youth Affairs (2008–2013), Minister for Disability Issues (2008–2009), and Associate Minister of Housing (2013–14).[12] In the government's third term, she was Minister of State Services (2014–2017), Minister of Social Housing (2014–2016), Associate Minister of Finance (2014–2016), Minister of Local Government (2014–2015) and Minister for Climate Change Issues (2015–2017) before becoming Deputy Prime Minister, Minister for Women, Minister of Police, and Minister of Tourism (2016–2017).

Bennett's appointment as Minister of Social Development and Employment after the 2008 election was regarded by some commentators as a "surprise."[14][15] She had been ranked at 41st on the party list prior to the election and the social development portfolio had previously been held by senior MP Judith Collins. It was expected that Bennett's background as a former beneficiary would give the portfolio a "softer face" than under Collins, who was instead appointed Minister of Police and Minister of Corrections.[15]

Bennett faced criticism in enacting welfare reform during her first and second terms in government, especially around her previous use of government support programs. Scrutiny came from both members of parliament and from people on government incomes. In particular, the Training Incentive Allowance (TIA) was abolished under her leadership, after she had received this allowance herself as a student,[16] and the requirement for single parents in receipt of the domestic purposes benefit was changed, with beneficiaries having to look for part-time work when their child turned six instead of eighteen.[17] Bennett had her first child at 17 and was at times on a domestic purposes benefit. In response to criticisms, Bennett said that times were different 25 years later, and that beneficiaries get more (in 2012) than they did when she was in similar need.[18]

In the 2011 election, Bennett again stood for the Waitakere seat, and secured an election night majority of 349 votes.[19] After the routine counting of special votes 10 days later, the result had swung towards Labour candidate Carmel Sepuloni. Bennett was subsequently declared the winner after a judicial recount.[20] Carmel Sepuloni was not placed high enough on Labour's list to remain an MP and was ousted from Parliament as a result of her loss.[21]

The 2013/14 electoral boundary review saw Bennett's Waitakere electorate abolished in favour of two new electorates in western Auckland, Kelston and Upper Harbour. At the 2014 election, Bennett stood for the Upper Harbour seat and won with a majority of 9,692 votes.[22]

National won a third term of government in 2014. Prime Minister John Key suggested prior to the announcement of the new Cabinet that Bennett would leave the social development portfolio and instead be given a financial or economic role.[23][24] Bennett was eventually announced as the highest-ranking female Cabinet minister, holding the State Services, Social Housing, and Local Government portfolios.[25] She was also Associate Minster of Finance and Associate Minister of Tourism. From December 2015, she became Minister for Climate Change Issues.[26]

John Key resigned the leadership of the National Party in December 2016. He was succeeded as Prime Minister by Bill English. Bennett was appointed National's deputy leader and sworn in as Deputy Prime Minister on 12 December 2016. She held this role, as well as the State Services, Women, Tourism, Police and Climate Change Issues Cabinet portfolios, for the remainder of the term of government.[12]

During the 2017 election, Bennett contested the Upper Harbour seat for a second time and was re-elected with a majority of 9,556 votes.[27]

Sixth Labour Government, 2017–2020[edit]

National did not have sufficient parliamentary support to continue in government after the 2017 election. Bennett continued as National's deputy leader under Simon Bridges after Bill English retired in 2018 and was the party's spokesperson for social investment and social services, women and drug reform.[28] Bennett has argued that the government's drug reform policy needs to consider health, education, and justice.[29][30]

In mid-August 2019, Bennett announced her intention not to contest Upper Harbour in 2020 and run as a list-only candidate. She was also named as National's 2020 election campaign manager.[31][32]

While Parliament was adjourned in the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic, Bennett was a member of the Epidemic Response Committee, a select committee that considers the government's response to the pandemic.[33]

Following a Newshub-Reid research poll released on 18 May 2020 which returned a low approval rating for the National Party and its leader Simon Bridges, Bennett as deputy leader was challenged by Auckland Central MP Nikki Kaye. Bridges' leadership of National was contested by Bay of Plenty MP Todd Muller.[34] A leadership vote was held during an emergency National Party caucus on 22 May, in which Bridges and Bennett were defeated by Muller and Kaye, who assumed the positions of leader and deputy leaders of the party.[8][35]

Bennett was subsequently ranked at 13 in Muller's Shadow Cabinet, and on 29 June she announced that she would retire from politics at the general election in September.[36] On 2 July, Bennett's former Women and Drug Reform portfolios were assumed by Nikki Kaye and Amy Adams respectively.[37][38]

