National’s caucus reshuffle yesterday was a slap in the face for the way both Simon Bridges and Todd Muller had structured their caucus lineups.
It promoted long-overlooked talent seemingly without any regard for factional allegiance.
Most notably it put first-term MPs Nicola Willis and Harete Hipango in the top 20 — en route to Cabinet in a future National Government.
The rise of Hipango is spectacular.
She has gone from 39 to 21, just behind Chief Whip Barbara Kuriger (who would not be in a Cabinet). Now she is Shadow Attorney General and responsible for Crown-Maori Relations.
Hipango, a lawyer, was a protegee of the ultra-liberal former Whanganui MP, Chester Borrows, and has been a strong supporter of the new leader, Judith Collins.
Collins hinted that her lineup would be browner in a retweet yesterday in her twitter account.
Headed “Friendshiop never sees color” it shows two toddlers; one black, one white, rushing towards each other and hugging till they fall over and then getting up and continuing hugging.
The message was unmistakable.
And the result was there in the lineup with top positions for two of National’s Te Reo speaking MPs.
Shane Reti was up to five whereas Muller had him at 17 and Bridges at 28.
And Bridges had Hipango at 36.
But Collins went further; she told Stuff she wanted to run candidates in Maori seats which has always been opposed by National who have a policy of abolishing them.
“The National Party has had a view for many years now that they should be done away with. But I just want people to feel that they all have opportunities for representation,” Collins said.
“I think it is important that, while the seats are there, it’s good for us to not only show that we want votes from people on the Māori roll, but it makes it easy for people to know that we want those votes.”
Former Prime Minister John Key tempered the policy by saying that National would only do this when Maori agreed through a referendum.
But the policy has left National without a stock of Maori candidates to put on the list.
Instead, National’s Maori have had to win general seats; Reti is the MP for Whangarei and Hipango for Whanganui.
Hipango has not been afraid to challenge National and was critical of Simon Bridges’ proposal to form an anti-gang police unit modelled on New South Wales, Task Force Raptor.
Last November, Hipango visited NSW to see the task force and came away sceptical.
Before the meeting, she emailed the Whanganui Chronicle saying she had some concerns and that it was a “drastic step” and “forcefully provocative”.
“I shall be listening with acute and keen mind, denoting that Australia as a nation is not as advanced as Aotearoa, New Zealand, in addressing the contextual social and historical issues, grievances, injustices and consequences of its societal indigenous inequities as New Zealand has done,” she said in the email.
Collins and her deputy leader, Gerry Brownlee, have been careful to include the surviving members of the party’s liberal faction which was decimated yesterday by the resignations of Nikki Kaye and Amy Adams.
POLITIK understands Kaye had tentatively tested the idea last Tuesday that she could succeed Todd Muller as leader with some MPs.
But that idea went nowhere and instead she didn’t even nominate for her old position of deputy leader at the leadership vote caucus.
MPs and party officials spoken to by POLITIK are not pleased with her decision to go now so near an election, but the departure of her and Adams has paved the way for Chris Bishop to move up to position seven and take Gerry Brownlee’s role as Shadow Leader of the House.
Nicola Willis moves to 13 and takes over Nikki Kaye’s education portfolio. Both Willis and Bishop have been key members of the liberal faction.
Paul Goldsmith has retained finance and been elevated from five to three in the Caucus lineup.
But he may need to look over his shoulder as Collins ally, Andrew Bayly, a former investment banker, gets moved up to 17 and gets given a portfolio of economic responsibilities; Revenue Commerce State-Owned Enterprises Associate Finance Small Business and Manufacturing.
Judith Collins quietly talked up the alternative economic paper he produced during the lockdown, and he looks very much like a Finance Minister in waiting.
Todd McClay has had to surrender his Trade portfolio to Todd Muller. However he has been moved up the rankings from 11 to six, just two below his close comrade, Simon Bridges who is now at four.
The only real loser is Mark Mitchell who has gone down from nine to 15 but, more importantly, has lost his Justice spokespersonship to Bridges.
Mitchell won no points with his colleagues for standing against Collins for the leadership on Tuesday night.
Both the party hierarchy and many in the caucus wanted an uncontested leadership after the dramas of the past week.
For the moment those dramas seem to have been forgotten as Collins enjoys something of a honeymoon with both the electorate and the media.
Today she will unveil the party’s infrastructure proposals.
But the party has been bruised and scarred by what has happened. The events of the past fortnight have seriously damaged the reputations of Michelle Boag, Amy Adams and Nikki Kaye.
In contrast, Collins has come out of the fortnight with a much-enhanced reputation as a caucus peacemaker.
Whoever would have thought!