Cabinet’s shelves not stocked from South

Otago and Southland have no representation in Cabinet for the first time in nearly 30 years, and the wider South Island is not doing much better.

The new government announced who got what portfolios yesterday, and it was revealed there was only one South Island-based minister inside Cabinet — Waimakariri MP Matt Doocey, who is Minister for Mental Health, ACC, Youth, and Tourism and Hospitality.

Meanwhile, there were no ministers inside Cabinet based south of the Waitaki, although Penny Simmonds, of Invercargill, is a minister outside Cabinet with the portfolios of Environment, Tertiary Education and Disability Issues.

This appears to be the first time since 1993 that the region south of Waitaki does not have representation in Cabinet.

Political scientist Dr Bryce Edwards called the situation "intriguing".

"Historically, there’s always been a strong intention to make sure geographies are incorporated.

"But of course there are other competing demographic issues, such as gender and ethnicity, that are weighing up in the audience’s minds — perhaps geography has fallen by the wayside."

Dr Edwards said it was surprising Ms Simmonds was not included in Cabinet, given Tertiary Education and Environment were usually seen as "weighty"portfolios.

"Does this mean the southern part of the South Island is going to be voiceless within the new coalition government? I think that is a very important question."

South Islanders should demand to be taken seriously, Dr Edwards said.

"There will need to be special attention given to these unrepresented areas.

"Someone like Ms Simmonds might have to be brought closer into Cabinet to ensure the South gets more weight."

National Invercargill MP Penny Simmonds.
Penny Simmonds. Photo: ODT files
Dr Edwards said there were no "rules" about how the Cabinet was made up, but as the coalition partners had all campaigned on the provinces being ignored by the previous government, it would be "tragic" to see neglect continue.

"But just because there are not that many South Islanders within Cabinet does not necessary mean it will be ignored — the government just needs to be extra mindful."

New Zealand First Otago-based list MP Mark Patterson is also a minister outside Cabinet, with the Rural Communities portfolio as well as being Associate Minister of Agriculture.

Mr Patterson said people should not "get too carried away with titles".

"Ms Simmonds is going to play a key role in government in ensuring the voice of the South gets heard. Neither of us will be standing back, I’ll definitely be banging down the door," he said.

Mr Patterson said he would advocate for major South Island projects to be funded through the $1.2 billion Regional Infrastructure Fund, which was part of National’s agreement with New Zealand First.

Ms Simmonds said National had several South Island electorate MPs who would work alongside ministers to ensure the South Island’s voice is heard.

"Everyone will be talking to each other," she said.

National was accused of neglecting Dunedin during the election campaign, after MP Michael Woodhouse announced his retirement after being given a lowly list ranking.

In a controversial exit interview, Mr Woodhouse said Dunedin had many important issues it needed local representation for, and the progress of the new Dunedin hospital needed local scrutiny.

Mr Woodhouse declined to comment yesterday.

National was also criticised over dropping out of The Press debate set to be held in Christchurch.