Newsroom Pro's 8 things: Inside Jacinda Ardern's 'Kitchen Cabinet'

Jacinda Ardern's 'Kitchen Cabinet' is seen as including Kelvin Davis, Grant Robertson and Phil Twyford, who were pictured here at a BBQ at Ardern's home the day after the election. Photo by Lynn Grieveson

In this morning's email, Bernard Hickey looks inside the new 6th Labour-led Government at Jacinda Ardern's Kitchen Cabinet and what it will be focused on in its first 100 days.

New Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern will hold her first cabinet meeting this afternoon and Newsroom's Sam Sachdeva, Lynn Grieveson and I will be there in the Beehive theatrette to cover the first post-election news conference due at 4pm. We welcome any questions from our subscribers that you think our readers want answers to about what the new Government will do.

Ardern will be relying on a core group of senior ministers to deliver on an ambitious 100 day plan. Now that we have the full ministerial list (see our Government formation special email from yesterday for more detail) it's worth looking at who is in her 'kitchen cabinet' group of five or six that will have to work closely together and perform to meet those high expectations.

National's kitchen cabinet was remarkably consistent for its nine years around John Key, Bill English, Steven Joyce, Gerry Brownlee and Murray McCully. It included the likes of Paula Bennett, Simon Bridges and Amy Adams towards the end after Key's departure, but was the core of the Government.

Helen Clark and Michael Cullen were at the core of the fifth Labour Government. They complemented each other and drove its successes, just as John Key and Bill English did for the National-led Government of the last nine years.

Here's who I expect on paper to be at the core of Ardern's Government, and who will be most influential in the major policy decisions.

2. A new 'Batman and Robin'

Grant Robertson - Ardern and Robertson have been like 'Batman and Robin' for years in the Labour caucus. The order was originally 'Robertson' as Batman and 'Ardern' as Robin, with Ardern expecting to be Robertson's deputy.

He was the caucus' choice in the contest after the 2014 election and Ardern was expected to be his key ally and deputy. But the union share of the leadership vote and some support from individual members boosted Andrew Little into the leadership instead.

Now the 'Batman' and 'Robin' order has been reversed, almost accidentally in the extraordinary events of the last three months. However, that has created a dynamic very similar to the Clark-Cullen partnership that proved successful in Labour winning three terms in Government from 1999 to 2008.

Clark's hard won connection with voters and her political skills in pulling together Labour's caucus and working with coalition partners was a key factor in that success. Cullen was the engine room for economic policy and was able to shepherd those changes through the Parliament and bureaucracies. Clark's experience in social policy complemented Cullen's economic nous.

Ardern's deep background in social policy around child poverty is reflected in her title of Minister for Child Poverty Reduction. Robertson's role as Finance Minister puts him at the centre of the Government's finances and one of its bigger shifts to policy -- the reform of the Reserve Bank Act.

3. A policy heavy lifter

David Parker - His influence with Labour leaders has waxed and waned over the years, but he was firmly back in the policy mix during Ardern's brief period as Opposition Leader.

Parker was always a fan of a capital gains tax, which fell out of favour under Andrew Little. He was also the driver of Labour's water royalty plans.

Parker's roles as Minister for the Environment, Economic Development, Trade and Export growth and Attorney General put him at the heart of the biggest changes of the engine room of the economy. He will have to work closely with James Shaw on the ambitious Climate Change plans and his involvement in creating the Emissions Trading Scheme will make him a crucial player there.

Parker is also responsible for overseeing much of the economic development policy around Research and Development (Labour wants to introduce a 12.5 percent R&D tax credit) and his Trade and Export Growth role will mean he will take a close interest in the Reserve Bank Act and Policy Targets Agreement changes that Robertson makes.

Parker will also have to oversee the delicate business of renegotiating any Free Trade Agreements to accommodate bans on foreign buyers (if the Government goes down that route) and any tweaks to the Trans Pacific Partnership -- both of which will be high on the agenda in the coming weeks around the East Asia Summit and the APEC Summit.

4. The Minister for Auckland's rebuild

Phil Twyford - Twyford will be another key member of Ardern's cabinet and the minister responsible for arguably the biggest project and political risk facing the new Government -- Kiwibuild.

The plan to build 100,000 houses over ten years was Labour's signature policy and the key contrast with National. The Greens and New Zealand First rallied around this plan to build and sell affordable homes to young families.

