Shifting the furniture

Sometimes it’s good just to move the furniture around a little and change the scenery.

How about dragging that couch over there? Would that table look better in the corner?

And, while you are at it, what about that old Cabinet?

Any such rejig of the pieces can be major or minor. And a few new fixtures and fittings always go down well too.

Making the effort to spruce things up can lift the spirits, refresh the look of the place and make it appear new when perhaps only a small amount of it actually is. As they say, a change is as good as a rest.

A frisson of excitement rippled around the country on Monday when news broke that Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern was about to announce a Cabinet reshuffle.

The anticipation was somewhat dampened down when the next announcement said it would only be a minor restructuring. Many Kiwis just went back to work, knowing the outcomes would probably have little effect on their day-to-day lives.

Ms Ardern said the reshuffle was sparked by the imminent departures of Speaker of the House Trevor Mallard and Immigration and Justice Minister Kris Faafoi.

Mr Faafoi had told her at the last election he wanted to leave politics, but she had convinced him to stay on for at least another year, the prime minister said.

The increasingly under-pressure Mr Mallard has been appointed to a diplomatic role in Europe, with details yet to be released, after he steps down in mid-August. In recent months the calls for him to resign as Speaker have been getting louder.

Mr Faafoi is leaving to spend more time with his family, an admirable move. His performance has been a little variable but generally he has been a solid performer and a key member of Ms Ardern’s Cabinet.

However, even Mr Mallard’s much-called for departure seems to be causing controversy. Former deputy prime minister and NZ First leader Winston Peters is hinting strongly there may be more to him standing aside, including Mr Peters threatening him with legal action over trespassing him from Parliament after attending the anti-mandate protests.

Mr Peters has been joined by former United Future leader Peter Dunne in saying Mr Mallard is totally unsuited to any diplomatic job representing New Zealand after some of his actions.

The harshest criticism from Ms Ardern seems to have been reserved for Poto Williams, the only minister to be demoted. She has lost the police portfolio hot on the heels of a rise in ram-raid crime and gang warfare, and amid rising concern she has been too soft on lawlessness.

The prime minister said Ms Williams had lost "focus" in the role, a rather euphemistic way of pointing out her ineffectiveness, and has sent her off to the great outdoors as new conservation minister.

The Government’s most reliable slip-catcher, Chris Hipkins, gets a break from responding to Covid-19 and becomes police minister instead, passing on the Covid job to his former associate, infectious diseases physician Ayesha Verrall.

What a good move this is. Dr Verrall is an expert in this area and, despite some apparent nervousness when presenting, we can rest-assured she knows what she is talking about.

Almost as importantly, Dr Verrall has also picked up the research, science and innovation portfolio from Megan Woods, who has kick-started a crucial restructuring of our science sector but who otherwise never showed a great deal of enthusiasm to get really involved in this area.

Perhaps one missed opportunity is moving Andrew Little on from health. For a government which sells itself as caring and encourages kindness, there must be a more empathetic health minister than Mr Little, surely?

Whether this will be the only reshuffle before next year’s election is difficult to know. But at least the furniture has been shifted a bit, the doilies are neatly in place and the duster has been put round.