As for her weaknesses: “It’s that day-to-day management of what is essentially a big, fast-moving organisation that I think lets her down occasionally. Being able to lead a team and get the best out of each of them is something that maybe I’ve got more experience in.”
It sounds a lot like something someone gunning for the top job would say. But before you start thinking Bennett has designs on being the next Prime Minister, think again.
“At the beginning of my career, becoming Minister of Social Welfare was my goal. Now my goal is to do my absolute best for the country by working with my caucus colleagues, developing policy, and filling in for the leader.” She pauses, sensing, perhaps, that I’m unconvinced.
“I’m hands-on,” she continues.
“I like looking at the issues in detail and doing all the research, and working with great people to implement change. I’m not saying you can’t do that as Prime Minister, but you’re spread a lot thinner. So no, being the prime minister is not one of my goals.”
Her response is entirely predictable. After all, given the internal squabbling in the National Party triggered by former MP Jami-Lee Ross last year, it’s not like she’s going to say she’s eyeing her boss’s job. Fully aware that it’s the deputy’s job to keep the wheels turning, she comments that at times of crisis “you just prioritise work, to be quite blunt”.
And asked whether loyalty to the party has ever been a burden, she’s resolute.
“I’ve never had any sort of doubts about what we stand for, or what our values are. As with any workplace, there’s always going to be some good debates and there will always be people I disagree with. But you agree more often than not.”
Besides, the debates are fun, she says.
“That’s why we go into politics, because we’ve got opinions.”
The downside is when critiques get personal.
“You do sign up for that, so there’s no point complaining about it. And I don’t mind when people criticise something I’ve done or something I’ve said, but they sometimes forget that you’ve got a family and if things get nasty, they’re going to read all of that too.”
Bennett’s family members deal with her high-profile status in their own way. Husband Alan Philps, who she dated in her early 20s and then, after a separation of some 20 years, married in a low-key ceremony in Piha in 2012, is notoriously absent from her public life. It’s tempting to assume he is fiercely protective of his privacy, but Bennett says it’s much more straightforward than that.
“He doesn’t usually feel like sitting around at a fancy dinner and listening to me speak… again. He hears enough of me at home,” she laughs.
And daughter Ana, who was 18 when Bennett entered politics, will always see her as Mum first.
“You don’t change to them. You’re in the middle of something and a text comes through and it’s: ‘Have you seen my blue shirt?’ I’m in Wellington, I probably haven’t been home for two days, but what always got me is that I usually did know where it was!”
And Bennett’s own mother will still put her in her place. On the day she landed that prize-winning marlin, Bennett describes sitting on the back of the boat with waves going over her head.
“Everyone was sea sick – I threw up over the side at one stage.”
But when photos from her moment of victory came out, Bennett’s mum only had one comment.
“She couldn’t believe I was wearing a black bra under a white T-shirt. To be honest Mum, you might want to know I hadn’t showered that morning either!”
Perhaps she’ll appease her mother with more appropriate undergarments when she defends her fishing title in March. But given her unapologetic approach to fashion, I wouldn’t count on it..