Post-political career[edit]

On 19 October 2020, after the general election, Bennett joined Bayleys Real Estate as Director - Strategic Advisory.[39] In 2021 she was asked to host the TVNZ revival of British game show Give Us a Clue.[40]


Release of private information about beneficiaries[edit]

As Social Development Minister, Bennett had been criticised by opponents for a "hardline" approach to benefit policies. When Bennett revealed that solo mothers could take home more than $1000 per week in government support, two women, Natasha Fuller and Jennifer Johnston, came forward to reveal parts of their own benefit allowances, and criticised the Government's policy of abolishing the Training Initiative Allowance (TIA).[41] In response, Bennett released full details of the two women's benefits.[42]

When challenged by opposition parties and the media on this revelation of private details, Bennett said she believed she had "implied consent" for the release of the information based on the women releasing their own details.[16][43] The Green Party labeled the act as "beneficiary bashing", while Labour's social welfare spokesperson Annette King likened it to Robert Muldoon's government, when anyone speaking out against government policy "was hit over the head with a political sledge hammer."[44] Labour MP Charles Chauvel said he would lay a complaint on behalf of the women,[45] and Fuller said she would proceed with a complaint.[41]

Bennett apologised to Johnston personally for the public reaction to the figures, but not for releasing the women's details, and after talking to Johnston said she would investigate the idea raised by Johnston for a larger loan for solo parents to cover study costs. Johnston also apologised to Bennett, telling the media "I was pretty angry yesterday. I don't bear her any ill will." Johnston also said that the privacy breach was of little concern, suggesting that it was not hard to find out what sort of benefits a woman in her position would be eligible for. Fuller rejected the offer to talk with Bennett.[46][47]

The Privacy Commissioner investigated Bennett's actions after receiving a complaint from Fuller, and later referred the matter to the Director of Human Rights Proceedings for the Human Rights Commission.[48] In August 2012, the director announced the resolution of the complaint, saying, "On the basis of the Minister’s letter to me, I have agreed to close my file. The matter has been resolved to the satisfaction of all parties."[49]

When TV3 News reported in April 2010 that Bennett had paid Fuller to settle the privacy dispute, both parties rejected this claim.[50] Later, after the Human Rights Commission's resolution in 2012, answering an OIA request, Bennett gave the same response, stating "I made no private settlement with Ms Fuller as I do not accept that I breached her privacy."[51]

Christine Rankin appointment[edit]

In May 2009, Bennett appointed the controversial Christine Rankin as Families Commissioner; her term ended in 2013.[52]

Job numbers claims[edit]

In November 2012, a week after unemployment was reported at 7.3 percent – a 13-year high – Bennett read out job listings in Parliament, claiming there were "300 jobs" available at retailer The Warehouse, if anyone wanted them, as well as 40 jobs at retailer Bunnings. The Warehouse refuted this claim, saying it only had 30 jobs available, and Bunnings only had three advertised.[53]

Gun control[edit]

In October 2017, prior to the Christchurch mosque shootings, Bennett rejected 12 of 20 recommendations from a select committee inquiry into the illegal possession of firearms.[54] This decision was criticised at the time by New Zealand's Police Association president Chris Cahill who lamented to news website Stuff that "the opportunity was missed and you know what it's going to take to bring it on the table again, and unfortunately that's a tragedy."[55]

Personal life[edit]

Bennett married Alan Philps in 2012.[56] Philps keeps a low public profile and was mentioned by Bennett in October 2016.[57][8] Philps did not appear in photographs from Bennett's swearing-in ceremony at Government House, Wellington, on 12 December 2016, but her daughter, granddaughter and stepdaughter did.[56][58] After her announced retirement at the New Zealand 2020 general election, Bennett says she plans to venture into the business world.[59]

In late 2017 Bennett announced she had undergone gastric bypass surgery for weight loss. In November 2018 she stated she had lost 50 kilograms (110 lb) over the previous year.[60][8]

Public image[edit]

For several years Bennett appeared on TV One's Breakfast with friend and Labour MP Darren Hughes.[61][62]

In January 2009, Bennett broke up a fight between 30 teenagers at her local shopping mall in Henderson before police arrived, earning praise as a "tough lady." She also arranged community networking to address the underlying issues.[63]

In March 2010, Bennett accepted an Eisenhower Fellowship. The prestigious six week fellowship in the United States was awarded to only 20 women around the world who were identified as outstanding leaders.[64]

