Front bench `freshened up' - Key

John Key has not only "freshened up'' National's front bench, as he put it at a press conference this afternoon, he has modernised it.

When Parliament resumes next week for the first time since the election, National's front bench will have three women out of the nine MPs, and two of them are Maori: new Education Minister Hekia Parata, and Social Development Minister Paula Bennett.

Gender and ethnic considerations have not been that important to National in the past.

They are becoming more so - as the growing diversity in its list under MMP also suggests.

That is not to say that Parata and Bennett have not been promoted on merit.

They performed very well for National last term, with Parata gaining the biggest promotion from No 20 in the last cabinet to No 7 this time and landing the huge responsibility of Education.

Education unions traditionally clash with the National education minister after a Labour government has been ejected from office _ Merv Wellington, Lockwood Smith and now Anne Tolley.

Parata can expect an easier time, partly because Tolley has already done the bulldozing work on national standards. And the most controversial policy this term, charter schools, will probably affect very few schools.

Key has tried to soften the blow for Tolley over her demotion from the front bench with a couple of high-profile portfolios in Police and Corrections and the role of Deputy Leader of the House to Gerry Brownlee.

Nick Smith has been shifted back from No 6 to No 10 to make room for a younger political generation. Fellow member of the Brat Pack, Tony Ryall, has held his front bench position but has had a slight demotion.

The Health Minister has done nothing in particular to deserve a demotion from 5 to No 6 and been widely praised for his handling of the portfolio.

But Judith Collins has been bumped just ahead of him.

Her promotion breaks up an otherwise consecutive run of men in the top five.

Ryall was elected in 1990 and is unlikely to go further. Collins being elected in 2002 is modern National and could go further in the future.


- Audrey Young, NZ Herald


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