National MP Paula Bennett gave her final speech as an MP tonight, describing Parliament as a brutal and relentless place.

One of National's more colourful MPs, the avowed "Westie" became deputy prime minister under Bill English after Sir John Key resigned from Parliament in 2016.

She has had a love-affair with leopard-skin and even had a leopard-skin car.

"I'm far from perfect – I know that – but my intent, my heart, my integrity has meant I have slept well. This place is brutal, it will pick up the spade and bury you if you let it. It is relentless but we sign up knowing all of that. So I went hard and full on," Bennett said in her valedictory speech.

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Outgoing National MP for Upper Harbour Paula Bennett ready for her valedictory party in her office at Parliament. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Outgoing National MP for Upper Harbour Paula Bennett ready for her valedictory party in her office at Parliament. Photo / Mark Mitchell

Bennett entered Parliament in 2005 as a list MP then took the Waitakere seat from Labour in 2008 before the electorate disappeared and she went to Upper Harbour.

She has held 14 ministerial portfolios, including Social Development, Climate Change, and State Services.

She remained deputy leader of the National Party when Simon Bridges was elected leader in February 2018, and was deposed with him in May during the Todd Muller coup.

She shared her retirement plans with comedian Tom Sainsbury - who specialised in Bennett impersonations - before announcing it to Muller and did a farewell dance with him to post on social media.

Paula Bennett with flowers from then leader Simon Bridges, and other gifts she got for her 50th birthday last April. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Paula Bennett with flowers from then leader Simon Bridges, and other gifts she got for her 50th birthday last April. Photo / Mark Mitchell

Bennett made special mention in her speech of her former boss John Key, who, she said, "backed and believed in me".

"He didn't just open the door for me, he shoved a wedge in it to make sure it didn't whack me on the backside as I struggled through and occasionally tripped.

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"He kept giving me challenging portfolios and brought me into his kitchen cabinet. I responded well to his leadership style. You were never under any doubt of what he expected for New Zealand and what he expected you to deliver, but he then let you get on with it," she said.

The former sole parent said she had been inspired by other sole parents.

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"I understand how difficult it is to raise a child on your own and believe you don't have the experience or skills to enter the workforce. Those on welfare don't need sympathy, they need to be backed, encouraged and supported to plan their future and see a path off welfare dependency," said Bennett.

Referring to her days as Social Development Minister, Bennett said "we are currently taking backward steps – and that's before Covid".

 Paula Bennett in 2009 with her then new leopard print car. Photo / File
Paula Bennett in 2009 with her then new leopard print car. Photo / File

"Sympathy and kindness does not put food on the table or pay your bills. We need to understand dependency, we need to understand decades of despair and marginalisation that in too many people's lives turns to violence, welfare dependency and a pretty crappy life.

"But equally we have to be careful that understanding doesn't turn into an excuse and we lose our belief in people and their ability and any sense of self responsibility."

Bennett, who had a weight-loss operation in 2017, is planning to have a celebration after her valedictory speech, which, appropriately finished off with this line: "I end this chapter half the size but twice the woman thanks to this experience. I'm excited about the future and I wish you all well."