Paula Bennett has won the battle for deputy Prime Minister and will team up with Bill English
Holding a baby in her arms as a solo mum at the age of 17, Paula Bennett says she never thought she'd end up being deputy prime minister.
Soon to be the first Maori woman deputy, Bennett said it had been "quite a six days" since the shock resignation of Prime Minister John Key that led to the leadership battle she has finally won.
Her rival, Transport Minister Simon Bridges, bowed out of the race on Saturday morning after realising the odds of winning the support of a majority of the National caucus were stacked against him.
Bennett is promising a "refresh" and a new look at how cabinet works with back benchers.
* Plain sailing for the new PM? Not quite
* Key's resignation has thrown open the door to the call for 'generation change'
* John Key resigns: full coverage
* Snakes and ladders with Bill English: Who climbs the Beehive's steps and who will take a tumble?
* Will we have an early election after Bill English becomes Prime Minister?
"We have been under John Key's leadership for 10 years and it is time for a change," she told media in Auckland.
"When I was a 17-year-old solo mum holding a baby, I never thought I would be here, let alone deputy Prime Minister.
"I bring all of who I am to the job."
Bennett understood she would also be National's first-ever woman deputy leader. "I hope I do it proud."
She said that she would mark the occasion with "maybe a glass of champagne tonight with my family" before flying back to Wellington on Sunday to start preparing for a Bill English-led government with her as deputy.
She said English told her he was looking forward to working with her, and that "we have a lot of work to do".
"That man is funny. There is definitely a quick wit there, sometimes faster than mine."
Bennett said that in future, "things should be a bit different".
"And so they will be."
She had thanked Bridges for "the clean fight", and said she we wanted to work with him closely."
"Simon and I are good mates and he's got a big role to play now and in the future."
"We had this sickening kind of mutual respect going on," she said.
In another time Bennett said she would have voted for Bridges because of what he would bring to the leadership and his "awesome brain".
There were yet to be any discussions of portfolios in the new cabinet - "I haven't thought about it and will stick with having deliberations with the Prime Minister."
Bennett said she would bring to the leadership a "particular flavour as an urban Maori".
"I think that under this leadership you will see great Maori relations.
"I hope there are some young Maori women out there watching the news tonight that say, 'in a few years that is going to be me'."
BRIDGES BOWS OUT
Earlier, Bridges said his numbers in the contest were good but not good enough and acknowledged Bennett would be a "fantastic" deputy leader.
"She has massive talent and huge strengths."
Some heavy hitters in the National caucus had publicly backed Bennett, including, Ministers Hekia Parata, Murray McCully, Amy Adams, Jo Goodhew, Nicky Wagner, Louise Upston and Craig Foss.
While Key and English hadn't publicly stated their preference for deputy, it's understood they both supported Bennett for the job.
English said he welcomed Bennett as deputy and described her as an "outstanding politician whose work on welfare reform is world leading".
"I'm proud to have a smart energetic woman as New Zealand's second only female deputy prime minister."
He also thanked Bridges for being a "constructive and energetic candidate" and said he looked forward to working with him in the leadership team.
At last count on Saturday Bennett had 22 MPs publicly supporting her - although it's understood she had many more privately backing her as well - while the Transport Minister had 9 public votes. Thirty votes were needed to win.
Bridges said he had more than one third of caucus support but "I can count and one third isn't one half".
"What caucus wanted was a contest and they got that."
"Paula Bennett and I are great mates...the truth is now you've got a very strong Maori woman in the role."
"She deserves this and I am looking forward to working with her," he said.
Bridges talked to English a number of times this week and explained his decision to him and "made it clear how excited I am to be part of his team".
"We can't just be another John Key government without John Key...ultimately it will be up to Bill English to impress his fingerprint on it."
Bridges wouldn't answer questions on whether he'd negotiated a promotion in his portfolios.
THE BATTLE FOR LEADER
The leadership bid kicked off after Key announced his shock resignation on Monday.
Within three days his deputy, English, who Key endorsed to be the new leader, had secured the job after both Health Minister Jonathan Coleman and Police Minister Judith Collins conceded on Thursday.
The deputy leadership battle has been about finding a counter to English's South Island/Wellington roots and more conservative personality.
Many MPs backing Bennett were in favour of having a Maori woman from West Auckland with a bubbly personality who is known to speak out.
Bridges had been campaigning on being the "champion" of the backbenchers. He's based in Tauranga but is also originally a "Westie" and was pushing to be the 'change candidate' the backbenchers had asked for when they refused a seamless transition to English and demanded a contested vote.
With Bennett taking the deputy leadership and Steven Joyce being anointed Finance Minister by English - the top three remain very similar to the top five leadership team under Key.
Bridges was spending Saturday at his sister, Rachel Trimble's, wedding - Bridges colleague, National MP Simon O'Connor, proposed to Trimble earlier this year.
A caucus meeting to vote on the deputy leadership was planned for Monday but will simply be a formality now that both English and Bennett have secured the jobs. Following the meeting English will officially announce his, Bennett's, Joyce's and the whip roles before heading to Government House to be sworn in as Prime Minister.