Health Minister Tony Ryall, ranked fifth in the Cabinet, was thrust into the leadership hotseat last week as senior ministers flew to Australia for high-level talks. Here are his Unauthenticated Diaries - 56 hours in the life of an Acting Prime Minister.
I do some preparatory work for my gig as Acting Prime Minister tomorrow by watching a 60 Minutes programme on John Key to see what is expected of me. So much responsibility, so much to remember.
I write up a guide to being a good Prime Minister: Say "fantastic" and "way cool" a lot, ring Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd regularly, be nice about Bill English, pretend I go running regularly.
Question Time and only two hours before I am elevated from fifth in Cabinet to the top - the Acting Prime Minister. Bill English still holds the title officially, but he's in the departure lounge, where he's not much use to Queen and Country.
The soon-to-be acting First Lady has come to Parliament to see me answer questions on the real Prime Minister's behalf. I've told her the Prime Minister has a reputation for being a bit of a card, so whenever I touch my finger to my nose it's a cue for her to laugh. She does her duty admirably. The others in the House seem to miss it, though.
I talk to the media, who seem to think it's all a bit of a joke. I tell them I've wanted to be Acting Prime Minister since I was 11 years old. I splashed out on a new shirt/tie combo - the shirt has vertical black and white stripes and is symbolic of my awareness of the need to be as straight up and down as the real Prime Minister is. The tie is pink with dots and I just liked it.
This is not an easy time to be in charge of running the country. Rodney Hide has threatened to resign his post if Maori seats are put on the Auckland Council and some dill has leaked it to the press. No advice yet from Key on whether I should accept his resignation.
Labour is very excited about it. I pull out the old lines about consultation and strong leadership and relationships and no decisions being made yet. Much better success as Health Minister - managed to gloat about the increase in elective surgery and Rodney Hide comes in and announces he's had oral surgery - a nice human face to illustrate my case.
Wake up and check the papers for coverage of my stellar performance. Nothing, other than in the local rag. The real Prime Minister keeps stealing my thunder by making announcements and taking media calls from overseas. He even gets the photo-op shot in some silly tie-swapping schoolboy bet with Rudd over the rugby. I'm wasting my time.
My local party supporters were thrilled to have cocktails with the Acting Prime Minister at a party fundraiser. I reckon it hauled in at least $500. The folks at Tauranga's Bay of Plenty Clinical School weren't so pleased - they bowled up all a-flutter, expecting to meet Bill English. Must remember No3 in my guide to being a good Prime Minister.
The kids want a puppy. We go to the pet shop and I look to see if a squeaky dog toy has been made in my likeness yet.
Wake up and check the papers for coverage of myself. Nothing, beyond some sniping about the Minister of Health.
Nothing in the acting prime ministerial diary so I wander the streets of my electorate - hope everyone notices my bodyguards.
Watch the rugby on telly at home with the Acting First Lady. They show the Prime Minister in the audience, sitting next to the Aussie Prime Minister. Explains why Rudd hasn't returned my calls yet. Just before midnight I'm woken by the screech of tyres in the driveway. It's the Diplomatic Protection Squad leaving. Bill must be back. I feel a great weight lift from my shoulders.
This diary is only partially based on real events.