Jacinda Ardern's 'minor' Cabinet reshuffle shows lack of depth, not quality of lineup
Source: https://www.stuff.co.nz/news/113302738/-

2019-06-07 18:31:20

OPINION: A Cabinet full of ministers without clouds hanging over their heads.

Is it too much to ask?

Even some of the MPs jostling to get in (or return) don't necessarily bring with them the promise of blue skies and plain sailing.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has signalled she will announce a reshuffle to her lineup by end of Parliament's next sitting session.

It won't be significant, she has assured; really, it can't be.

Her decisions would always leave some disgruntled, but they wouldn't dare question or undermine her authority. There is no risk of destabilisation, but that she is unable to go there is a reflection of how limited her options.

Six weeks out from the 2017 election, she rebuilt a campaign from the ground up, promising to bring "a different stamp to this campaign".

But her own stamp could not extend to the team, which Ardern basically inherited via the caucus rankings set by former party leader Andrew Little.

His name is as good as any, as a place to start – newly embroiled in the Treasury "hack" scandal.

Reports that Little took an 11th-hour call from the head of the GCSB, asking him to intervene before Treasury took its incorrect claims of a cyber attack public, put the Government in an awkward spot.

That alone is neither his fault, nor the GCSB's  for trying to ensure correct information was relayed to the public about the security of one of its most critically sensitive government departments.

Nevertheless, Little is now the Beehive link that threatens to kibosh the Government's plans to lay this squarely on the shoulders of the Treasury boss (where it does mostly belong).

Little, the PM and Finance Minister Grant Robertson all face renewed questions over how much they knew, before Robertson sent out a statement alongside his department, erroneously implying National's Budget details were the result of criminal activity.

While respected, it's not clear Little held unbridled popularity among the PM's tight-knit circle before this incident.

Beehive insiders have spoken of a growing frustration at Little's tendency to make announcements off-book and be a little loose with his speech on matters of intelligence.

An incredibly competent minister in many ways, it's been suggested he may find himself thanked for his duties to the intelligence community, although acknowledged for just how much he's got on his plate. Also the minister for justice, courts, Treaty negotiations and Pike River re-entry, Little is highly unlikely to be demoted in Cabinet.

Housing Minister Phil Twyford brings a different set of headaches to the Cabinet table. Kiwibuild is failing on every measure, and it's extremely problematic for the Government.

While there's an argument no-one else could make gold out of that dog of a policy, there is also the counter that a new face in that portfolio would be far less tainted to have a mandate to simply wipe the slate clean.

Robertson, David Parker, David Clark and Chris Hipkins should remain unchanged, though Clark is presiding over burgeoning DHB deficits and declining services with no apparent plan as to how to get out of it.

And Hipkins is juggling the biggest strikes from a workforce in recent memory – a confluence of factors he's not personally responsible for, it's not fair to suggest that's the result of bad management.

On the up, Kris Faafoi is a shoo-in to be brought inside Cabinet and be given the meatier portfolio he's earned through diligent work, careful comment and proving himself to be a safe pair of hands.

It may end up being too much of a leap up the ladder in a single bound, but it's not unreasonable to think he's competent enough to hold the spy portfolios. Michael Wood, a parliamentary under-secretary, is widely tipped to take one step forward as minister outside Cabinet.

Iain Lees-Galloway has kept an incredibly low profile since the Karel Sroubek​ botchup, though that won't have escaped the mind of Ardern – his handling of it landing her squarely in the firing line as well. He may find some adjustment to his portfolios, but will not be ousted altogether.

And through the reshuffle, Ardern has to try to acknowledge a gender imbalance in her ministerial lineup as best she can. With the loss of Clare Curran and Meka Whaitiri, due to blunders and alleged bullying respectively, it's a heavily male affair.

Whaitiri has the backing of Labour's Māori caucus for a return. But it's understood she can mount a media campaign complaining of unfair treatment all she wants – there's no place in Ardern's "kinder" Government, for a minister who, as an inquiry suggested was likely, laid hands on her staff.

Louisa Wall is no option, although Poto Williams could be.

Kieran McAnulty, Kiri Allan, Ginny Andersen and Priyanca​ Radhakrishnan are the freshman young guns who will all likely be destined for higher office at some point, if they keep their powder dry.

It's rare a first termer would be thrust into Cabinet, and the danger is it being too much too soon – not exactly fair for the inexperienced, should it end badly.

But it's understood some in that group are already receiving media training, perhaps indicating how limited the options are.

Due to the coalition makeup, the only section of Cabinet that Ardern can really tinker with (without consultation) is her own.

In a Cabinet of 20, that gives her 16 positions to play with, but a bench that lacks either the talent or experience to sub in.

The quality of the people behind Ardern has always been an issue – the legacy of nine years in Opposition.

That takes more than a single term in Government to rectify, but suggests next year's candidates' selection is really the reshuffle to watch.

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