What amounts to the forced departure of National MP Michael Woodhouse raises a big question about the next government and Parliament.
Who would be the National Speaker, and who would be their foreign affairs minister if, as the polls now suggest, they form the next government?
As shadow leader of the House, Woodhouse would have been the natural fit for Speaker.
But obviously, that is not within the current National leadership team’s thinking, judging by his reaction to what must have been a frank discussion with leader Christopher Luxon last Saturday.
However, there has long been speculation that Gerry Brownlee would be National’s Speaker.
But he is also the party spokesperson on foreign affairs, a position he plainly enjoys and in which he has accumulated a substantial list of contacts and knowledge.
For almost the entire term of the Key 2008 – 17 government, he was leader of the House, and as is evident, virtually every Question Time appears to know Standing Orders backwards.
He is a popular MP with an easy ability to work across the aisle.
He is thus eminently qualified to be the Speaker.
But alternatives to him as Foreign Minister all come with questions attached to them, whereas there might be a logical alternative for Speaker.
That would be Coromandel MP Scott Simpson, a lawyer, an MP since 2011 and again, like Brownlee, a popular MP able to work both sides of the House.
He also has a long background in National Party organisational roles.
But like Woodhouse, he has been consigned to a low ranking on the National’s list, which would seem to indicate that though he is a former Minister, he would not be in a Luxon cabinet.
That turns the spotlight back on Brownlee as Speaker and therefore raises the question of who could be Foreign Minister.
POLITIK understands nothing has been settled.
There are – to quote one former National Minister — persistent rumours that the job would go to Judith Collins.
As a former leader, she has the status and experience to do the job, but she declined any comment on the rumours yesterday.
“I can’t make any comment,” she said.
“We have an election to win, and I am focused on bringing in as much of the party vote as we can.
“We can’t take anything for granted and need to stay focused.”
Collins has been ranked at 10 in the shadow- Cabinet — above Brownlee and Woodhouse — throughout the Luxon leadership.
She also carries additional mana as the party’s former leader, albeit that most in the Caucus were pleased to see her lose that role at the end of 2021.
At the end of 2016, she clashed with then-Foreign Minister Murray McCully when New Zealand was a member of the Security Council, and he had led the development and Passage of a resolution opposing Israeli settlements in the occupied territories.
She opposed that move.
She also criticised McCully when New Zealand for not supporting Australia’s decision in 2015 to bomb ISIS positions in Syria.
The Council had not agreed to this, so New Zealand, as a member, did not support Australia’s unilateral decision.
She said New Zealand could do what it wanted even if it was a member of the Security Council because Foreign Minister Murray McCully hadn’t yet handed in his “man card”.
She cultivated that sort of “tough girl” image when she was Police Minister in the Key Government.
That earned her the nickname “Crusher” after she promised to crush the cars of boy racers.
But what has been consistent in her comments on foreign policy has been her support for New Zealand’s traditional allies, particularly the Five Eyes partners, Australia, Canada, the USA and Britain.
Talking to a small business group recently in her capacity as Opposition spokesperson on foreign investment, she said she believed NZ’s membership of Five Eyes afforded the country enormous opportunities as a politically safe place for investment.
Her comments on China were more ambiguous.
“If we are worried about who we sell to, we will sell to nobody; we are too little to be squeamish,” she said, according to a source at the meeting.
“We question China on human rights, but do we ask the Saudis when we buy their oil?”
But she went on to say that New Zealand would be “foolish to think we can have the relationship we have with China now, into the future.”
And in an interview with The Guardian in 2021, she hinted she might approve of New Zealand getting involved in the AUKUS submarine programme.
If we did, that would certainly change our relationship with China.
“Aukus doesn’t include us, and it doesn’t include Canada, so we’ve both been ignored from it,” Collins said. “We’re being left out.”
She said she was a firm supporter of New Zealand’s nuclear-free policy.
which bans nuclear-powered vessels – including those constructed under Aukus –
However, she also said: “The information sharing, the artificial intelligence work, the technology-sharing agreement part of Aukus – that was important that we were left out of that. You’d have to wonder why Canada and New Zealand were excluded from that part of it.”
However, whoever is a foreign minister in a national government would be unlikely to have a totally free hand in the portfolio.
The former Prime Minister, Sir John Key, who believes that New Zealand can continue to maintain an independent position between the US and China, would be an important voice in the background.
There is another possible contender for the role, Winston Peters, who has already served twice as foreign minister, both times in Labour governments.
His focus then was on the Pacific, but then both Labour Prime Ministers, Helen Clark and Jacinda Ardern needed his support to form a government.
On present polling, National and ACT could form a government by themselves; NZ First, if they break five per cent, would be a nice to have, not a must-have.
His bargaining powers might be more limited, which would rule out him getting one of the most prestigious portfolios in the Cabinet.
Luxon – and his political backers, Chris Bishop, Nicola Willis and Todd McClay — might see some political advantage in having Collins in the role and, therefore, often absent and unable to cause any trouble within the Caucus.
With the highly experienced Brownlee in the chair, the two moves could make the political management of a National-led government a bit easier.
That would be enough reason to do them.