His plans to build 10-15 developments the size of Hobsonville across Auckland require complex and detailed interactions between the Government, Auckland Council, Auckland Transport, developers, builders and all the arms of Government in Wellington.

It is the key project for this Government and faces huge headwinds from labour shortages, bank funding restrictions, infrastructure shortages and the usual NIMBY pressures of Auckland.

Twyford also holds the crucial ministry of Transport, which will be a pinch-point between New Zealand First, the Greens and Labour itself as they push for regional and urban rail improvements and more public transport in Auckland.

Twyford's ability to secure funding for all this infrastructure from Robertson and his ability to handle the competing pressures for regional and urban investments will be crucial.

5. The Winston Whisperer

Kelvin Davis - The Labour Party's deputy leader has been a quietly influential player during the coalition negotiations and his connections with Winston Peters and New Zealand First will be a key factor in the success of that relationship.

A close friend and relative of Peters, Davis stepped aside to allow Peters to be Deputy Prime Minister. His Northland connections were a key factor in bringing the two parties together, with former Labour minister Shane Jones in that mix as well.

Davis' appeal to both rural New Zealand and his role as Minister for Crown relations with Maori will be important for Labour as it tries to bed in its dominance of the Maori seats and keep the Maori Party from bouncing back.

He also has the key roles as minister of Corrections (one of the biggest employers in the country) and Tourism (the biggest export earner).

This picture below by Newsroom's Lynn Grieveson shows four fifths of the new Kitchen Cabinet relaxing at a barbecue at Ardern's home with partner Clarke Gayford in Point Chevalier on the day after the election. David Parker was the only one missing from this photo.

6. The subs bench

Winston Peters and James Shaw will of course be crucial partners for Ardern's kitchen cabinet.

Both hold central portfolios at the heart of the new Government's plans for reform.

The foreign ownership bans and likely renegotiations or tweaks to the TPP and FTAs with Korea and Taiwan will be delicate tasks involving MFAT, Ardern, Parker and Peters.

Shaw's role as Climate Change Minister will be important in the push for a new Climate Act, a Climate Commission and the expected reforms to the Emissions Trading Scheme to include emissions from Agriculture. They are all economically and politically sensitive.

There are several key players in the rest of the Labour caucus too. They include David Clark with Health, Chris Hipkins with Education and Carmel Sepuloni with Social Development. They are all big spending ministries where significant changes are planned to spending and policy. Iain Lees Galloway with Immigration and Workplace Relations is also an important player in an area where New Zealand First and unions will want fast and effective change.

They will all uncover problems suppressed under the previous Government and face the usual political risks inherent in these three big areas.

Hipkins and Lees Galloway are also the shepherds of legislative change as the leader and deputy leader in the House.

7. Winston Peters on Jian Yang

Newsroom's Foreign Affairs and Trade Editor Sam Sachdeva reported last night first on Newsroom Pro that Foreign Affairs Minister designate Winston Peters is concerned about China's influence in New Zealand politics.

However, Peters was cautious about commenting on the situation of National list MP, Jian Yang, and avoided repeating his pre-election call for a full inquiry.

Peters said concerns about Chinese influence in New Zealand are not getting the coverage they should be.

Speaking to media in New Zealand First’s caucus room on Wednesday afternoon, Peters said a report by Canterbury University professor Anne-Marie Brady outlining concerns with China’s growing influence needed to be taken seriously.

“It’s early days and we’re not going to get sidetracked and detoured here, but the fact is that professor, that report of Canterbury University is a seriously internationally recognised report. It has been on ABC in Australia and elsewhere in the world and it’s not getting the coverage it should be here - but it’s over to you, you’re the fourth estate,” Peters said.

During the election campaign, Peters called for a full inquiry into Dr Jian Yang after Newsroom revealed the National MP studied and taught at an elite Chinese spy school, attracting the interest of our Security Intelligence Service.

Since then, documents released under the Official Information Act have revealed Yang did not disclose his time at the Chinese institutes that trained spies when applying for New Zealand residency and citizenship (he has denied making false disclosures, saying he declared the “partnership” universities at which he studied).

However, Peters did not directly answer questions about whether he still wanted an inquiry, instead saying it was a matter of “trying to put the record straight” on whether Yang had been defamed as he alleged.

8. One fun thing

GCSB Intercepts: "Well, Steven Joyce's post-political career options are narrowing all the time. Dildo-catcher is a no-go. Giant hole locator is also out. And now copyright specialist is off the table."

Here's hoping that gets through your spam filter.

cheers

Bernard