Prime Minister Bill English’s Cabinet reshuffle announced on Monday may say more about the direction he wants his Government go than did his initial reshuffle on becoming the leader last December
Certainly, it underlines that the next generation of leadership is now Simon Bridges and Amy Adams.
Bridges has moved up to become Leader of The hHouse while Adamas has picked up Nick Smith’s responsibilities for housing development.
There were clear hints from English on Monday that the Government is going to step up its housing development programmes.
Adams, rather than Smith, has been appointed to run this.
Her continuing rise is readily apparent.
The National Party-aligned lobbyist, Jenna Raeburn, tweeted that Adams’ reward for competence was a longer and longer list of responsibilities.
English though resisted the argument that this was a demotion for his close friend, Smith.
“The only thing you should read into it is that the Government has got a large scale building programme and we are consolidating the management of it so it is effective so we can get scale and we’ll be talking a bit more about that over the next three or four months
But it does suggest that Environment Minister, Nick Smith, is on a path to retirement.
However, the big headline was Gerry Brownlee to Foreign Affairs.
That this would happen, has been obvious for some time though it apparently caught some in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs unawares who had convinced themselves that English would take the portfolio himself.
In taking the portfolio, Brownlee has shed all of his other portfolios as well as his leadership of the House…
He is going to a full-time Foreign Minister.
English made a revealing comment on Monday, announcing the appointment, saying that Murray McCully has administered a “truly independent” foreign policy.
“This is not an easy feat, particularly in an increasingly complex world,” he said.
That requires balancing between the United States, China and Japan on the one hand and China on the other.
Brownlee has already been doing that in Defence.
“Gerry has built up a very significant set of relationships with our partners through his role as Defence Minister and has done a very good job of that in a relatively short time.”
He has also had time to develop a more theoretical background on international relations with his emphasis on strategy as Minister of Defence.
He was much more focussed on the strategic issues than he was rifles and boots – though he did also preside over Defence’s largest single peacetime procurement programme.
One opersonal aspect of his input into the 2016 Defence White Paper was an emphasis on Antarctica and the Southern Ocean.
Brownlee’s only problem will be whether his portfolio were to go on the table in any coalition talks with NZ First.
Shane Jones, currently the Economic Ambassador to the Pacific who is expected to announce his candidacy for NZ First at the end of next month, would certainly hope that it would.
“Gerry is the guy we want as Foreign Minister,” English said.
“To some extent, any Ministerial position, including the Prime Ministerial position, depends on what voters hand us in the election.
“But we are not making this appointment on an interim basis.”
Brownlee’s replacement in Defence, Mark Mitchell, is one of National’s most popular MPs with a host of contacts both across the House and particularly within Wellington’s diplomatic community from his days as Chair of the Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Committee.
He is ambitious – as his involvement in the “four amigos” group who called for renewal in the Cabinet during the leadership debates last December.
Appropriately Mitchell and another “Amigo”, Alfred Ngaro, are now part of that renewal along with Adams and Bridges.
But if Brownlee was the positive part of the reshuffle, Nick Smith was the negative.
Not only has he shed more of what was once his Housing Portfolio but perhaps more ominously he now has an Associate Minister, Scott Simpson, who chairs National’s Blue Greens and who shepherded Smith’s Resource Legislation Amendment Bill through his Local Government and Environment Select Committee.
Simpson is a long-time National Party official with a host of contacts within the party.
His appointment might suggest that English feels a need to placate the party as the iwi participation agreements come into resource planning and the water issue remains on the agenda.
Simpson was the surprise in the appointments.
National MPs had thought that Jonathan Young might make it into a Ministerial post given all the work he ahs been doing with Steven Joyce on regional development.
And Melissa Lee might regard herself as unlucky to not to pick up an associate role to Ethnic Affairs Minister Judith Collins.
But the big guessing game now will surely be what would it trade away in coalition negotiations.
The Maori Party would certainly expect one more position if it came back with three seats and NZ First’s Ministerial list might be quite long.
Peters and Jones are naturals; beyond that, it’s a guessing game.
In the meantime, the Cabinet is starting to take on a more “English” look and the promotion of Bridges, Adams and Mitchell points to a leadership group who might become much more important post-2020.