Cabinet Reshuffle: 'Constant Renewal' Important for National
PM Cabinet Reshuffle Press Conference - 22 Jan 2013
By Mark P. Williams
Today the Prime Minister announced the outcome of his New Year cabinet reshuffle.
He spoke of his personal vision of the importance of renewal, and of injecting new energy into government to maintain coherence, while at the same time emphasising that none of those leaving Cabinet had done anything "wrong". He went on to say that he was not making changes because he considered it necessary to do so for the government to survive but rather wished to use the opportunity to introduce "new thinking" and "fresh energy" by giving opportunities to others.
The main changes
- The announcement of David Carter as new Speaker with the departure of Dr Lockwood Smith for the UK
- The resignations from Cabinet of Housing Minister Phil Heatley and Environment Minister Kate Wilkinson
- Nick Smith will be brought back into Cabinet as Housing Minister
- Senior Whip Michael Woodhouse will be Minister for Immigration and Veterans Affairs and Associate Transport Minister, outside Cabinet
- Nikki Kaye will be Minister for Food Safety, Youth Affairs and Civil Defence, and also Associate Minister for Education working with Hekia Parata. The current Associate Education Minister, Craig Foss, will take on the portfolio of Consumer Affairs.
Other changes he drew attention to were: the appointment of Simon Bridges to take on the Labour portfolio; the appointment of Nathan Guy to take on the Primary Industries portfolio; and a transfer of powers under section seven of the Constitution Act, for Stephen Joyce to take over responsibility for the Novopay debacle from the embattled Education Ministry.
The PM then took questions from the press.
Questions to the Prime Minister
The PM was asked what would happen to those demoted in the reshuffle and whether they had a future in Parliament. He responded that he would be asking them to stay with National "as team players" and had received assurances from them that they would. He spoke about the importance of giving opportunities to other members of the caucus.
The PM was asked what Phil Heatley and Kate
Wilkinson had done wrong to be sacked.
He responded that neither had done anything wrong but that he felt it was important to National that there is "constant renewal".
The PM was asked whether Kate Wilkinson had paid the price for Pike River. The PM insisted that these issues were "completely separate" and that "irrelevant of Pike River" he would still have replaced Kate Wilkinson in this reshuffle.
The PM was asked about relationship he envisaged between the roles of Nikki Kay and Hekia Parata. He responded by speaking about the importance for New Zealand education of computer literacy and IT skills development, particularly for Maori and Pasifika students, and spoke of both Ministers' abilities in this regard. He described Nikki Kay as a "very bright young woman" who would be able to bring a "younger person's perspective" to her role, while Hekia Parata would be able to maintain focus on under-performing children and Christchurch. He added that he had taken the responsibility for the Novopay issue away from the Education Minister to maintain focus and because the government had to take direct responsibility for the issue.
The PM was then asked whether Craig Foss had been out of his depth on the Novopay issue. The PM responded that this was not the case but more senior ministers were needed to "drill down into this issue and get on top of it".
The PM was asked whether Stephen Joyce was the National Party's "Fix-it Guy". He responded that it was important that a senior minister with a lot of "grunt" with a lot of previous commercial experience to take on the matter. The PM was then asked whether he had
The PM was asked about whether Phil Heatley's departure was a sign of the under-performance of the energy sector. He responded that he did not think that was the case.
The PM was asked about housing and housing affordability. He responded that it was a multi-faceted problem with many component parts. He took the opportunity once again to state that he considered Labour's proposals unworkable, saying that it would not be possible to produce a house for $300k "that would live up to the expectations of those people", adding that he had "no doubt" it would be possible to produce a house for $300k in Auckland but it would be a "one or two bedroom apartment" and not what people "had in mind". He went on to say that the problem of affordability was more a question of interest rates on mortgages and given that he had interest rates on 50-year lows there was only so much to be done.
The PM was asked whether he had been assured that there were "no more skeletons in Nick Smith's closet". He responded by saying that it is only ever possible to go on the information available. He said that Nick Smith may have made a mistake that meant he had to go but it now was time for him to come back because "he brings a lot to the table".
The PM was asked why he went for Chris Tremain as Local Government Minister rather than Nick Smith. He said that this was primarily because he wanted to put Nick Smith into Housing and into Conservation. He said it was important because National are portrayed by their "political opponents as not having the environmental concern that some people think is important" and the PM decided Nick Smith was the person to counter this perception.
The PM was asked
whether David Carter was reluctant to take on the role of
He responded that David Carter had been happy to take on whatever position the PM asked him to and said that he was confident Mr Carter would do a very good job.
The PM was asked about his expectations of Nick Smith's approach to Housing, given that he had "presided over a culture of change at ACC that put results over client needs". The PM responded that he did not characterise Nick Smith's tenure in that way, saying that "there are a variety of different views" and added that he expected Mr Smith to be someone with lots of energy and ideas.
The PM was asked whether he could imagine taking this particular Cabinet team into the next election or could we expect a pre-election reshuffle. He responded that he had not thought about it.
The PM was asked when he told Kate Wilkinson and Phil Heatley that he would no longer be requiring their services. He said that he spoke to them last night and this morning respectively. He was asked whether they were surprised. He responded that they were but that they accepted his thinking and decision. He went on to say that he did not feel that Helen Clarke had reshuffled her Cabinet well and had "only done it by necessity", saying that he viewed the role as being "something like a CEO"
The PM was asked what precisely he said to Phil Heatley. He responded that he had phrased it similarly to how he had described it to the press: he thanked him for his contribution and said that he would be seeking to refresh the position with "renewal" and "fresh thinking".
The PM was asked whether this would extend to other Ministers, a requirement for "new blood". He said that it was no reflection of the longevity of other Ministerial careers.
He was then asked whether it meant that the entire cabinet was effectively "on notice" that if their ideas were not "fresh" enough. He responded that "from time to time" organisations do make changes and his government planned to be around for a long time and would "refresh" whenever it "makes sense to do so".
The PM was asked whether the Charter Schools scheme would be part of the responsibility of Nikki Kay as Associate Education Minister. He responded that no, Charter Schools were still a matter for John Banks.
The PM was asked how, given that he was getting rid of Kate Wilkinson and Phil Heatley, he could account for keeping Hekia Parata on as Education Minister. He responded by saying that the other people he was letting go had all been in their positions for around four years whereas Ms Parata had been in post for less than one year. He went on to say that he accepts that she had made some mistakes, adding that he felt that Ms Parata would also accept that she had made some mistakes, but that she had also done a lot of things well. He spoke of the confidence he had in her talents to make up for mistakes and do very well in the position.
The PM was then asked about his own health. He responded that he was fine and that there was nothing wrong, saying that he had simply fainted, "it happens". Asked whether he had personally fainted before he replied that no, but there was "a first time for everything" and he hoped not to repeat the experience.