The first Cabinet reshuffle of the year has provided
Prime Minister John Key with an opportunity to show the voters
of New Zealand that he remains in charge of his Cabinet and is
prepared to take some hard decisions.
National was in danger of floundering this year if Mr Key
failed to act now. He had two opportunities this year to
promote MPs into the inner circle and to reallocate
The decision appointing Economic Development Minister Steven
Joyce to take on the responsibility of fixing the beleaguered
Novopay as quickly as possible, while retaining Education
Minister Hekia Parata at No 7 in ranking indicates several
things that need to be carefully considered.
Mr Joyce, although ranked fourth in Cabinet, has quickly
become the fix-it man for Mr Key. The two enjoy a close
relationship after Mr Joyce, also a self-made millionaire,
successfully oversaw two election campaigns for the Prime
Minister. If Mrs Parata, and her former associate Craig Foss
- the man to carry the blame for the botched introduction of
the pay system for teachers - had the courage to step up and
sort out the problems before Christmas, Mr Joyce would not
have been called upon.
Secondly, Mrs Parata was long-touted as a future National
Party leader but her star started to wane after several bad
calls, then backdowns over Christchurch schools, and their
proposed mergers, and other school closures proposed but not
implemented because of opposition ranging through to court
action. Mr Key needs a Maori MP at the top of the party list
and Mrs Parata, also known as Hekia Lady Gardiner if she
chooses, provides the mana necessary to keep National looking
and sounding like a multi-cultural party.
Mr Key sacked Phil Heatley and Kate Wilkinson from Cabinet.
Mr Heatley had left previously over an expenses issue but was
rehabilitated. His performance as housing minister was not
strong and Labour was allowed to snatch the initiative on
affordable housing. Ms Wilkinson, who finally won Waimakariri
off Labour at the last election, pays the price for the Pike
River tragedy and her basically ineffectual performance as
Although unusual for electorate MPs to be dumped as ministers
unless they had committed major gaffes, Mr Key has replaced
them in the Cabinet line-up with Nikki Kaye (Auckland
Central) and Simon Bridges (Tauranga). Ms Kaye held off
Labour star Jacinda Ardern and Mr Bridges substantially
increased his margin at the last election. Their younger
faces will be welcomed by the voting demographic they
As expected, Dr Nick Smith returns to Cabinet as Housing and
Conservation Minister. His analy- tical brain has been sorely
missed around the table and he will be anxious to get started
in his new roles.
It is worth considering where the priorities of the new
Cabinet now lie. Undoubtedly, the focus is on business and
commerce with Mr Key, Finance Minister Bill English,
Canterbury Earthquake Minister Gerry Brownlee and Mr Joyce
clearly involved in the rebuilding of Christchurch and the
floating of state-owned assets. Tony Ryall remains State
Owned Enterprises Minister but it is Messrs English and Joyce
making the hard calls on the prospect of sales.
With former primary industries minister David Carter stepping
down to become Speaker, primary industries slips down the
list to 16. The Labour Ministry goes down further to 22.
National has long been seen as the party for and of farmers.
That is no longer true. Labour relations take a back seat to
the wishes of business.
A wild card in the middle of the year could be the departure
of Trade Minister, and list MP, Tim Groser, who is seeking a
World Trade Organisation posting, with the support of Mr Key.
If he leaves, Mr Key will have another opportunity to promote
someone new and that is likely to be Dunedin list MP Michael
Woodhouse, who is now a minister outside of Cabinet.
By December, Mr Key will be thinking about the MPs he wants
as the public face of National leading into the 2014
election. To win a third term, Mr Key will need to convince
voters the mistakes of last year are behind the Government
for good. The reshuffle yesterday was the first step in that