By Dan Satherley
Rodney Hide has stepped down as leader of the ACT Party, paving the way for challenger Don Brash after days of mounting pressure and speculation.
Dr Brash will lead the party from outside Parliament, so its current MPs will keep their spots, including Mr Hide's ministerial posts.
Mr Hide announced his resignation at a press conference in the Auckland suburb Newmarket this afternoon, in the heart of the Epsom electorate he has represented since 2005.
Dr Brash has joined the party, and his leadership will be made official at a caucus meeting on Saturday.
"I am deeply honoured to have been asked by the ACT Party caucus to be their leader," said Dr Brash. "I very much hope I can live up to their expectations."
Mr Hide began the meeting with a lengthy list of reasons why he is proud of ACT's achievements to date.
"ACT is the only party that has the policies needed to achieve a free and prosperous future for New Zealand," said Mr Hide.
ACT owes its position in Parliament to Mr Hide's success in Epsom, and it is not known at this stage if he will contest it again in November. Dr Brash has expressed an interest in having former Auckland mayor John Banks run in the key electorate.
"It was ACT's success in 2008 Epsom that assured the change of Government," says Mr Hide. "If ACT had not succeeded in Epsom, Helen Clark would still be Prime Minister."
He said that ACT's job was not done however.
"The future success of New Zealand depends critically on ACT's success on November 26... I believe that Don Brash is the best person to lead ACT to success at this year's election."
And with those words, Mr Hide's reign as ACT leader effectively came to an end. He said Dr Brash has his support, and ACT, under Dr Brash, will continue to honour the party's confidence and supply agreement with National.
"There is no risk to the Government. As far as the Government is concerned, it's business as usual."
HIDE ADMITS FAILURES
Mr Hide also took time to acknowledge his failings as ACT leader.
"I have at times fallen short, and then I've always worked to put whatever mistake I've made right and never repeat it."
He thanked ACT's supporters and the people of Epsom, saying it was "such a privilege" to be their representative.
Dr Brash at one point said he would like to say a few words about Mr Hide, to which Mr Hide joked, "You might have said enough already."
Dr Brash talked about their 15-year friendship, and how Mr Hide had asked him to join the party in the past.
"Rodney has been a tireless member of the ACT caucus since 1996… he has consistently espoused the values for which ACT is best known – freedom, fairness, excellence, and those are the values for which he will be best remembered for.
"New Zealand owes him a considerable debt of gratitude."
ACT'S STRUGGLING REPUTATION
ACT and Mr Hide's reputations have taken a battering in the last year, with Mr Hide being exposed abusing Parliamentary perks, despite campaigning hard against their use, and law and order hardliner David Garrett admitting an assault conviction in Tonga and obtaining a fake passport in the identity of a dead baby.
3 News political editor says the situation will not be comfortable for the John Key-led Government.
"You've got that strange, and almost unsustainable relationship where you've got the dumped leader here inside Parliament, coming to Parliament every day, making statements, still attached to the John Key Government, and you've got Don Brash outside, making all sorts of similar comments as well."
Mr Garner says ACT will pick up some votes from National as a result of the leadership change.
BRASH VS THE GOVERNMENT
Dr Brash has taken a strong stand against the National Government in recent days, despite acknowledging ACT has no other potential coalition partners.
"I've been increasingly worried, over a number of months quite frankly, about where the country is going," he told Firstline's Rachel Smalley this morning.
"The Government's spending money, borrowing $300 million a week – that worries me greatly.
"The Government pledged to narrow the income gap between New Zealand and Australia – there's been no progress on that at all.
"They went into the election, indeed the last three elections, pledging one for all New Zealanders – and frankly we're not delivering that either.
"The ACT Party pledged to provide confidence and supply to the National Party through to the next election, and I wouldn't see that changing at all… but we will certainly be campaigning on issues that are vital to the country's future," said Dr Brash.
Prime Minister John Key has thus far refused to speculate on the situation, although he said yesterday he could not see any reason why Mr Hide would not be able to keep his ministerial roles if Dr Brash took over as leader.
United Future's Peter Dunne says the takeover will "horrify 19 out of 20" Kiwis.
"National will lead the next government," says Mr Dunne. "Labour is in meltdown and out of the game. There is only one question now – which party do New Zealanders want to be influence that government – Don Brash’s ACT driving them to the far right, the Maori Party pushing them to activism and race-based laws, or United Future keeping National anchored in the centre?”
Labour leader Phil Goff called a Key/Brash coalition an "extreme team" that will "hurt mainstream New Zealand".
"John Key has described Don Brash as an extremist. But he has also made it very clear that he is prepared to work with his former boss in a future Government. That would be a disaster for our country.
"We know what Don Brash stands for. He wants to slash the minimum wage by $100 a week – putting more New Zealanders into poverty. Superannuation would also be on his hit list.
"Don Brash wants savage cuts to Government spending, including health and education. Working for Families and interest-free student loans would be gone and there would be a wholesale sell-off of our valuable community-owned state assets.
"This is what Kiwis could expect under a Government led by John Key and Don Brash."
He says Labour will fight "tooth and nail" against the two parties.