Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is promising a Cabinet reshuffle later this month.
Not before time, given the piles of deadwood revealed so far in the ministry’s make-up.
Or, more significantly, in the failure to deliver “transformation”, as with KiwiBuild.
With the high poll ratings of the government, largely as a result of her own performance, Ardern in theory should be able to deliver, without any political qualms, rejection slips to those who are a drag on the coalition
Yet she is severely constrained in any changes she contemplates.
As Point of Order sees it, speculation she would be looking at shifting Phil Twyford or Iain Lees-Galloway for their embarrassing performances will be found to be wide of the mark.
Twyford is a front-bencher and to demote him for the abysmal performance on KiwiBuild would be an admission that those who chose him misjduged his capacity.
In any case the KiwiBuild policy was framed not by Twyford himself but by Labour’s key figures in Opposition including Ardern, Grant Robertson, and Andrew Little.
Similarly Lee-Galloway couldn’t be given the chop, even if he gets the sideways look whenever he speaks in Cabinet or in the House.
So the scope for Ardern through a reshuffle to find space for newcomers who might re-energise the bureaucracies supporting dud ministers is limited.
Labour does have some capability on the backbenches — MPs like Greg O’Connor, Deborah Russell or Duncan Webb, who are champing at the bit and could lift the overall Cabinet performance.
But again, raw political talent isn’t the only factor Ardern must take into account. Higher priorities are preserving the right gender balance, and acknowledging the ambitions within her party’s Maori caucus.
So far the speculation of how Ardern might go about a Cabinet reshuffle has been largely limited to the probability Kris Faafoi will be promoted to Cabinet.
He started off as a minister outside Cabinet with responsibility for the crucial-to-business commerce portfolio. Then he picked up the telecommunications and broadcasting portfolios when the previous minister, Claire Curran, early in the term of the government resigned over her dealings with RNZ senior executive Carol Hirschfeld. He also inherited customs from Meka Whaitiri when she resigned over an alleged staff bullying incident.
Faafoi, a Porirua-based former journalist, has impressed the sectors he’s been operating in while some other ministers inside Cabinet have been seen to struggle. But Faafoi is no policy wonk and is unlikely to do much to lift Cabinet’s intellectual capacity.
There’s pressure on Ardern to reinstate Meka Whaitiri, but even at her most compassionate the PM would be unwise to appear to be condoning a ministerial assault on a staffer.
More probably the promotion of Parliamentary Under-Secretary Michael Wood to be at least a minister outside Cabinet is under consideration.
Ardern is to announce the changes after Parliament rises on June 27 after three weeks’ sitting.
She declined to be drawn on where those changes might occur, or to discuss the prospects for NZ First and Green Party ministers and whether their possible replacement required negotiation.
The big question mark, as far ministers from Labour’s coalition partners are concerned, hangs over Eugenie Sage with her Land Information portfolio. Her decision against Oceana Gold’s proposal to use a new block of land for tailings from its big Waihi mine stunned miners—and some of her Labour colleagues (who are very conscious of the Australian Federal election where miners particularly in Queensland electorates turned against Labour).