PM’s chance to carve a new path with Cabinet reshuffle


The team Chris Hipkins puts around him when he announces his new Cabinet on Tuesday will show the new prime minister is keen to chart his own course. Political editor Jo Moir is picking some big changes and plenty of new faces.

Analysis: In times of crisis, it’s easy to stick with what you know and not rock the boat.

Chris Hipkins has found himself PM just nine months out from an election and his first weekend on the job coincided with the country’s biggest city literally under water and an expensive clean-up ahead.

Either of those things would put any new leader into crisis mode, and it could be tempting with a looming reshuffle to keep the existing team around and keep ploughing ahead with ministers who already know their portfolios and how the nuts and bolts of governing a country work.

* The biggest challenges facing Chris Hipkins
* Three Waters passes in time for Christmas

This is not the time for Hipkins to stick with the status quo if he’s serious about convincing the country this is no longer Jacinda Ardern’s Labour Party and government.

His Cabinet reshuffle, expected to be announced today, needs a makeover that screams he’s listening to the public on controversial policies and is prepared to be the bad guy and get rid of friends with experience to make way for new and energised talent.

Local government and health are two obvious starting points for making clear he’s heard New Zealanders.

Health is a tough gig, the worst job in politics after opposition leader. Much like a decent chunk of Auckland got sick of Jacinda Ardern towards the end of her tenure, it seems the health sector is somewhat done with Little after a couple of years of difficult but necessary reform.

Three Waters has become a dog’s breakfast for the Government and it only has itself to blame due to incredibly poor communication and leaving a gigantic vacuum for the likes of Christopher Luxon, but mostly David Seymour, to fill.

Associate Local Government Minister Kieran McAnulty has long been tipped to take on the whole portfolio, which would pair well with his emergency management job. As a rural MP holding the seat of Wairarapa he could help take some of the heat out of Three Waters.

Nanaia Mahuta’s reputation has been hit hard in the portfolio and if Hipkins plans to push on with the reforms, albeit with some peeling back of some of the co-governance aspects, then it needs to be steered by a new minister.

Hipkins will also be thinking long and hard about whether to keep Mahuta in foreign affairs or use it to fix some of his other reshuffle problems.

Ardern made a point of showing New Zealand was doing things differently with how it connected and communicated with the world when she appointed New Zealand’s first wāhine Māori into the foreign affairs role.

Mahuta has done a great job of showcasing the commitment and strength of the relationship between Māori and Pākehā on the international stage, but her young family has meant being overseas regularly has been a tough ask.

Even when not locked at home by Covid, she hasn’t travelled anywhere near as much as other ministers have in the past, and with the world finally reopened, Hipkins will be keen to have a Foreign Affairs Minister willing and able to be out of the country more than they’re in it.

Nanaia Mahuta’s ministerial portfolios could be in for a real shake-up in Tuesday’s reshuffle. Photo: Marc Daalder

That could mean adding it to Trade Minister Damien O’Connor’s basket – he has been thriving on the international nature of the job and is good at selling the Kiwi message.

Alternatively, Hipkins could fix his health problem by giving Andrew Little the foreign affairs portfolio.

Little is a safe pair of hands and has the diplomacy skills required, and his son is now older, making travel easier.

That would mean Hipkins could move Little’s associate in the health portfolio, Ayesha Verrall, into the top job without it seeming like Little has been demoted, which he doesn’t deserve to be.

Health is a tough gig, the worst job in politics after opposition leader. Much like a decent chunk of Auckland got sick of Jacinda Ardern towards the end of her tenure, it seems the health sector is somewhat done with Little after a couple of years of difficult but necessary reform.

Verrall is familiar with the sector, having been an infectious diseases doctor and an elected district health board member up until she joined Parliament in 2020. She is well-liked by the advocate and lobbying groups that needle away at the government regularly.

It would mean finding completely different roles for Mahuta, but she could pick up them up from outgoing ministers, such as Poto Williams’ conservation and perhaps ACC, if Deputy Prime Minister Carmel Sepuloni has her eyes on something different.

Sepuloni may also end up with the Pacific Peoples ministry with the impending retirement of Aupito William Sio.

It would make sense for Sio and Williams, who have both announced their retirements at the election, to be moved out of the executive completely to make way for new talent.

David Clark will also leave in October but has been doing a decent job and is once again seen by many as a safe pair of hands after climbing his way back from being demoted as health minister after a series of poor decisions in the early days of Covid in 2020.

That could mean Hipkins keeps him in Cabinet to utilise him through to the election.

Phil Twyford has been sitting quietly outside of Cabinet and could also be moved aside to make room for a newbie.

Labour backbencher and Mana MP, Barbara Edmonds, is tipped to be a winner in Tuesday’s Cabinet reshuffle. Photo: Sam Sachdeva

Barbara Edmonds, MP for Mana, is the obvious first cab off the rank into the executive and could even get a clear run straight into Cabinet, such is the high performer she is known to be. Edmonds previously worked for Small Business Minister Stuart Nash and could easily pick up some small business or commerce roles.

Nash seems a likely contender to keep police, which he’s temporarily had back since Hipkins relinquished it on becoming Prime Minister.

The MP for Napier is well-liked by the police force, but if Hipkins is wanting to reward Michael Wood for his hard work and competence then he could pick up the role instead.

It would couple well with transport but keeping immigration would be too much of a workload. That could see immigration go to Nash to put alongside his tourism portfolio, given the two mesh well together.

Jan Tinetti is expected to take the full education portfolio and Kiri Allan seems set to keep justice but needs to knuckle down and learn the ins and outs of it if she wants to continue her rise through the ministerial ranks.

Kelvin Davis will keep his high ranking as deputy leader of the party and it’s possible Allan or even Peeni Henare might move up the rankings to ensure Māori voices and representation at the Cabinet table.

Finance Minister Grant Robertson keeps that all-important job and gains Leader of the House from Hipkins.

It’s expected he will also keep his favourite portfolio – sport and recreation – but infrastructure could be taken off him to free him up and provide a new or promoted minister with a meaty portfolio.

Both list MP Camilla Belich and Tangi Utikere (MP for Palmerston North) are possible additions to the executive – both are rated by senior ministers and are hard workers.

Finance Minister Grant Robertson and current chief of staff, Raj Nahna, who is understood to be leaving after Jacinda Ardern resigned from the top job last week. Photo: Marc Daalder

Behind-the-scenes, Hipkins is also on the hunt for a new chief of staff with Raj Nahna understood to be leaving the building.

His deputy Holly Donald would be the obvious replacement, but it’s understood she isn’t keen on the job.

Former Labour Party general secretary Andrew Kirton, who is married to Belich, is tipped as a possible replacement for Nahna.

He is close with Hipkins, well-liked by MPs and staff, and was integral in the 2017 success of the Labour Party when he chaired the campaign that resulted in Ardern becoming Prime Minister.

Kirton has previously said he was interested in being an MP after he’d got some private sector experience, but at the 2020 election it was his wife who ended up running and winning a seat in Parliament.

He’s currently a lobbyist for trans-Tasman firm Anacta, after previously being head of government relations for Air New Zealand, where he worked under then-chief-executive-turned-National Party leader Christopher Luxon.

With Ardern leaving Parliament and her safe Labour Mt Albert seat freeing up at the election, Belich is expected to be a leading contender to win it.


What do you think?

Written by Ethiotime1

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

GIPHY App Key not set. Please check settings

የአገው ፈረሰኞች ማህበር የ83ኛ ዓመት የምስረታ በዓል

Disillusioned at home, super-rich Chinese set their sights on Singapore