Prime Minister recruits corporate high flyer for 2017
One of Prime Minister John Key's confidants and former senior advisors is set to enter Parliament, with Newshub learning she is being lined up as National's Wellington Central candidate.
Nicola Willis has launched a challenge against incumbent candidate and list MP Paul Foster-Bell for the party's nomination, which opens in January.
Ms Willis is a corporate high-flyer, currently holding a senior position at Fonterra as the general manager of nutrient management, pushing sustainability initiatives across some of the dairy giant's farms.
Before that, she was in charge of Fonterra's stakeholder management portfolio which saw her wining and dining important figures from the public and private sectors, and from overseas.
She worked as John Key's senior advisor from 2006 - 2011, when he was Opposition Leader, and then Prime Minister.
"When nominations do open, it is my intention to put forward my nomination and to stand for the candidacy," she told Newshub.
"This is a decision I've come to after lots of conversation with my family. It's up to the National Party members to decide who their candidate is, so it's them I'll be focused on," says Ms Willis.
The Prime Minister says she’d be a welcome addition to Parliament if she successfully challenged Mr Foster-Bell.
“If Nicola decided to try and come into Parliament, and obviously that’s subject to her either having a seat or getting on the list or whatever that might be, but she’s extremely talented. She’d make a very fine MP,” he says.
Ms Willis has spoken to Mr Foster-Bell about the challenge, but wouldn’t say what was discussed. He told Newshub he welcomes the competition, and is confident he can fend off the challenge.
Ms Willis has spoken to Mr Foster-Bell about the challenge, but wouldn't say what was discussed. He told Newshub he welcomes the competition, and is confident he can fend off the challenge.
"I get on very well with Nicola and meet with her quite regularly," he says.
"I believe the members have seen me working hard and doing a good job on their behalf, and that's the feedback I get, and being a democracy I would have thought puts me in a good, strong position," says Mr Foster-Bell.
It's an unusual move for a sitting list MP to be the target of an internal challenge, but it comes after a number of controversial revelations about Mr Foster-Bell, including claims of bullying and high staff turnover.
Wellington Central is a high profile political hot bed, and if she wins the nomination, she will be cutting her teeth against two of the left's senior figures: Labour's Grant Robertson and Greens co-leader James Shaw.
National's candidate vote in the electorate has dived since Mr Foster-Bell took over from predecessor Stephen Franks at the 2011 election, with support dropping from 15,142 votes in 2008, to 12,460 in 2011.
At the last election, Mr Foster-Bell took a further hit, sliding to 11,540 votes, while Mr Robertson jumped nearly 1,000 votes to 19,807.
Ms Willis lives in Auckland with her husband Duncan Small, and their four children. Mr Small used to work for the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet before taking a top job at Air New Zealand.
She grew up in Wellington and her parents live in Kelburn.