Bay of Plenty MP Todd Muller is enjoying being back in parliament, and is looking forward to tackling some key issues next year.
The second-term MP chatted to The Weekend Sun at his Pyes Pa home this week, reflecting on a busy election year.
“It was quite different this time around, as an incumbent,” he says. “People know of you and your reputation, whereas the first time I had to introduce myself a lot more. In 2014, it was ‘oh, you’re the guy taking over from Tony [Ryall].’ In 2017, it was mostly just ‘hey Todd’.”
As a fulltime MP, he also had to juggle duties down in Wellington with hitting the campaign trail – a period made harder by the unexpected death of his father, Mike, in early September.
“Having my father die in the middle of campaigning made it a tough time. I lost the person who had been my biggest mentor. He was a huge part of my life, and a big part of his community, particularly in the kiwifruit industry.”
Despite this personal loss, Todd’s campaign was a successful one, and he returned to parliament – although not government.
“We had a lot of acknowledgement from voters of a strong economy, particularly in this region,” he says. “It was hugely disappointing not to form the government, particularly after such a strong result on election night.”
He says in the past the precedent has been for the largest party to form the government, but admits under MMP you need to make it to 50 per cent.
His focus now is on ensuring promised infrastructure upgrades and government investment in the region is carried out.
“National made commitments to new schools in Pyes Pa and Papamoa, and those have to happen, as does the much-needed Northern Link to Katikati. I also want to see a 24/7 A&E in Papamoa East for the 15,000 people who live there.”
It will be a new experience for Todd, sitting on the opposition benches for the first time. But, he says, he’s actually one of the longest-serving party members in the caucus, along with leader Bill English and Coromandel MP Scott Simpson.
Todd first joined the National Party in the late 1980s, and by 1994 was executive assistant to Prime Minister Jim Bolger. He travelled a lot in this role, and saw a great deal of the country as a result.
“It was a privilege to travel with the Prime Minister, and to see the diversity of the people in New Zealand. It was probably the turning point in my career.”
Although he had political ambitions, Todd believed it was important to gain work experience outside of parliament before becoming an MP.
“Everyone has their own journey to parliament, but working at Zespri, Apata and Fonterra was important for me.”
He and his family have been living in Pyes Pa for three years. Previously, they lived in Te Puna, while Todd’s first home with wife Michelle was in Papamoa.
He has three children – Amelia, 9, who goes to St. Mary’s Catholic School, and Bradley, 11, and Aimee, 13, who both go to nearby Aquinas College.
“The kids wanted to be somewhere close to their high school, with a bit of lawn to play cricket on and a swimming pool,” says Todd, explaining the decision to move. He says he likes their place because on one side you have suburbia, but with a great view of the countryside south of Tauranga as well.
It’s a great spot to spend a summer, which is exactly what Todd intends to do.
“We’ll just be hanging out here, making use of the pool. I think Michelle has a list of jobs for me to do,” he laughs.
“It’s tempting to think you have to go away, but this is the place everyone wants to go anyway, isn’t it?”