Jacinda Ardern will need a new foreign minister now that Winston Peters is out of Parliament.
Speculation has been rife in the capital ad to who might get the job.
There has even been a suggestion it could go to Economic Development and Transport Minister, Phil Twyford.
That would seem unlikely.
In fact, Twyford may be struggling to hold any position in the new Cabinet.
More likely is that the new Minister will be either David Parker or Andrew Little.
Each is well qualified for the job.
Little has been Minister in charge of the Intelligence Agencies -==- the Government Communications Security Bureau and the Security Intelligence Agency — and thus has had to deal with issues like Huawei which go to the heart of the country’s relationship with China.
Parker, on the other hand, has essentially been an associate foreign policy Minister as Trade Minister which has seen him take over delicate foreign issues such as New Zealand’s support for China’s Belt and Road initiative.
In many ways, the relationship with China will be central to the role of the next Foreign Minister.
The challenges have been defined by Victoria University of Wellington’s Strategic Studies, Robert Ayson.
Writing recently on the University’s “Incline” webpage Ayson said Wellington should not expect to find a change in the United States presidency easier to deal with than the way things are now with the Trump administration.
“What happens when Biden’s Secretary of State comes to town next year wanting to translate New Zealand-US cooperation into much firmer anti-China messaging on the South Pacific, the South China Sea, on human rights and technological competition?” he said.
“Who in the Ardern government’s new Cabinet will play the Winston Peters role: speaking soothing words to Washington through dissembling narratives which suggest we oppose China’s role in the region without always saying so directly?
“And how does New Zealand respond when its closest ally Australia finds all sorts of extra reasons to speak as one with Washington?”
Both Little and Parker have deal with the relationship with China.
Parker attended China’s second Belt and Road conference in April last year after then Foreign Minister Winston Peters claimed he was still waiting to hear from China what the Belt and Road initiative might mean for New Zealand.
The move to send Parker was seen by some commentators as an attempt by New Zealand to counter Peters’ comments.
As Trade Minister, Parker would have approved the agreements reached at the 30th China-New Zealand Joint Committee of Trade and Economy video conference on September 23, co-chaired by Wang Shouwen, China’s Vice Minister of Commerce and Deputy China International Trade Representative and Mark Sinclair, Acting Deputy Secretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade.
“The two sides will continue to promote cooperation within the framework of the Belt and Road Initiative, advance the process of upgrading FTAs, maintain open trade and smooth supply chains, create a favourable investment climate, deepen cooperation in key areas such as infrastructure, agriculture and tourism, and tap the potential of cooperation in areas such as climate change, circular economy and environmental technology,” said China’s Ministry of Commerce spokesperson, Gao Feng, reporting on the talks.
But Parker is also Minister for the Environment and as such will be piloting through two of the Government’s key pieces of reform legislation this term, the Natural and Bult Environments Bill and the Strategic Planning bill which will both replace the Resource Management Act.
These are highly technical pieces of legislation which come after a lengthy consultation process which Parker has presided over.
T continue that process he will be needed in New Zealand not jetting around the world to endless foreign policy meetings.
To take him away from that now would risk losing the whole process.
For that reason, more than any other POLITIK understands he would be unlikely to become foreign Minister.
That leaves Andrew Little as the hot favourite.
However, he too has domestic political priorities. He has told his officials that he wants to settle the tortuous Nga Puhi Treaty claims.
His commitment to his role as Treaty negotiations Minister is evident in the way he has learned Te Reo.
But, if anything, that role could enhance his role as Foreign Minister, particularly in the Pacific.
And Treaty negotiations would be less likely to make foreign travel difficult because Treaty negotiations tend to come in short sharp bursts rather than the protracted multi-headed negotiations that Parker will face over his legislation.
And Little has already demonstrated an agility with controversial issues that would seem to qualify him for the job.
Last year he warned Huawei not to “heavy” the New Zealand Government after it threatened to exit New Zealand if it could not get Government approval to supply 5G equipment to Spark.
“The way [Huawei] get to work out a place for them and enhance their commercial interest is to work with their client, in this case, Spark,” he told RNZ.
“It is not to work with the Government and try to leverage their commercial interest and commercial advantage by heavying the Government.”
It was a neat move down the middle of the Huawei dispute; he did not concede the Australian and US that has been on New Zealand to finally reject Huawei as a Spark supplier but nor did it endorse them.
POLITIK understands that Little is likely to get the job.
Peters has been an idiosyncratic Foreign Minister, clearly at home in the Pacific and with a leaning towards Washington and the other Five Eyes partners.
But that is not where Labour has traditionally come from.
Its party membership retains a scepticism about the United States which though it may not be as intense as it was during the 1980s nevertheless would be a pressure on any Labour foreign minister.