With five months to go, National has decided on the leadership line-up it will take into the election.
And, as a result of today’s cabinet reshuffle, two plum positions have finally fallen into place for a pair of politicians.
The reshuffle caused by the retirements of Hekia Parata and Murray McCully has seen Nikki Kaye named Education Minister and put Gerry Brownlee in charge of our diplomatic relations.
There were other changes too.
In becoming Foreign Affairs Minister, Brownlee gives up most of his current responsibilities, opening up the opportunity for Mark Mitchell, a former police dog handler, to become his successor as Defence Minister. Mitchell has also been promoted to Cabinet.
There are also two fresh-faced Ministers outside of Cabinet, with Tim Macindoe becoming the new Customs Minister and Scott Simpson the Minister of Statistics.
Nicky Wagner picks up the responsibility of Greater Christchurch Regeneration Minister, Nathan Guy is the new Civil Defence Minister, while Simon Bridges replaces Brownlee as Leader of the House.
Adams holding the reins on Government building programme
Finally, there were some interesting tweaks to the housing portfolios with Social Housing Minister Amy Adams taking responsibility for the Crown land programme from Building and Construction Minister Nick Smith.
When announcing the change, Prime Minister Bill English denied it was a vote of no confidence in Smith who has been under intense scrutiny regarding housing.
“The idea there is just to consolidate the Government house building programme, so we’ve had three streams of that: Housing New Zealand, who have their own building programme; the Crown Land programme, which has been overseen by Nick Smith; and also the Tamaki regeneration. And these are quite large programmes, so we are just taking the opportunity to consolidate the building programmes under one Minister and the regulation for the whole housing market remains with Nick Smith,” English said.
“There is just too much of it to put under one Minister, because of the complexity. So that is how we are tidying it up.
“The only thing you should read into it is that the Government has got a large scale building programme so we are consolidating the management of it so it’s effective and we can get scale and we’ll be talking a bit more about that over the next three or four months.”
But the spotlight fell mostly on the new responsibilities for two of National’s biggest stars.
Brownlee’s job for the taking
Foreign Affairs Minister is a coveted role, one that demands long hours but is of high prestige.
It was likely several politicians were keen on the job, but the thinking was that if Brownlee wanted it, he would get it.
English says Brownlee’s experience and work with his international counterparts as Defence Minister meant he was well suited, despite his occasional tendency to speak frankly.
“I think in Christchurch he’s shown the ability to be blunt when he needs to be but also diplomatic when he needs to be and very effective.”
In taking up the new position Brownlee has given up most of his current responsibilities, including his job of overseeing Christchurch’s earthquake recovery.
It was a position that was created for him, as a local MP, and he has been central to the city’s rebuild since 2011.
His departure will be celebrated by some in the city, and lamented by others.
He has been a polarising figure, with some residents uneasy with his wide-ranging powers and perceived refusal to listen to the public’s concerns.
While he will remain an electorate MP, his international duties will mean his involvement with Christchurch now will be minimal.
Kaye returns with a bang
It’s been a year of lows and highs for Nikki Kaye.
Viewed as one of National’s most competent younger Ministers, she suffered a blow in September after being diagnosed with breast cancer, resulting in a six-month leave of absence.
Since being appointed to cabinet in 2013, Kaye has worked alongside Parata as Associate Education Minister.
Parata has had plenty of good and bad herself taking over the portfolio in 2011.
She introduced Communities of Learning, which encourage local schools to work together and pay staff more to take a lead role, but which have not been without criticism.
A proposal to allow children to enrol at online schools has also been controversial, but Kaye has been a big supporter and is likely to push on with the change.
She has plenty of other ideas as well and it will be interesting to see what stamp she leaves as Minister.
Getting along with the unions will be key, with the NZEI losing no time in issuing a press release citing changes to the decile system, a lack of funding, and pay equity as issues the new Minister needed to address.