Who is Nikki Kaye? National Party deputy, Auckland Central MP, breast cancer survivor

It has been a turbulent two months for former Opposition deputy leader Nikki Kaye, who confirmed on Thursday that she won't contest the upcoming election in a move described as "absolutely devastating" for the National Party

The Auckland Central MP's announcement comes just two days after former National leader Todd Muller's shock departure, following a mere 53-day tenure at the helm. The duo snatched the reins from predecessors Simon Bridges and Paula Bennett in a dramatic leadership coup in May, signalling the beginning of a new National after plummeting polls and murmurs of discontent from within the party ranks. 

Yet what followed has been nothing short of an exodus, with veteran MP Anne Tolley and ousted deputy Bennett announcing their retirements shortly after. On Tuesday night Papakura MP Judith Collins was elected by the caucus to the top spot, with Gerry Brownlee replacing Kaye as deputy. Following Kaye's announcement on Thursday morning, MP Amy Adams also announced she would be leaving Parliament behind. 

In her statement on Thursday, Kaye, 40, noted that her battle with breast cancer had taught her that "life can change in a moment" and she is prepared for her next chapter.

A look back at Nikki Kaye's 12-year career in Parliament

After kick-starting her political career in the Young Nationals, Auckland-born Kaye began working as a researcher for Bill English in the Leader of the Opposition office in 2002. With two degrees under her belt, Kaye had stints as both a policy officer in London and an IT project manager at the Halifax Bank of Scotland during her time abroad. 

In 2007, a 27-year-old Kaye returned to New Zealand to contest the National Party candidacy for the Auckland Central electorate. In 2008, Kaye entered Parliament as the electorate's MP after overthrowing Labour's Judith Tizard, becoming the first National MP to win Auckland Central in New Zealand history. She would take on - and defeat - future Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern twice.

Despite aligning with National's core principles, Kaye has frequently demonstrated support for more socially liberal policies and values. In 2012, she joined forces with the Greens' Kevin Hague to develop a Member's Bill that would legalise adoption by gay couples, which was introduced to Parliament that year. She also voted for MP Louisa Wall's Marriage (Definition of Marriage) Amendment Act 2013, which allowed same-sex couples to legally marry. 

Kaye has long shown advocacy for environmental matters, including opposing mining on conservation land - against her own party. As Auckland Central MP, Kaye has progressed projects including a conservation park for Great Barrier. 

In January 2013, Kaye was appointed to Cabinet by then-Prime Minister Sir John Key and was tasked with the Food Safety, Civil Defence and Youth Affairs portfolios. She was also made the Associate Minister of Education and Associate Minister of Immigration. Following the 2014 general election, Kaye was appointed as Minister for ACC and Minister for Youth. 

In 2016, Kaye took leave from Parliament and ministerial duties after being diagnosed with breast cancer. Following successful treatment, Kaye resumed her roles in early 2017. 

Under Sir Bill English's short stint as Prime Minister from December 2016 to October 2017, Kaye served as Education Minister for five months. She went on to retain the Auckland Central electorate in the 2017 election, and was given the spokesperson role for the education and sports and recreation portfolios in 2017 and 2018 respectively.

Nikki Kaye.
Nikki Kaye. Photo credit: Getty

Deputy Leader of the Opposition, May 22 - July 14

In early 2020, stirrings from within the National Party indicated a potential leadership coup was imminent following poor polling results. A Newshub-Reid Research poll released on May 18 showed both Labour and Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern's popularity had skyrocketed following the Government's globally-hailed COVID-19 response, with Labour scaling 14 percentage points to sit at 56.5. Conversely, National had slumped 12.7 percentage points to 30.6, while former Opposition leader Simon Bridges' preferred Prime Minister rating had dropped to just 4.5 - in comparison to Ardern's 59.5.

Following intense media speculation, it was confirmed that Muller intended to challenge Bridges for the leadership role. In an emergency caucus meeting on May 22, Muller and Kaye took the top spots in the party ranks, successfully ousting both Bridges and former deputy Bennett. 

Yet within her first week as deputy, Kaye came under fire for describing Pakeha MP Paul Goldsmith as Māori in an attempt to defend the diversity of Muller's front bench. It was a claim that would plague Muller throughout much of his short tenure as Opposition leader, with The Hui's Mihingarangi Forbes pointedly calling out Muller's lack of engagement with Māori media as well as the minimal diversity in his shadow Cabinet.

On July 2, Kaye went on to assume the women's portfolio after Bennett confirmed she would not be contesting in this year's election.

Following Muller's resignation on Tuesday, Kaye became acting Opposition leader for several hours before Collins was elected to the role.

In her resignation announcement on Thursday, Kaye said she is "ready to retire".

"I made the decision not to stand for leader or deputy on Monday and I offered my support to Judith prior to the caucus vote. While Judith made it clear to me that I would be part of her senior leadership team and education spokesperson, I am ready to retire," she said.

"I believe Judith is absolutely the right leader for the party at this time and I will be supporting Judith and the party to win this election. New Zealand needs National."

Kaye said she had "huge respect and admiration for Todd, Michelle [his wife] and their family as they work through this difficult time" and hoped New Zealanders would "continue to show compassion for Todd".

"I have spent most of my adult life serving the public and the National Party. This is personally the right time for me to leave. Cancer has taught me that life can change in a moment and I am ready for the next chapter.

"As the first National MP to win Auckland Central in our country's history it has been an absolute privilege to serve four terms. I have loved being a local MP progressing projects such as a conservation park for Great Barrier, a number of local school redevelopments, the City Rail Link and apartment law reform. 

"I never forget the compassion showed to me by the people of New Zealand when I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I am grateful for all the opportunities the National Party and our great country has provided me."

In a statement issued on Thursday, Debbie Swanwick, the director of child advocacy group Ministry for Families, commended Kaye for her "tireless work" around child protection.

"Having worked around politicians for most of my life I have never met a politician more dedicated to her work than Nikki Kaye. Her commitment to helping our agency protect children and deal with Government departments to deliver justice for them has been inspiring," Swanwick said.

Minister for Women Julie Anne Genter, Minister of Conservation and Land Information Eugenie Sage and Green Party MP Chlöe Swarbrick have tweeted their support for Kaye following her announcement.

"We were in different parties and probably disagreed on quite a few policies, but I know you were there for the right reasons and I wish you all the best post-politics," Genter wrote.

"All the best to Nikki Kaye in whatever she decides to set her mind to next. Talking to community across Auckland Central, it’s clear she’s been a hard-working local MP. Nothing can ever be taken for granted in politics, and leaving on one’s own terms is a powerful decision," Swarbrick said.