Bridges' reshuffle to load front bench with women

Simon Bridges talking with other National MPs in Parliament. Photo: Getty Images
Simon Bridges talking with other National MPs in Parliament. Photo: Getty Images

National leader Simon Bridges is planning a big facelift to his front bench, promoting women into three of the top five positions and nine into the top 20 - a stark contrast from the reign of middle aged men in the party.

Bridges will unveil his full reshuffle early next week and Judith Collins is expected to be the fourth-ranked MP after Bridges, his deputy Paula Bennett and new finance spokeswoman Amy Adams.

Amy Adams.
Amy Adams.
Auckland Central MP Nikki Kaye, who openly supported Adams in the leadership contest, is also understood to be in line for a promotion into the top 10. She is set to keep the education portfolio to go head-to-head against Education Minister Chris Hipkins.

Bridges had promised a "significant" reshuffle that included both new and old hands.

National has a lower proportion of women in its caucus than Labour but Bridges is set to outdo Labour when it comes to the positions given to those women.

Bridges announced Adams as his new finance spokeswoman yesterday - the first time a woman has held the portfolio in either Labour or National since Ruth Richardson was Minister of Finance from 1990 to 1993.

Adams said there was a tendency to steer women toward the social portfolios in politics but to her equality meant seeing women in roles such as finance and business.

Under former leader Bill English, Paula Bennett was the only woman in the top five and National had three women in its top ten – Bennett, Adams and Collins.

Paula Bennett
Paula Bennett
The reshuffle will see that increase to three in the top five and four or five in the top ten.
That compares to two women in Labour's top five and three in its top 10.

National is also set to have eight or nine in its top 20 compared to Labour's seven. That is expected to include newer female MPs such as Sarah Dowie and Barbara Kuriger.

Bridges would not be drawn on details but has already identified Todd Muller, Sarah Dowie and Stuart Smith as rising talent.

Yesterday he also mentioned Louise Upston and Barbara Kuriger and said the incoming MP Nicola Willis had a bright future in the caucus.

Bridges denied he was top-loading his front bench with women to try to counter Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, saying all were there on their own merits.

Judith Collins
Judith Collins
"We have formidable women in our team who are placed where they deserve to be."

However, he said the female vote was critical for National.

"If we want to retain our nearly one in two votes in the next election we need very strong female support. It will be crucial to our success."

He said earning that vote would largely come through strong policies, just as it did for men.

"I acknowledge there are always some issues that are of more specific interest to women than men, given the effect of them."

Those included the pay gap and pay equity as well as issues such as the number of women in senior positions.

Asked if Ardern made it harder to hold that vote, he said it was an age of personality politics "but come election time, people will hone in on the substance."

Nikki Kaye
Nikki Kaye
He considered himself a feminist: "Yes, because I want the same opportunities for my daughter as my sons."

The reshuffle is expected to bear dividends for others who took part in the leadership contest. While Steven Joyce will resign, Adams and Collins will benefit the most and Mark Mitchell is also likely to move to the front bench.

Mitchell withdrew at the last minute to spare Bridges having to go to a possible third round of voting.

Collins is an effective attack politician and is likely to get either economic development to pit her against David Parker and Shane Jones or against Phil Twyford in housing and urban development.

Others considered likely to be in the top 10 are Todd McClay and Jonathan Coleman, although Coleman is set to have a change from the health role, which could pass on to Michael Woodhouse.

Gerry Brownlee is set to lose although he could pick up his wish to be shadow leader of the House.

Scott Simpson is likely to keep the environment portfolio, an area Bridges has said he wants policy reform in.

The departures of Bill English and Steven Joyce will also see the number of women in National's caucus increase from 17 to 19 – about 34%.

Both were replaced by women, Maureen Pugh and Nicola Willis. The next on the list to come in is another woman: Agnes Loheni.

Labour has a higher proportion of women – its party rules require it to try to get a 50-50 split and it is at 46%.

Bridges said the women in his caucus were "talented and formidable" with strong careers before entering Parliament. "They're there because of their inherent merits and talent, because they deserve to be and not because of a quota or anything like that."

He said the former National Government had more women in its Cabinet than there were in Labour's.

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