In November 2020 she was named one of the best dressed women on David Hartnell MNZM's Best Dressed List.[65]


  1. ^ a b Paula Bennett. "Address in reply". Parliamentary Debates (Hansard). 628. New Zealand Parliament. p. 191. Retrieved 3 May 2017.
  2. ^ "MP Paula Bennett marries mystery man". 16 April 2012. Retrieved 10 December 2016.
  3. ^ "Paula Bennett to seek Upper Harbour nomination". 3 News NZ. 21 November 2013.
  4. ^ "Bennett to contest new seat". Radio NZ. 21 November 2013.
  5. ^ Laugesen, Ruth (20 June 2009). "Outrageous Fortune". New Zealand Listener. 219 (3606): 16–20. Archived from the original on 22 May 2010.
  6. ^ Collins, Simon (21 November 2008). "Cabinet's new poster girl". The New Zealand Herald.
  7. ^ a b c Collins, Simon (22 November 2008). "Cabinet's new poster girl". The New Zealand Herald. Retrieved 22 November 2008.
  8. ^ a b c d e Burrows, Matt (22 May 2020). "Paula Bennett: The loyal National Party servant who just lost her job". Newshub. Archived from the original on 22 May 2020. Retrieved 22 May 2020.
  9. ^ "Hon. Paula Bennett – Biography". New Zealand National Party. 2008. Archived from the original on 25 May 2010. Retrieved 22 November 2008.
  10. ^ "Official Count Results -- Waitakere". Electoral Commission. 1 October 2015. Archived from the original on 17 January 2020. Retrieved 22 May 2020.
  11. ^ "Official Count Results -- Successful Candidates". Electoral Commission. 31 October 2005. Archived from the original on 18 January 2020. Retrieved 22 May 2020.
  12. ^ a b c "Hon. Paula Bennett". New Zealand Parliament. Retrieved 13 November 2016.
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  16. ^ a b Trevett, Claire (29 July 2009). "Minister accused of breaking privacy law". The New Zealand Herald.
  17. ^ Kinnealy, Mellissa. "Beneficiaries Face Squeeze". The Dominion Post. Retrieved 22 October 2010.
  18. ^ "Bennett rejects 'hypocrite' claims". The New Zealand Herald. 28 February 2012. Retrieved 28 February 2012.
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  21. ^ "Sepuloni mulls petition after Bennett regains Waitakere". 1 News. Archived from the original on 10 January 2012.
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  24. ^ "Editorial: Key must be courageous in choosing his Cabinet". NZ Herald. Retrieved 12 January 2022.
  25. ^ "John Key reveals new Cabinet lineup". RNZ. 6 October 2014. Retrieved 12 January 2022.
  26. ^ "Groser out, Collins back in reshuffle". NZ Herald. Retrieved 12 January 2022.
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  28. ^ "Hon Paula Bennett". New Zealand Parliament. Retrieved 21 October 2018.
  29. ^ "Bennett named drug reform spokesperson in shadow cabinet reshuffle". Radio New Zealand. 22 January 2019. Retrieved 23 January 2019.
  30. ^ Coughlan, Thomas (22 January 2019). "Bridges begins year with a reshuffle". Newsroom. Retrieved 23 January 2019.
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  33. ^ "Epidemic response". New Zealand Parliament. Retrieved 23 April 2020.
  34. ^ Cooke, Henry (21 May 2020). "National Party leadership contest: Paula Bennett 'confident' heading into Friday's vote". Stuff. Archived from the original on 22 May 2020. Retrieved 22 May 2020.
  35. ^ "Simon Bridges on losing National Party leadership: 'It's been a heck of a ride'". Radio New Zealand. 22 May 2020. Archived from the original on 22 May 2020. Retrieved 22 May 2020.
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  37. ^ Cooke, Henry (2 July 2020). "National reshuffle: Simon Bridges gets foreign affairs role, but not a high ranking". Stuff. Archived from the original on 2 July 2020. Retrieved 2 July 2020.
  38. ^ Cheng, Derek (2 July 2020). "National's Todd Muller's first reshuffle - winners and losers revealed". The New Zealand Herald. Archived from the original on 2 July 2020. Retrieved 2 July 2020.
  39. ^ "From Parliament to real estate: Paula Bennett's new role revealed". The New Zealand Herald. 2 September 2020. ISSN 1170-0777. Retrieved 3 September 2020.
  40. ^ "Paula Bennett: Politician, real estate director, and now entertainer". Stuff. 12 August 2021. Retrieved 12 January 2022.
