Hive News Alert: English and Coleman will contest National leadership; English reopens NZ Super debate

Deputy Prime Minister Bill English tells press gallery reporters he has decided to stand in the leadership contest. Copyright Lynn Grieveson / Hive News

Good morning all.

Bill English's hopes for a speedy and contest-free transition to the Prime Minister's job were dashed shortly after midday when Jonathan Coleman emerged from a two-hour National Caucus meeting to tell reporters he would bid for the Party's leadership at next Monday's meeting and that there was an appetite for change in the caucus.

English was insistent yesterday that any decision was likely to be quick and not divisive. He used the words cohesion and cohesive six times in yesterday's news conference, suggesting he expected the caucus to coalesce behind a candidate before next Monday's meeting to vote on the next leader.

"This is a caucus who have seen the political success of unity and cohesion and John Key has put a premium on that. I think it is now part of our culture and I'd expect that the issue of leadership would be dealt with internally because we can see that stability's important," he said when asked about the prospect of a contested leadership vote yesterday.

Pressed again on whether he expected the Caucus meeting to simply endorse a pre-agreed leader, he said: "Ultimately that is a matter for the caucus. As I have said, we have put a premium on stability and unity and I don't think you should expect to see the kind of public brawling that you see over leadership changes in opposition. The country benefits from stable, clear direction in government and caucus understands that and I think will want to deliver that result for the country."

'An appetite for change'

That went out the window today with Jonathan's Coleman's open bid for the leadership and comments from several other MPs that they wanted to see a contested leadership.

"I sense an appetite in the caucus for change," Coleman told reporters after the Caucus meeting.

"I would not put my hand out unless there was considerable appetite for a contest of ideas across the caucus," he said.

Today's comments mark the first open signs of conflict within the leadership group of the National Party since John Key won the top job from Don Brash in November 2006. New Zealand faces a week of uncertainty about who will be Prime Minister.

"We have a huge opportunity in NZ, somewhat unique among developed countries of a strong growing economy, government surpluses, a proven confident business sector that is creating jobs - so we have got choices over the next 5 to ten years that most countries don't have," English said today.

"I have been intimately involved in the policies of the John Key led government, I can see fantastic opportunities for stronger economic performance, for spreading the benefits of growth for more New Zealanders and for getting stuck into some of our most intractable social problems - and area where we are just getting started really," he said.

"So I am a candidate for the leadership."

No Deputy PM pick yet

Asked if it was time for regeneration, English said: "Well, yes it is and that is what we are doing, that is what the caucus is going through. That is why the caucus wants to go through a competitive process and regeneration is about ability to deliver in the circumstances from 2017 through to 2025 and we are very well set up for that."

English said he had not thought through who would be his deputy or who would be in his ministry, and he denied that he would be promising ministries to various caucus members to win their support.

Asked if he would run on a ticket, he said: "That is yet to be seen. This is a caucus who had John Key there as a leader for ten years, there has been a great deal of stability and cohesion. I think they want the opportunity to really consider what the alternatives are, because two-thirds of them have never been involved in a leadership change."

Asked how many supporters he had in caucus, he said: "I have had plenty of strong indications of support, but that's a matter that will be refined over the four or five days."

'Unity is everything'

English said he was not particularly surprised that Coleman had decided to contest the leadership.

"I know Jonathan well. He manages the biggest, hardest public agency in Government and that's the health system. He does that very competently. I have always known he was ambitious, so he is welcome to have a go," he said.

Asked if he was worried it would divide the party, English said: "It can do, we've seen that in the past. But I think there is a strong commitment from the caucus to make sure they have a process to make sure they get the leader they really want at the same time as maintaining the kind of stability and cohesion they have got used to. They understand how effective it is. One the reasons we have been a well-supported government is because it has been such a disciplined caucus and they know that any signs of loss of that discipline are not going to help. Unity is everything."

English re-opens NZ Super debate

Meanwhile, English declined to repeat John Key's commitment to resign if the age of eligibility for New Zealand Superannuation or its indexation to 66% of the average wage.

"There's always options there to change super, but we haven't considered them," he said.

He later declined when ask to repeat Key's commitment to resign if these settings were ever changed.

"No, I won't be making that commitment. But equally we haven't considered any of the options. But in any case that is an issue for the duly elected leader of the National Party and Prime Minister next week."

English hinted in July 2014 (See our Hive News article from July 24, 2014)

"I've got nothing new to say about the pension age. We made a commitment. It's now become a matter of trust, as much as policy. The Prime Minister said he would resign if the age changes. If the age changes and he doesn't resign, no one would trust him ever again, even if they support the policy," English said back in July 2014.

"We're not changing it. A future Government may well do that (increase the retirement age)," he said then.

We'll have more in tomorrow's Hive News.