National Party MP Simon Bridges is quitting politics and will step down as an MP in the next few weeks.
Bridges announced his decision after telling fellow MPs in caucus this morning.
At a press conference this afternoon, a visibly emotional Bridges said it had been a great privilege and he loved every minute of being an MP, through to a minister and leading the National Party.
"But it is time."
He had been a member of the party for 30 years and said he believed in leader Christopher Luxon.
Now it was time for him to explore significant commercial opportunities and maybe a media project.
Bridges said it was "too early" to say if he'd been offered another job.
But first and foremost he was a husband and a father. At age 45, he said he was looking forward to his best years and spending more time with his children.
The finance role was one of the more significant, so Bridges said he felt he owed it to Luxon and the party to give them some time to prepare ahead of the 2023 election.
Asked why he was stepping down now when National was starting to do well, Bridges said there was never a good time but the party had "wind in its sails".
"I still love it. Even the bad times have been good.
"There are things about this place I will miss. But what is also true is for me at 45, 14 years in Parliament, it is a good time for National, good time for my family, good time for me."
He said there were highs and lows but he would not swap anything in his political career.
Asked if there was anything else behind the resignation, Bridges said there was not, and if there was he would "probably tough it out and stay". It was a "uniquely personal" decision.
On the prospect of Winston Peters returning to compete in Tauranga, which NZ First previously held, Bridges said he felt quietly confident for National.
Asked about how he'd served Māori, Bridges said he was MP for Tauranga, not a Māori seat, and he aimed to offer the best service to whoever walked in as a constituent. But he was proud to have been the first Māori leader of one of the two major parties.
'I have huge respect for him': Luxon pays tribute
National leader Christopher Luxon said Bridges was "a pretty special individual" who had worked hard for National and the people of Tauranga.
He said Bridges' made a big contribution as transport minister, which was when Luxon got to know him.
"As I got to know him we became good friends.
"He's been a great champion on the cost of living crisis. It will be sad to see him go, he's been a trusted confidante for some time and a friend."
He said it was a decision Bridges had made for himself - he understood how Bridges felt, saying when his children were young he had felt the same. He also pointed to Simon Power, who had quit at about the same stage with a young family.
Luxon said Bridges had only told him of his decision this week.
"Ultimately this is a decision for Simon, I respect that."
Luxon said he had "interrogated" Bridges on his decision, but Bridges had made up his mind and he understood the considerations Bridges had taken into account.
He said he and Bridges had often talked about life within and outside politics.
"I have huge respect for him. Modern day politics is quite full on. He's been here 14 years, he's given it everything and he's made the call that is right for him."
He said he would announce who replaced Bridges as finance spokesperson tomorrow.
Luxon said he had a "clear idea" who would take over, but would not be announcing it today so the focus was on Bridges.
"I have no qualms that I will be able to find an outstanding finance spokesperson."
He said there was "absolutely" no scandal in Bridges' decision.
On the byelection, Luxon said National would get a good candidate - it already had people putting their hands up for 2023.
When asked about the low number of Maori MPs within National, Luxon said part of his job was to ensure a diverse group of candidates at the next election.
Asked if he was confident about holding the Tauranga seat, he said he was not worried about that.
"We are going to put a great candidate up and we are going to win."
'Life moves on'
In an exclusive interview with the NZ Herald ahead of his announcement, Bridges said he made his final decision over the last week after thinking about it for some time.
It is the first big surprise for Luxon less than four months after he took over as leader, giving Bridges the third ranking in his caucus and the critical finance portfolio.
Bridges said it was not because of his failed attempt to secure the party leadership again last year and he believed the party stood a good chance of winning the election in 2023 under Luxon's leadership.
"Life moves on. I leave National in great heart and with momentum for the first time in a while. I think Chris Luxon will make a great Prime Minister."
He had told Luxon of his decision "recently".
"With matters of the heart like this it's best to keep them quiet until you are absolutely certain about what you are doing. But we have had a number of discussions and it's fair to say I don't think Chris will have been entirely surprised."
He said there was no scandal involved in his decision. He would be exploring commercial opportunities "and maybe a media project or two".
"But first and foremost I'm a husband to Natalie, I'm a dad to Emlyn, Harry and Jemima and this week my oldest two turn 10 and 8. I am 45 years old and after 14 years in Parliament, I can give the best of me to them."
He had been considering his future and talking to his family for a while.
"They are not decisions you make overnight.
"It's been a great privilege being MP for Tauranga, a senior minister and Leader of the Opposition. I've had so many highlights. But it's time. It's a good time for National, for the first time in a long time National has got real momentum and I'm really proud to have played a significant role in getting it back in the hunt for election 2023."
His decision will come as a blow to Luxon who now has to fill the crucial finance portfolio and loses Bridges' political experience.
"My view is, as my mother-in-law said to me, in the end we are all just bubbles on the water. And what happens is one person goes and other great people step up and grow into the roles. I'm sure that will happen here," Bridges said.
Asked he believed other former leaders in the caucus – Judith Collins and Todd Muller - should follow his lead to give Luxon clear air, he said "not necessarily".
"My decision isn't really about National, it's about me, my family and the future."
Bridges' departure will spark a byelection in the Tauranga electorate, a safe National seat where Bridges has been MP since 2008. He would talk to Speaker Trevor Mallard about the timing of his departure, but it would be "in coming weeks".
"I've loved it all from things like helping a couple with surrogacy issues and watching their child grow through to the big stuff, being the first minister for space, roads, bridges, trains, you name it."
After Bridges' announcement, Luxon thanked Bridges for his "immense contribution to building a better New Zealand".
"Simon has been an absolute champion for Tauranga, for New Zealanders and for the National Party over his 14-year career in Parliament. He was an excellent local MP, Minister, Leader of the National Party and colleague.
"As Transport Minister, Simon relentlessly pushed for upgrades to core infrastructure to drive productivity and help Kiwis get from A to B faster and safer. New Zealanders have Simon to thank for many of our improved state highways, which will be part of his lasting legacy."
Most recently as Opposition finance spokesman, Luxon said he had been "holding Labour to account for a cost of living crisis that is taking Kiwis backwards".
"Most importantly for me, since I became Leader Simon has been a trusted adviser and confidant. I am going to personally miss his contribution to the National Party caucus.
"I want to pay tribute to Simon's relentless efforts to make New Zealand a better place – and also thank Natalie, Emlyn, Harry and Jemima for letting their husband and dad spend so much time away from home to help achieve that goal.
"Simon, go well. I wish you the very best."
Bridges first became a minister under then PM Sir John Key in 2014, serving stints as Minister of Transport, Economic Development and Communications.
Bridges was leader of the National Party from February 2018 until May 2020, when Todd Muller rolled him.
He was chosen to replace Sir Bill English after National went into Opposition. Bridges managed to keep his party's polling in the 40s against the new Labour – NZ First government until Covid-19 came along in 2019.
Bridges' prosecution of the Government's response to Covid-19 came in for criticism and his personal popularity plummeted as well as National's support, triggering the challenge by Muller and Nikki Kaye.
It sparked a dire time for the National Party. Muller stepped down after 53 days on mental health grounds and Judith Collins became the leader, taking the party to an election result of just 25.6 per cent.
The party was then wracked by in-fighting and speculation Bridges was about to challenge Collins as leader rose. In late November last year, Collins sealed her own fate by trying to demote Bridges over an off-colour remark he had made to fellow MP Jacqui Dean several years ago - a move that saw caucus move a no-confidence vote in her.
Bridges then announced he would contest the leadership, but ceded to Luxon on the day of the vote after realising he did not have the numbers to win.