Cablegate: New Zealand Prime Minister Announces New Cabinet
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 WELLINGTON 000813
STATE FOR D (FRITZ), EAP/ANP, EAP/EP, EAP/RSP, INR/EAP
NSC FOR VICTOR CHA AND MICHAEL GREEN
SECDEF FOR OSD/ISA LIZ PHU
PACOM FOR J2/J233/J5/SJFHQ
E.O. 12958: DECL: 10/18/2015
TAGS: PGOV PREL NZ
SUBJECT: NEW ZEALAND PRIME MINISTER ANNOUNCES NEW CABINET
REF: WELLINGTON 806
(U) Classified by: Charge d'Affaires David R. Burnett, for
reasons 1.4(b) and (d).
1. (C) New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark on October 19
unveiled a new Cabinet dominated by familiar faces, with
veteran members of Parliament named to the top seven
positions. None of the Cabinet assignments is particularly
controversial. However, the one controversial choice -- the
appointment of New Zealand First leader Winston Peters as
foreign minister outside of Cabinet, announced October 17 --
continued to stir public debate. The naming of Phil Goff,
the former foreign minister, to several externally-focused
cabinet positions, including trade and defense, ensures his
continued hand in foreign policy and, perhaps, a role in
serving as a check to Peters. Meanwhile, Clark also signaled
a heightened concern for national security by also naming
Goff to minister of defense, the first high-ranking Cabinet
member in years to get that assignment. Annette King, who
numbers among Clark's closest confidantes, becomes minister
of police and the first-ever associate minister of defense.
Goff taking one for the team
2. (C) If Cabinet were an airplane, then Phil Goff must feel
as if he were asked to exchange his first-class seat for one
in coach. In relinquishing his prime foreign affairs
portfolio to Winston Peters -- in what many assume was a
trade for New Zealand First's essential support in forming a
Labor-led government (reftel) -- Goff now takes on an array
of lower status externally-oriented ministerial assignments:
trade, trade negotiations (when the incumbent Minister Jim
Sutton retires the portfolio at the end of the year following
the Doha Round talks), defense, and disarmament and arms
control. He continues as minister of Pacific Island affairs.
Yet still influential
3. (C) In explaining Goff's place in the new Cabinet, Prime
Minister Clark asserted that Goff's vast experience and
credibility in international relations would be invaluable in
his new portfolios. Although his mandate no longer includes
the formulation of foreign policy per se, he nonetheless will
have a significant influence on external policies. Given
that trade is essentially the load-bearing column of New
Zealand's foreign policy platform, Goff's role in steering
trade policy and trade negotiations enables him to continue
exerting influence on important foreign policy issues.
4. (SBU) Cabinet is the final arbiter on foreign affairs
matters, and Goff remains among the top five cabinet members.
While Peters manages the foreign affairs portfolio, he will
be absent from Cabinet unless asked. Thus, he may have
little influence on its policy debates and decisions. One
academic criticized the appointment outside Cabinet as
sending a bad signal to the rest of the world on the
importance that New Zealand attaches to its foreign affairs.
Others questioned the appropriateness of appointing a foreign
minister who has been known to oppose immigration,
specifically of Asians.
A safeguard to Peters?
5. (C) Goff's capture of the other externally-oriented
portfolios could indicate that Clark views Goff as a check or
safeguard to prevent possible free-lance activity by Peters
in his role as foreign minister. Goff has more experience
than Peters in the conduct of foreign relations and the
formulation of foreign policy. Nevertheless, Peters'
position outside Cabinet leaves him unshackled to Labour's
policies and agenda. Ultimately, as New Zealand First's
leader, he has the ability to bring down the Labour-led
A better reception at Defense
6. (C) New Zealand defense officials will likely welcome
Goff's appointment to the defense portfolio, replacing Mark
Burton who becomes justice minister. Burton's time in charge
of the portfolio was troubled by controversy over procurement
problems and criticism for failing to maintain the country's
defense capabilities. Goff enjoys greater credibility on
global affairs and has a "safe pair of hands."
The remaining distribution of portfolios
7. (C) The troublesome police portfolio has gone to Annette
King, along with that of State Services that includes
coordinating responsibility for race relations. Steve Maharey
takes the education portfolio. As expected, Deputy Prime
Minister Michael Cullen keeps the finance portfolio, but also
takes charge of tertiary education. The new health minister
is Pete Hodgson, who had been training for the role as an
associate. Together with Goff, these top-tier ministers are
widely recognized as the most accomplished.
8. (C) Cabinet's third-ranked minister, Jim Anderton --
leader of the Progressive Party, which is in coalition with
Labour -- has been handed agriculture, biosecurity and
fisheries. Trevor Mallard, formerly education minister,
takes over the economic development portfolio, previously
held by Anderton. Lianne Dalziel -- returning to Cabinet
after a spell on the back benches -- is the new minister of
commerce. At number 15, she is the highest-ranked of the new
Cabinet ministers. There are five other new faces among
Cabinet's 21 members.
9. (U) Other changes include Damien O'Connor, who previously
was a minister outside Cabinet and is now the minister of
corrections and minister of tourism. David Cunliffe, who was
also a minister outside Cabinet, takes the immigration
portfolio. Nanaia Mahuta is customs minister, and Clayton
Cosgrove is the minister for building issues.
10. (C) The big mover into the Cabinet ranks is David Parker,
who is one of the few Labour MPs with a legal background.
Parker becomes energy minister, transport minister, attorney
general and the minister responsible for climate change.