Bill English took a mostly conservative approach in naming his first cabinet today, laying out a path to the election in the second half of the year with the least disruption, the most continuity and the fewest possible sources of unhappiness in and around the backbenches.
The reshuffle removes the prospect of an awkward by-election in East Coast Bays and bumps potential caucus challenger Judith Collins down the ranking without completely banishing her to the back-benches. It is also incomplete in the longer term, given English chose not to replace the retiring Murray McCully and Hekia Parata now. Instead, they will go on May 1. McCully's replacement was not named, while English said a recovering Nikki Kaye was in line for the Education portfolio.
But there are some significant winners and losers in the new ministerial list.
The winners are...
Amy Adams and Simon Bridges have clearly been marked out as key players in English's thinking. Adams was named Minister of Social Housing and Housing NZ Corp, and given the new role of Social Investment, a task close to English's heart. Her cabinet ranking was unchanged at 6, but she also retained Justice and the Courts, giving her bigger role closer to the heart of Government. Bridges' ranking was lifted to 5 from 8 and he picked up Steven Joyce's Economic Development portfolio and Adams' Communications portfolio.
Michael Woodhouse was lifted up to 9 from 16. Although he lost Revenue, he retained Immigration, Workplace Relations and Safety and picked up ACC. Annette King speculated after the announcement that Woodhouse was elevated into a high position to be ready to take Health if, as she and others expected, Jonathan Coleman is given Foreign Affairs on May 1 when Murray McCully relinquishes the role.
Paula Bennett was already a winner in being selected by the National Caucus as Deputy Leader, but her workload was increased with the addition of the Police, Tourism and Women portfolios, on top of Climate Change and State Services. Her only loss is Social Housing, which goes to Adams.
The biggest winner on National's backbenches was Alfred Ngaro, who went straight into Cabinet at number 21 as Minister for Pacific Peoples and the Community and Voluntary Sector. He will also be the Associate Minister for Children and Social Housing, which are key roles supporting big areas of reform that English is focused on.
Ministers outside cabinet Louise Upston and Paul Goldsmith were elevated into Cabinet and given new and bigger ministries. Goldsmith relinquished the Commerce and Consumer Affairs portfolios, but was lifted from 24 in the pecking order to 19 and picked up Joyce's Tertiary Education, Skills and Employment and Science and Innovation ministries. Upston rose from 23 to 20 and was given Judith Collins' Corrections ministry.
Mark Mitchell, Jacqui Dean and David Bennett were the winners on the backbenches who were elevated into Ministries outside Cabinet. Mitchell was given Land Information and Statistics, while Dean was given Goldsmith's Commerce and Consumer Affairs, along with Foss' Small Business. Bennett was given Veterans Affairs and Food Safety.
The losers are...
Craig Foss and Sam Lotu-liga said last week they were stepping down and out of the Government, so their demotions were no surprise, but Jo Goodhew's demotion to the back benches was unexpected. She said she was disappointed, but pledged to contest next year's election.
Judith Collins was stripped of her beloved Police and Corrections ministries, and was demoted to 16 on the list from 13. She was given Michael Woodhouse's Revenue portfolio and Bridges' Energy and Resources portfolio, along with Lotu-liga's Ethnic Communities portfolio.
Nick Smith's ranking dropped to 15 from 11 and his title changed to Minister of Building and Construction from Minister for Building and Housing. The removal of the Housing Minister title was noted in the news conference and King picked on it in her comments after the naming of English's Ministry.
The other losers in Caucus were Todd Muller and Chris Bishop, who were widely seen as candidates on the backbenches for elevation.
The ministries who have seen their status downgraded or changed included Broadcasting, which has been disestablished and shifted into Communications and Arts, Culture and Heritage portfolios, and Housing, which has been removed altogether, although English said it was catered for within Social Housing, Housing NZ, Building and Construction.
The main talking points
The removal of Housing is shaping up as the key one. English was quizzed on it in the news conference and King was critical of the move, which she described as unprecedented and a sign the Government was not addressing the housing crisis.
English downplayed the removal of the Housing tag.
"It's just a change in the title. There hasn't been someone designated as 'the' Minister of Housing. We are consolidating the portfolio a bit. We have been through a long phase of policy development and getting the government's building programme up and running," English said.
"Those are in good shape now, so we are able to consolidate the portfolio," he said.
King described the changes as cosmetic.
"More and more New Zealanders will see the Kiwi dream of owning your own home slipping away. Any hopes that Bill English would bring a fresh new approach have been dashed. It’s all a bit underwhelming really," she said.
Challenged again about who within Government would answer questions about Auckland house prices going over NZ$1 million, English pointed to the Auckland Council.
"The questions about that are best directed, actually, to the Auckland City Council. They make all the rules and the decisions about housing in Auckland. In so far as there's an ongoing ministerial interest in it, that will be Nick Smith," English told the news conference.
The other main points of interest were the demotion of Bennett and the removal of her Police and Corrections portfolios.
Tweets of the day:
Bill English has ingeniously solved all the challenges of housing and broadcasting by binning the portfolios altogether.