Todd Muller hints at 'couple of changes' in upcoming caucus reshuffle as questions swirl on Māori representation

Paula Bennett's decision to retire from politics has thrown National's Māori representation back into the spotlight, but leader Todd Muller isn't feeling any pressure to bow to concerns.

Bennett, the former deputy leader sitting at 13 in the party's rankings, announced she would leave politics at the 2020 election. She was the highest-listed Māori MP and with her out of the rankings, the top Māori MP is now Dr Shane Reti at 17.

A lack of Māori representation in the party's upper echelons was highlighted early on in Muller's reign as leader, with no Māori MPs in the top 12.

Muller has promised a small reshuffle in the coming days and eyes are on whether Dr Reti, the party's tertiary education and associate health spokesperson, moves up the ranks. 

The AM Show host Duncan Garner said on Wednesday that Muller was under pressure "to do something on the Māori front", but if the leader suddenly promotes Dr Reti to the frontbench, it may look like "you have kowtowed to the do-gooders who want you to move people around based on some sort of quota".

"You are under a bit of pressure both ways here, I reckon," Garner said.

Muller told The AM Show: "I don't feel under pressure". 

"The frontbench is a number by the way, created by the media around here, which is the first 12 of your team... There will be no change to the top 12," he said.

"Clearly, with Paula, who was number 13, I have got to put somebody into that space. There might be a couple of changes, and you will hear from me shortly."

Muller said he looks at his team in terms of who would be in Cabinet, which is usually composed of 20 MPs. 

"Who are the people who are going to sit around that table in the Beehive from September 20 with a plan to deliver jobs and growth for the country? That's your Cabinet. That's your top talent. The fact of where they sit in Parliament in terms of the first 12 seats and the next eight seats, that's a construct of others. It doesn't drive my thinking and it never has."

He also mentioned that he had given the large Workplace Relations and Safety portfolio to 46th-ranked Māori MP Dan Bidois.

Muller said there is diversity throughout the party.

"Whenever this issue has come up over the last few weeks now, I have talked firstly to the diversity that already is in the National Party. We have got Maori MPs, Filipino, Pasifika, Indian, Chinese. We have a really diverse, talented party of 55."

After revealing the party rankings in May, Muller said National made decisions based on "merit" rather than ethnicity. His Māori Development spokesperson, Jo Hayes, wasn't impressed, however, telling Radio Waatea at the time that she would be speaking to the leader about the lack of Māori voices.

"This is not good. We need to remedy this or you need to front it and take it head-on and say why. You need to give a better explanation."

Under questioning about the lack of Māori MPs, deputy leader Nikki Kaye told media that fifth-ranked MP Paul Goldsmith was "obviously Ngāti Porou". Goldsmith later said he had connections to iwi, but wasn't Māori.