Todd Michael Muller (/ˈmʌlər/; born 23 December 1968) is a New Zealand politician who served as the Leader of the New Zealand National Party and the Leader of the Opposition from 22 May to 14 July 2020. He entered Parliament at the 2014 general election as the MP for Bay of Plenty.
Muller was born in Te Aroha on 23 December 1968, and was raised in Te Puna, where his parents started a kiwifruit orchard. He attended St Josephs, Te Puna primary school and Tauranga Boys' College.
He studied English, history and politics at the University of Waikato and graduated with a master's degree.
Career before politics
Muller joined the New Zealand National Party in 1989. From 1994 to 1997 he served as Executive Assistant to Jim Bolger during his second term as Prime Minister.
Muller started his corporate career working for kiwifruit company Zespri as Industry Relations Manager from 2001 to 2003. He lists his CV as including the role of GM Corporate and Grower Services from 2003 to 2006, followed by a move to the position of CEO at Apata Ltd in January 2006. Apata, a Bay of Plenty company specialising in post-harvest operations, was founded by his father and others in 1983. From June 2011 to June 2014 he served as a director of Crown Research Institute, Plant and Food Research, the New Zealand-based science company providing research and development that adds value to fruit, vegetable, crop and food products. From August 2012 until June 2014, Muller served as a director of Sustainable Business Council NZ, a CEO-led group of companies that catalyses the New Zealand business community to have a leading role in creating a sustainable future for business, society and the environment. He served as a co-opted Waikato University councillor from October 2007 to June 2014.
Muller started work at dairy company Fonterra as Manager of Local Government and Regional Relations from February 2011 to May 2012. He then became Group Director of Co-operative Affairs from May 2012 until June 2014, when he left the company to campaign for the 2014 general election after being selected as the National Party candidate for the Bay of Plenty electorate.
|New Zealand Parliament|
|2014–2017||51st||Bay of Plenty||59||National|
|2017–present||52nd||Bay of Plenty||43||National|
Muller became a Member of Parliament in 2014. He was selected to replace Tony Ryall in 2014 as National's candidate in the Bay of Plenty electorate, and won with 61% of the vote. He won the electorate again in 2017.
During his time in Parliament Muller has served as the chairperson of the Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Select Committee, and as the deputy chairperson of the Education and Science Select Committee. As of February 2020 he was the Opposition spokesperson for agriculture, biosecurity, food safety, and forestry, and sits on the Primary Production Select Committee.
During his time in Opposition he was given the task of working with the Government on its Zero Carbon Bill. National ended up supporting the bill, with some caveats. Muller's work on the bill earned him respect from across the House.
In November 2019, Muller heckled Green MP Chlöe Swarbrick during her speech on climate change. Swarbrick quickly retorted "OK boomer". Although there was little reaction to her comment in Parliament, her two-word throwaway remark became a talking point in media around the world.
In December 2019, Muller criticised a Te Papa exhibition in which displayed bottles of water dyed brown representing farm streams, describing it as "part of the museum's continued attacks on New Zealand's farmers".
2020 National leadership contest
In May 2020, Muller challenged the incumbent National Party leader Simon Bridges for the leadership on a joint ticket with Auckland Central MP Nikki Kaye. The reasons cited were poll results in a Newshub Reid Research Poll. The day prior to the challenge, he had publicly denied having leadership ambitions and supported Bridges despite a media endorsement from Jim Bolger. A One News Colmar Brunton poll released the evening before the coup had Muller on 0.2% preferred prime minister compared to Jacinda Ardern on 63%.
Muller won the resulting coup on 22 May 2020 with more than 29 votes cast for him. The party's caucus was said to be evenly divided over whether the leadership change was the correct course of action. Senior MP Anne Tolley was among those who spoke out in opposition to Muller's leadership challenge, calling it "nutty stuff", and retiring shortly thereafter. Another National MP, speaking to media on the condition of anonymity, described Muller in contrast to Bridges as a "pale stale male".
Leader of the Opposition (May–July 2020)
Muller announced his shadow cabinet on 25 May, with senior caucus member Amy Adams announcing she was reversing her previously announced decision to retire. Muller stated former leader Simon Bridges was offered a shadow ministerial role but declined, saying he was taking time to consider his future. Bridges quickly stated he was taking "time out" and would stand and help win the next election. National MP Jo Hayes criticised Muller for the lack of ethnic diversity present in the new frontbench, telling media "This is not good. We need to remedy this or you [the party leadership] need to front it and take it head on and say why. You need to give a better explanation." On the same day, Newshub reported that several National MPs were already leaking to media against Muller and his deputy Nikki Kaye, four days after the leadership change had occurred.
On 27 May, another leak against the leadership was made to Newshub claiming the campaign chair, Gerry Brownlee, had set up an "intelligence unit" to find negative information on political opponents. Brownlee said the leaks were "disappointing", untrue, and had come from "bitter backers" of former leader Simon Bridges. As a result of the leaks to media, inability to fend off criticism over his 'Make America Great Again' cap display, and allegedly poor television interview performances, Muller received criticism from commentators traditionally supportive of the National Party including Mark Richardson. Fellow conservative commentator Mike Hosking opined in his New Zealand Herald column that "Todd Muller's first full day out including Parliament was little short of a disaster."
New Zealand First, who had been relentless critics of Bridges and who Bridges had ruled out as coalition partners in any future government warmed to the new leader. MP Shane Jones said that "I don't know if he's a beach boy but I do sense coming from [him], good vibrations in contrast to Paula and Simon"
Muller resigned on 14 July 2020, stating, "I am not the best person to be Leader of the Opposition and Leader of the New Zealand National Party at this critical time for New Zealand" and that the role has had a negative impact on his health. At just 53 days, Muller is the shortest serving leader of any political party represented in Parliament in New Zealand's history.
Muller takes a socially conservative position on issues such as abortion, euthanasia and drug liberalisation.
He has called for greater action on climate change, having worked with Ardern's government on the Zero Carbon Bill.
After his election as leader, he received attention for his intention to display a 'Make America Great Again' cap in his Parliamentary office as part of a collection of American political memorabilia, with a Muslim community leader calling on him to leave it at home. Muller responded that he was "very comfortable" including it in his collection and that he hoped people would understand the context of the display. He later changed his mind and decided to leave it undisplayed. When pressed on whether he would prefer to see Donald Trump or Joe Biden in the presidency, Muller only stated that he believed Trump's Democratic opponent was better at delivering speeches. He is an admirer of American politics.
Muller and his wife Michelle have three children. Muller is Catholic.