  41. ^ a b Trevett, Claire (29 July 2009). "Solo mother's income made public before". The New Zealand Herald. Retrieved 26 October 2020.
  42. ^ "Privacy issues stir Bennett welfare debate". ONE News/New Zealand Press Association. Television New Zealand. 29 July 2009. Archived from the original on 31 July 2009.
  43. ^ "The double-edged sword". Business Day. Fairfax New Zealand. 28 July 2009.
  44. ^ Trevett, Claire (28 July 2009). "Bennett: I consulted website before releasing mums' benefits". The New Zealand Herald.
  45. ^ NZPA (4 August 2009). "Paula Bennett accused of Muldoon-style bullying". Stuff. Retrieved 26 October 2020.
  46. ^ Trevett, Claire (17 August 2009). "Hundreds get $1000 a week in benefits". The New Zealand Herald. Retrieved 26 October 2020.
  47. ^ Trevett, Claire (30 July 2009). "Bennett says she'll look into loan idea". The New Zealand Herald. Retrieved 26 October 2020.
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  49. ^ Human Rights Commission (15 August 2012). "Media statement on Paula Bennett privacy complaint". Scoop Media.
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  51. ^ Bennett, Paula (18 September 2012). "Response to Ms Julie Fairey" (PDF).
  52. ^ "Rankin appointed to Families Commission". TV New Zealand. Archived from the original on 18 May 2009. Retrieved 12 May 2009.
  53. ^ "Bennett's job numbers don't add up – Ardern". 3 News NZ. 14 November 2012. Archived from the original on 19 August 2014.
  54. ^ "Bennett rejects bulk of firearms advice". Newstalk ZB. 14 June 2019. Archived from the original on 19 July 2017. Retrieved 22 May 2020.
  55. ^ "New Zealand's gun control laws scrutinised after Christchurch mosque shootings". ABC News. 17 April 2019. Archived from the original on 16 March 2020. Retrieved 22 May 2020.
  56. ^ a b "Paula Bennett ties knot at Piha". The New Zealand Herald. 16 April 2012. Retrieved 3 May 2017.
  57. ^ Marwick, Felix; Trevett, Claire. "Bennett to serve as acting PM while Key, English are out of NZ". Newstalk ZB. Retrieved 3 May 2017.
  58. ^ "L to R, Deputy Prime Minister Paula Bennett, Sir David Gascoigne,..." Getty Retrieved 3 May 2017.
  59. ^ "National MP Paula Bennett calls time on politics, ventures into 'business world'". The New Zealand Herald. 29 June 2020. Retrieved 29 June 2020.
  60. ^ "Paula Bennett answers the big questions about her 50kg weight loss". Stuff. 26 November 2018. Retrieved 21 February 2019.
  61. ^ "On the December 6 programme". TVNZ. 6 December 2017. Archived from the original on 22 May 2020. Retrieved 22 May 2020.
  62. ^ "Thursday Sept 27, 2007". TVNZ. 27 September 2007. Archived from the original on 22 May 2020. Retrieved 22 May 2020.
  63. ^ Trevitte, Clare (20 January 2009). "'Tough lady' minister breaks up mall fight". The New Zealand Herald. Archived from the original on 20 December 2016. Retrieved 20 January 2009.
  64. ^ "New Zealand Social Development Minister Paula Bennett to join 2010 Women's Leadership Program". Eisenhower Fellowship. March 2010. Archived from the original on 30 March 2012. Retrieved 9 March 2010.
  65. ^ "The best dressed Kiwis list is out, who makes the cut?". 22 November 2020. Retrieved 22 November 2020.

External links[edit]

New Zealand Parliament
Preceded by Member of Parliament for Waitakere
Constituency abolished
New constituency Member of Parliament for Upper Harbour
Succeeded by
Party political offices
Preceded by Deputy Leader of the National Party
Succeeded by
Political offices
Preceded by Minister for Disability Issues
Succeeded by
Minister of Social Development and Employment
Succeeded by
Preceded by Minister for Youth Affairs
Succeeded by
Preceded by Minister of Local Government
Succeeded by
Preceded by Minister of State Services
Succeeded by
Preceded by Minister for Climate Change Issues
Succeeded by
Preceded by Deputy Prime Minister of New Zealand
Succeeded by
Preceded by Minister for Women
Succeeded by
Preceded by Minister of Tourism
Succeeded by
Preceded by Minister of Police
Succeeded by
Preceded by Deputy Leader of the Opposition
Succeeded by