New minister sees hospital as key issue

Incoming Health Minister Ayesha Verrall says the future of the new Dunedin Hospital project will be a major focus for her.

	Dr Ayesha Verrall, Minister for Seniors, Minister for Food Safety, Associate Minister of Health...
Incoming Health Minister Dr Ayesha Verrall. PHOTO: SUPPLIED
Dr Verrall was yesterday named as the new minister of health by Prime Minister Chris Hipkins, and she is well versed in health-care issues in Otago and Southland.

"I trained in Dunedin Hospital and I know the very important meaning it has for the Dunedin and wider community," she told the Otago Daily Times.

"I also know that the community is passionate about defending its health system. It is a very important project from the Government’s point of view and a very big spend that we need to deliver on.

"I will take the opportunity to be briefed and will then be in touch with the council and others who are raising concerns."

Dr Verrall, born in Invercargill and raised in Te Anau, is an infectious diseases specialist who lectured on the subject at the University of Otago before entering politics.

She entered Parliament on Labour’s list in 2020 and was immediately elevated to Cabinet rank, where she has recently been associate health minister and minister for Covid-19 response.

Mr Hipkins’ new line-up, which will be sworn in today, has five women and five men on the front bench. Two — Dr Verrall and Finance Minister Grant Robertson — are former presidents of the Otago University Students’ Association.

"That was one particular milestone that hadn’t crossed my mind but I’m very proud that that is the case," Dr Verrall said.

"I look back on my student time at Otago just being so formative in terms of giving me a sense that getting involved in the political process was worth it and that if you were involved that you could make a difference."

Other notable changes in Cabinet include Nanaia Mahuta losing the local government portfolio to Kieran McAnulty, Stuart Nash assuming police, Michael Wood rising up the rankings and taking on a new minister for Auckland portfolio, and Ginny Andersen and Barbara Edmonds reaching Cabinet rank.

Rino Tirikatene is now Dunedin’s senior government MP, after yesterday being made a minister outside Cabinet.

Mr Tirikatene, the MP for Te Tai Tonga, who moved to Dunedin a year ago, will become minister for courts, and also minister of state for trade and export growth.

The former lawyer who was an under-secretary for oceans and fisheries, and trade and export growth, outside former prime minister Jacinda Ardern’s Cabinet, said he was humbled and thrilled by his new role.

Mr Tirikatene was first elected to Parliament in 2011, the third person from the Tirikatene family to win what was once the Southern Maori seat.

Both his grandfather, Eruera, and aunt, Whetu, also became ministers in Labour governments, and he was honoured to be following in their footsteps.

"There are all sorts of emotions but I’m very excited about the roles and getting into the mahi," he said.

His former trade role had a particular focus on increasing Maori exports and he hoped to further that interest in his new role, Mr Tirikatene said.

"I’m very proud of that work and I certainly hope the programme that we built up can continue and complement the additional work I take on in that role and there is continuity in an area I am very passionate about."

Retiring Dunedin MP David Clark, as expected, moved to the backbench, while Dunedin first-termers Ingrid Leary and Rachel Brooking were not promoted.

Invercargill list MP Liz Craig retains her private secretary for health role.

Dr Clark, who will serve as Dunedin MP until the October 14 election, said he would advance local issues, including the new Dunedin Hospital.

Changing faces

On the up

 - Jan Tinetti. From 15 to 6 and takes on education.

 - Ayesha Verrall. First-term MP, now health minister and ranked 8.

 - Willie Jackson. Up to 9 from 14, retains significant influence.

On the slide

 - Andrew Little. From 7 to 13, senior minister but making way for new faces.

 - Nanaia Mahuta. From 9 to 16, loses local government.

 - Phil Twyford. Once a minister, now without a role.

Who’s doing what

The Cabinet

1. Chris Hipkins: Prime Minister, National Security and Intelligence, minister responsible for Ministerial Services.

2. Carmel Sepuloni: Deputy Prime Minister, Social Development and Employment, Arts, Culture and Heritage, associate Foreign Affairs (Pacific region).

3. Kelvin Davis: Maori Crown Relations: Te Arawhiti, Children, Corrections, associate Education (Maori Education).

4. Grant Robertson: Finance, Sport and Recreation, Leader of the House.

5. Megan Woods: Housing, Infrastructure, Energy and Resources, Building and Construction, associate Finance.

6. Jan Tinetti: Education, Women, Child Poverty Reduction.

7. Michael Wood: Immigration, Transport, Workplace Relations and Safety, Auckland , associate Finance.

8. Ayesha Verrall: Health, Research, Science and Innovation.

9. Willie Jackson: Broadcasting and Media, Maori Development, associate ACC, associate Social Development and Employment (Maori Employment).

10. Kiri Allan: Justice, Regional Development, associate Transport.

11. Stuart Nash: Economic Development, Forestry, Police, Oceans and Fisheries.

12. Damien O’Connor: Agriculture, Biosecurity, Land Information, Trade and Export Growth.

13. Andrew Little: Defence, Public Service, Treaty of Waitangi Negotiations, minister responsible for GCSB, NZSIS, lead co-ordination for the Government’s Response to the Royal Commission’s Report into the Terrorist Attack on the Christchurch Mosques.

14. David Parker: Attorney-General, Environment, Revenue, associate Finance.

15. Peeni Henare: ACC, Tourism, associate Environment, associate Health (Maori Health).

16. Nanaia Mahuta: Foreign Affairs, Disarmament and Arms Control, associate Maori Development.

17. Priyanca Radhakrishnan: Community and Voluntary Sector, Disability Issues, Diversity, Inclusion and Ethnic Communities, associate Social Development and Employment, associate Workplace Relations and Safety.

18. Kieran McAnulty: Emergency Management, Local Government, Racing, Rural Communities, deputy Leader of the House.

19. Ginny Andersen: Digital Economy and Communications, Seniors, Small Business, associate Immigration, associate Treaty of Waitangi Negotiations.

20. Barbara Edmonds: Internal Affairs, Pacific Peoples, associate Health (Pacific peoples), associate Housing.

Outside Cabinet

Meka Whaitiri: Customs, Food Safety, Veterans, associate Agriculture (animal welfare), associate Statistics.

Duncan Webb: Commerce and Consumer Affairs, State Owned Enterprises.

Willow-Jean Prime: Conservation, Youth, associate Arts, Culture and Heritage, associate Health.

Rino Tirikatene: Courts, Minister of State for Trade and Export Growth.

Deborah Russell: Statistics, associate Justice, associate Revenue, minister responsible for the Earthquake Commission.