Pasifika were the big losers out of yesterday’s Cabinet reshuffle.
Three years ago, there were three Pasifika Cabinet Ministers; Carmel Sepuloni, Jenny Salesa and Kris Faafoi.
And there were two outside Cabinet; Poto Williams and Aupito William Sio.
Now there are only two in Cabinet (Sepuloni and Williams) and one outside, Sio.
Ironically it is almost exactly three years since Faafoi was appointed to Cabinet and Williams made a Minister outside.
The pair held a joint press conference to celebrate their promotions.
Williams said the appointments were exciting.
“I know that my own Cook Island community and the wider Pacific community are excited to know that their desires and aspirations are actually going to be expressed at the top table. It’s very cool.”
Faafoi said it showed the Government’s commitment to diversity and to the Pacific community “and the hard work that we have put in over time.”
With yesterday’s reduction in Pasifika numbers has come a reduction in clout; Williams has lost her plum Police portfolio to Cabinet’s Mr Fixit, Chris Hipkins and instead has become Minister of Conservation.
The former Minister of Conservation, Kiri Allan, has taken over Justice from Faafoi who plans to exit Parliament.
One move that did not happen yesterday was any change to the Foreign Affairs and Local Government portfolios held by Nanaia Mahuta. Along with Willie Jackson picking up broadcasting and Allan’s promotion, it would seem the Maori caucus has more clout within Labour than the Pasifika caucus.
The other big news yesterday was the announcement by the Speaker that he would go, probably in August, to a diplomatic appointment.
It’s been an open secret in Wellington for some time that he was keen to go to Dublin. He has family connections with Ireland, but for the avid sports fan, the presence there of World Rugby, the international rugby governing body, would be another attraction.
Mallard first entered Parliament in 1984 as the Member for Hamilton West; lost the 1990 election, and then returned in 1993 as the MP for Hutt South. He will be the last member of the Labour Caucus from the famous 1984 – 90 Labour Government to leave Parliament, and he leaves only David Parker and Damien O’Connor as members of Helen Clark’s 1999-2008 government.
There were two moves yesterday that may point to Labour’s future.
Kieran McNulty, the popular Labour chief whip, is now a Minister and is Associate Minister of Local Government. He likes to portray himself as an archetypical – Kiwi (he is the MP for Wairarapa) and may take over some of the promotion of the Three Waters proposals.
The Government will be anxious to move the debate beyond co-governance and focus on the practical and economic reasons for undertaking the reforms.
Ardern implied yesterday that this would happen.
“With the borders reopening, we can anticipate that Minister Mahuta will also be travelling more,” she said.
“So it will be really helpful to have someone else in a supporting role.
“She had no associates in local Government, so that is just a very practical way that we can support a minister who has many draws on her time.
“I think generally the role that Kieran McAnulty will play as a minister will be important in our government because he has a lot to offer.”
Ardern noted that McNulty was now also an associate Transport Minister and said she had a particular intention for him to take up a regional focus on transport.
Barbara Edmonds, who has succeeded Faafoi in Mana, is a Samoan New Zealander, a tax lawyer and a former Beehive staffer, and a mother of eight who has been marked for promotion from when she arrived in Parliament at the last election. She will replace Duncan Webb as chair of the Finance and Expenditure Committee, while Webb replaced McNulty as chief whip.
Edmonds is clearly on track to go into Cabinet, and with some suggestions, there may be another reshuffle before the next election that might be a move that could forestall any adverse electoral reactions from Labour’s important Pasifika-dominated South Auckland seats.
Perhaps the surprise promotion was that of Priyanka Radhakrishnan to a number of relatively minor posts but, importantly, Minister of Ethnic Communities.
Prior to the 2017 election, Radhakrishnan, an Indian-born Singapore-raised former women’s refuge worker, was Ethnic Communities Advisor for the party.
Her promotion has obvious electoral implications as Labour tries to hang on to the Indian vote in Auckland after being heavily criticised by the Indian community for its immigration policies and, more recently, for the increase in crime directed at Indian-owned convenience stores.
But ultimately, the big news yesterday was the move, once again, to give Hipkins a high-profile, politically tricky portfolio.
Ironically it came on the day that the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment announced the closedown of the last of the Managed Isolation and Quarantine hotels with which his name last year became synonymous.
He remains, certainly among many in the party, the hot favourite to replace Ardern as party leader whenever that may occur.
Another safe pair of political hands, Megan Woods, has had her Research Science and Innovation portfolio given to Ayesha Verrall. That will test Verrall as she will have to implement Woods’ Te Pae Kaurangi proposals to reform the Crown Research Institutes.
Instead, Woods picks up the much more politically sensitive Building and Construction portfolio as it becomes evident that supply constraints in the building sector are a key driver of inflation.
That portfolio has been removed from Williams, which along with the loss of the police portfolio raises questions about how much confidence the Prime Minister really has in her.
“I maintain my confidence in Minister Williams, and she maintains her place in Cabinet,” Ardern said.
“What we have both agreed, though, is that the focus on the (Police)portfolio and where it needs to be has been lost in recent times.
”Minister Williams has presided over a significant increase in the police budget of 35%, an increase in police numbers by 15%.
“But our concern has been the need to focus on particularly ongoing legislative reform.
“Where it’s needed to support the Police is not necessarily where the focus is.
“With the current narrative around the portfolio, we need to get back to those basics.”
That need for legislative reforms must have become more urgent over the weekend with National’s package of proposed reforms to toughen up on gangs.
What comes through in yesterday’s reshuffle is how it positions Labour for a tough election campaign.
It now has two of its most competent Ministers managing the politically troublesome areas of Police and housing; it has a rural Pakeha to promote Three Waters, and it is making a clear pitch for the Indian vote with its Ethnic Communities Minister.