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'Don't just look at the colour of people's skin' - Bennett defends National's largely white front bench

Paula Bennett is defending National's largely white front bench after its reshuffle pushed her back down the rankings.

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In the National Party reshuffle, Ms Bennett dropped from being ranked at two to 13, and is the highest ranked Māori member. Source: Breakfast

Ms Bennett, now dropped from two to 13 in National’s rankings, is the nearest to the top Māori member in the party.

She was demoted after Bay of Plenty MP Todd Muller rolled Simon Bridges, taking over as National Party leader on Friday after staging a coup. Nikki Kaye took over her role as deputy leader.

However, despite dropping back so far in a party reshuffle, Ms Bennett appeared on TVNZ1's Breakfast today defending National after criticisms it was not diverse.

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Amy Adams has backtracked about retiring and will play a critical role while Simon Bridges will stay on. Source: 1 NEWS

"You are drawing the line at 12, front bench is considered 13 so I would argue I am on front bench," she told Breakfast host Jenny-May Clarkson.

"I would hope that the message that I send out there is that, you know, 17-year-old, uneducated solo mum can actually grab amazing opportunities in this country and I think the National Party and the National Government have given me those sorts of opportunities."

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Ms Bennett also added that being an advocate for minorities wasn't limited to skin colour.

"It sounds like no one can represent Māori except Māori, and I would say that this front bench is so full of aspiration and drive for all New Zealanders and for Māori, and increasingly Māori because we want to see them have the kind of aspirations and opportunities that should be there.

"As we know, it is unequal and so don't just look at the colour of people's skin that are in that front bench, look at what they want to aspire for all New Zealanders."

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Mr Muller rolled former leader Simon Bridges last week. Source: Q+A

Ms Bennett also cited Treaty settlements, funding into Whānau Ora and working with the Māori Party and said it "shows the strength of the National Party and how much we do support all New Zealanders".

However, NZ First MP Shane Jones, also appearing on Breakfast, said he doesn't buy it.

"Things have changed in New Zealand," he said, compared to when he grew up.

"There are more voices and faces. I'm a great believer in merit, but at the same time if you're in the business of trying to attract voters, whether it's a gender issue or a diversity issue, voters like to see little bit of themselves, which is why I'm very popular in certain corners because the ordinary person is flawed.

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Today’s coup came after disastrous results for the party. Source: 1 NEWS

"A lot of people come into politics. You hope they're a mirror image of your society."

Mr Jones also credited minority ministers in politics, even his opponents.

"I do feel some aroha for [National MP] Alfred Ngaro [who is ranked at number 20]," he said.

"I think he's been a loyal and hard working member and he is erode into a community that historically have not been strong political participants.

"I do think that they missed a trick by not acknowledging the obvious education and qualities of Dr Shane Reti [who is ranked at 17]. Although he's my political competition … quite frankly, I believe he'd be a better health minister in terms of robustness and information than the chap from Dunedin."

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Ms Bennett was stripped of her deputy leader title on Friday after she and former leader Simon Bridges were rolled by Todd Muller and Nikki Kaye. Source: Breakfast