Meet National's new blue-green liberal MP, Nicola Willis

Nicola Willis will replace Steven Joyce in the Naitonal Party caucus.
Nicola Willis will replace Steven Joyce in the Naitonal Party caucus. Photo credit: Newshub Nation

There were tears and hugs at the Young Nats' O-Week stall in Wellington when Steven Joyce announced he was stepping down. Among them was National's next Member of Parliament.

Nicola Willis was helping the Young Nats sign up bright-eyed students at Victoria University when the news came through. Next on National's list, Mr Joyce's resignation meant she would finally get to enter Parliament.

Ms Willis comes with a reputation of carrying a conscience - both socially and environmentally. If you put National on a colour scale, she's more turquoise than navy.

She says she's more interested in policy than political plays.  She's in politics because of the ability to "make a difference to other people's lives on a scale that is really large and really meaningful".

"Getting policy right matters. In the end, lots of money and good intentions is never enough. You've got to get the policy right."

Her interest in policy, the environment and children made her the right fit for National to run in Wellington Central, where a solidly liberal, politically engaged set live. The seat regularly goes easily to Labour's candidate, with high proportions voting Green.

Asked what she'd like people to know about her, the first thing she mentions is her experience as a working mother. Maybe there's a touch of red in that turquoise.

"I'm a mother of four and a working parent, and I understand the realities of family life," she says.

Nicola Willis with her family.
Nicola Willis with her family. Photo credit: Facebook/Nicola Willis

Next are farming, the environment and the economy.

"I've also worked for Fonterra, and I understand the importance agriculture has to our economy and the importance farmers have as stewards of our environment.

"I know that for New Zealanders to get ahead, we need our economy to keep growing so all of us have great jobs and growing incomes. Those things are important to me."

She's good on this stuff - farming and the environment. It's a tricky spot for National. Farmers are a traditional backbone for National, but continued scrutiny of the environmental impacts, including the effect on rivers, suggests there will be increasing public support for cleaning up their act.

"The farmers I've worked with want to do well by the land. They want to look after it and hand it down in better shape for the next generation.

"Our job as policy makers is to work alongside them to make that happen. It's not a question of one or the other - it has to be both. That's New Zealand's future."

Asked how she'd marry agriculture and the environment, she says it's a mixture of simple measures and investing in technology.

"It's planting trees alongside streams. It's putting up fences so animals can't get in waterways. It's using new effluent systems that divert nitrogen from the land. The possibilities for technology in the future are huge, and by backing them, New Zealand will get ahead of the rest of the world."

Despite the interest in children, motherhood and the environment, it would be wrong to think she's not National through-and-through.

Personal choice is one of the pillars of the National Party, one that allows it to exist as a "broad church" of diverging views, from the quite-conservative to the somewhat-liberal. It's an ideology Ms Willis believes in.

"Fundamentally, I believe in the power of individuals to shape their own lives. I'm really optimistic about what New Zealanders can achieve if we give them freedom and we give them choices. I believe in competitive enterprise," she says.

In case you were wondering, more than 40 students signed up to the blue team the day Ms Willis found out she'll be an MP.