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Cablegate: New Zealand Cabinet Reshuffle: First Up,

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 WELLINGTON 001040

SIPDIS

DEPT FOR EAP/ANP

E.O. 12958: DECL: 12/14/2014
TAGS: PGOV NZ PBIO
SUBJECT: NEW ZEALAND CABINET RESHUFFLE: FIRST UP,
CONTROVERSIAL CHOICE FOR SPEAKER


Classified By: POLITICAL AND ECONOMIC COUNSELOR KATHERINE HADDA,
FOR REASONS 1.4(B,D)

1. (U) Summary: The Labour Government took its first steps
in a long-heralded Cabinet reshuffle, with the December 14
nomination of current Attorney-General Margaret Wilson for
the position of Speaker of the House. The Speaker is the
third highest office in the country and, while the role is
non-partisan, Speakers do maintain links to their nominating
party. Wilson's selection came as a surprise as Defense
Minister Mark Burton had long been tipped as the
front-runner, and Opposition parties had informally approved
of the choice. The switch to party-ideologue Wilson has
inflamed opposition parties, who argue that she lacks the
necessary experience for the job. However, her confirmation
is likely, and has now raised interest among Labour MPs as to
who will take over her three portfolios: as Attorney General,
Treaty of Waitangi Negotiations Minister and Commerce
Minister. With very few Ministerial portfolios deemed
secure, the full reshuffle (expected within the next week)
has sparked intense lobbying and speculation. End summary.

Opposition Inflamed
-------------------

2. (U) The Labour Government took its first steps in a
long-awaited Cabinet reshuffle, with the December 14
nomination of current Attorney-General Margaret Wilson for
the position of Speaker of the House. Under Labour's system
of nomination, the full caucus votes on who is allowed into
Parliament, but decisions on the distribution of portfolios
are made by PM Clark. Wilson's selection came as a surprise
as Defense Minister Mark Burton had long been tipped as the
front-runner, and Opposition parties had informally approved
of the choice. Opposition National Deputy Leader Gerry
Brownlee savaged Wilson's selection, noting that "respect is
earned, but granted by appointment." ACT MP Richard Prebble
categorized the nomination as part of "Helen Clark's
gender-promoting strategy," and NZ First leader Winston
Peters carped that his party had not been consulted. Despite
these objections, Wilson is likely to be confirmed with a
solid majority, as both the United Future and Green parties
have agreed to support Labour and the Progressives.

Role of the Speaker
-------------------

3. (U) The Speaker of the House is the highest office in the
House, and third in the country, after the Governor General
and the PM. While the role is non-partisan, and the Speaker
may not display favor for one party over another, Speakers do
maintain links to their nominating party. In addition to
these roles within Parliament, the Speaker presides over
select committees including the Business Committee, the
Officers of Parliament Committee and the Standing Orders
Committee. The Speaker also has statutory responsibilities
for the Controller and Auditor General, the Ombudsman and the
Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment. Current
Speaker Jonathan Hunt will be departing the post in March to
become High Commissioner to London. Under NZ's Mixed-Member
Proportional system, he will be replaced in Parliament by the
next on the Labour Party list, Lesley Soper, Labour Party
Women's Vice President.

Wilson's Labour Credentials
---------------------------

4. (U) Wilson was President of the Labour Party from 1984 -
1987, and is widely seen as one of the more uncompromising
MPs over NZ's anti-nuclear legislation. Wilson was then
chief advisor to Labour PM Sir Geoffrey Palmer, and following
that dean and professor of law at Waikato University. She
was elected to Parliament in 1999, and the Opposition has
pointed out her lack of experience in Opposition in
condemning her nomination. Wilson has dismissed this concern
noting that she is efficient and organized, and will be able
to learn "on the job." Earlier in the year Wilson had
publicly spoken of a desire to leave Parliament and return to
academia, but was convinced by the caucus to stay.

Is there a lawyer in the house?
-------------------------------

5. (U) Wilson's nomination has not only set the Opposition
boiling, but has raised interest among Labour MPs as to who
will take over her three portfolios, as Attorney General,
Treaty of Waitangi Negotiations Minister and Commerce
Minister. The Attorney General is the senior law officer of
the Crown as well as having responsibility for the Crown Law
Office, the Serious Fraud Office and the Parliamentary
Counsel Office. This combination requires the incumbent to
combine the obligation to act in a non-partisan matter on
some issues with the political partisanship of being a
Minister. Speculation on her replacement is rife, as a
lawyer has traditionally held the role of Attorney General,
but Labour has only 5 lawyers. These include two first-term
MPs plus disgraced Ministers John Tamihere and Lianne
Dalziel. Michael Cullen and Phil Goff (who is not a lawyer)
are considered the most likely candidates for the post, but
this would require either of the men to give up another
portfolio.

Comment:
--------

6. (C) Although unexpected, Wilson has publicly expressed
dissatisfaction with her portfolios, and is not seen as
widely supported by business. Clark's decision to move her
from active portfolios to the Speaker's job is likely a plum
offered as an enticement for Wilson to remain in Parliament
through the next election. Wilson's nomination has throw
Parliament and the media into a frenzy, as previously "safe"
portfolios are now open to reexamination and possible
redistribution. In terms of personal politics, Wilson is
widely seen as one of the more uncompromising MPs over NZ's
anti-nuclear legislation, as she was integral in its passage.
Her confirmation as Speaker means she will no longer attend
Cabinet meetings, removing a strong anti-nuclear voice from
the fray. However, she and Helen Clark are very close
personal friends, and she undoubtedly has the ear of the PM.

7. (C) Wilson's move comes among intense speculation that
other, unrelated Cabinet shuffles are in the works, to be
announced within the week. According to Parliamentary
insiders, the PM has reportedly said that only the Finance
and Foreign Affairs portfolios "need stability" and will not
change. While their portfolios may not change drastically,
the competition among ministers to prove their worth has
intensified. Stay tuned.
Swindells

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