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PM's Post Cabinet Press Conference Dec 20

Prime Minister's Post Cabinet Press Conference – December 20th 2004 Threats Assessments – and Cabinet Shuffling

The Threat Assessment Group Becomes the A team of Intel Gathering

Prime Minister Helen Clark announces her Cabinet reshuffle at a press conference , Monday.

The Prime Minister: "Sometime later today or tomorrow the annual report of the Security Intelligence Service will be tabled in Parliament and you will find a reference in it to a combined 'Threat Assessment Group' which is being housed within the Security Intelligence Service. It [the Threat Assessment Group] is bringing together officials from across a number of agencies – Police, the Defence Force, The Government Communications Security Bureau and the SIS itself. The idea being to get all the available streams of intelligence and information into one unit for assessing terrorist threats, crime in countries being visited by New Zealanders and so on."

"I 've been seeing the reports coming through as the groups been gathering steam this year. It has been very useful to see all the advice on threats which different agencies get pulled together in one assessment – for example preparing to go to Gallipoli next year they will be pulling together all threads of information – assessments for example [about] what threat there is to me in overseas places."

"Obviously meeting my needs is a minor part of it – its also keeping us up to date with all intelligence flows around threats whether they be in Indonesia or other places where New Zealanders may be working or holidaying."

Cabinet is re-shuffled

The Prime Minister:"Of the 19 people presently in the Cabinet only Four are completely unaffected – they are me, Phil Goff, Annette King and George Hawkins. A decision has been made to maintain the Cabinet numbers at 18 after the departure of Margaret Wilson from the Cabinet in February."

Mr Tamihere's Portfolios are re-assigned

"I don't know when the Serious Fraud Office Report will come in. I don't think it is sustainable to have a lot of portfolios with acting-ministers over a period of time so I've allocated them [Mr Tamihere's portfolios] at this point."

"The election isn't actually that far away even running out the full nine months which is the present intention and I'm not anticipating an early report from the Serious Fraud Office because that [reporting quickly] is not its nature."

Question: Will Lianne Dalziel come back?

The Prime Minister:"I've decided to maintain the Cabinet numbers at 18 – what I've got in mind is that following the next election when I hope Labour will be in a position to form a Government there may be a need to accommodate a larger co-alition partner and at that point as we saw in the 1996 election it tends to be men and woman overboard. In a sense you just build up hopes and expectations bringing people in now when in nine months time you could be saying their short career is over. I think it better at this point to re-allocate among the 18 people."

"All Ministers were prepared to change and what I had to weigh up was whether I wanted entirely new Minister of Health – Education, Social Development - I opted against that but [instead] for indicating where the portfolio's could go in future."

"I will be looking for change again after the next election and as I said you can see some transitional thinking in this line-up."

Michael Cullen as the Attorney-General and the legal profession's possible reaction.

The Prime Minister:"What I would say – is that they [the legal profession] have the second most senior member of the Government taking a very direct interest in their area – I would have thought that would be a substantial advantage. He is someone with a long interest in constitutional matters – obviously a very experienced parliamentarian. The reality is we don't have a senior lawyer to do those jobs in our ranks right now and the next best is to look for a very senior Minister who can do it very credibly."

"In the future should there be a lawyer of the level of seniority that can do the job credibly of course you would look at the job again. But for now I would the access which the [legal] profession will have to the Government is very strong through someone of Michael Cullen's seniority."

Question: Is it also sending a signal that you are going to play it reasonably tough?

The Prime Minister:"It is sending a signal that these issues are taken very seriously."

"The Cabinet rankings haven't changed."

Mita Rirunui's promotion

The Prime Minister:"He has performed very well as the under-secretary in the Health area, working very closely with Annette King and when you move from being an under-secretary to an Associate Minister you have a great deal more responsibility. – we feel having watched Mita in that role that the time has come for him to take that step [up]."

"There will be an election for the Cabinet after the next election [should Labour be in a position to form a government] and at that point maybe everyone will decide to contest again or maybe they won't - but it is an open election. I don't have the ability to choose Ministers of the Cabinet."


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