Judith Collins and her pre-reshuffle caucus at a press conference at parliament on October 20 (Photo: Lynn Grieveson/Newsroom via Getty Images)
Judith Collins and her pre-reshuffle caucus at a press conference at parliament on October 20 (Photo: Lynn Grieveson/Newsroom via Getty Images)

PoliticsNovember 12, 2020

Ten eyebrow-raising decisions from Judith Collins’ caucus shake-up

Judith Collins and her pre-reshuffle caucus at a press conference at parliament on October 20 (Photo: Lynn Grieveson/Newsroom via Getty Images)
Judith Collins and her pre-reshuffle caucus at a press conference at parliament on October 20 (Photo: Lynn Grieveson/Newsroom via Getty Images)

The opposition leader appointed her shadow cabinet yesterday, and in doing so made some unexpected choices. Here are 10 Justin Giovannetti is pondering.

Judith Collins has put her stamp on the National Party with a new shadow cabinet that breaks with her predecessors. With a small caucus of only 33, Collins has given each of her MPs a job for the coming years. Some have seen their fortunes rise while others have plummeted, and a few are just hard to explain.

Tālofa at the top

Owing to the lack of Pasifika MPs in National, with Alfred Ngaro and Fonoti Agnes Loheni both losing their seats, Collins made herself the spokesperson for Pacific peoples. If you weren’t paying attention during the campaign, Collins once quipped “my husband is Sāmoan, so tālofa”. She eventually owned it and bought a “so tālofa” mug. She also quite angrily told Jacinda Ardern during a debate, “don’t disrespect Sāmoa”. The love shown for New Zealand’s Pacific neighbours isn’t going anywhere.

For the love of tech

Sometimes during political campaigns leaders hit up a campaign stop they can’t forget. For Judith Collins, that was tech. It’s not clear which of her technology stops got to her, but at one point during the campaign Collins decided that technology and artificial intelligence were going to save the country’s economy. Tech got added to her stump speech. She loves tech, she’d make clear, at stops nowhere near anything with a processor chip in it. Now, she’s the spokesperson for technology, manufacturing and artificial intelligence.

Andrew Bayly

Good Dr Shane Reti is the party’s deputy leader, health spokesperson and point man on children. That was expected. Number three on the list? Andrew Bayly. He skyrocketed up 14 slots in the caucus rankings. 

An accountant, banker and corporate director before entering politics, Bayly has been in parliament since 2014. Apart from a private member’s bill giving landlords more power to deal with meth, he hasn’t made much of a splash. He’s now been put in charge of the party’s economic portfolio with the newly created title of shadow treasurer. Collins has called the “jobs crisis” this generation’s nuclear moment, so the pressure will be on Bayly.

One career rescued

Michael Woodhouse had been National’s health spokesman for much of the Covid-19 response. His speeches in the house about failings at managed isolation were a daily spectacle. He brought to light real problems, as well as tales of a homeless man who snuck in and lived in the splendour of free five-star accommodation, which turned out to be not quite as he claimed. He was largely responsible for the critical tone National adopted around Covid that put off some New Zealanders. 

Woodhouse was stripped of the health portfolio in July when it was revealed he had received private patient data from former National boss Michelle Boag. The government announced a probe into the data breach while Woodhouse never told his party’s leader or health officials that Boag was sending the data around. He deleted the data and eventually told his party he’d had it all along.

Nearly four months later, Woodhouse was promoted to number four on the party’s list and made finance spokesperson. Bayly and Woodhouse are now expected to work together as the party’s finance brains. “They are quite joined at the hip, they get on together,” Collins told reporters today as the two men pantomimed being stuck together. “They are quite a powerhouse.”

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Finance jobs

National has decided to split the finance role into two, following the treasurer-finance minister model once used by the party in government in the 1990s and apparently popular in Australia. Finance minister Grant Robertson has been put at the head of a finance team in cabinet, but he’s not splitting the ministry with anyone else. Bayly, as the higher-ranked MP in caucus, will be the one to take on Robertson in the house.

Another career destroyed

There are quite a few National MPs who’ve gone home today with a bag of coal.

Paul Goldsmith, the party’s finance whiz who ended up with a several-billion-dollar hole in the party’s fiscal plan during the campaign, has been demoted. From number three in caucus, he’s now 12. Where nearly everyone has several jobs, Goldsmith is now the education spokesman.

Old leaders not needed

Simon Bridges had been given the foreign affairs job before the election and a comfortable position at number four in caucus. Despite being fired by caucus, his experience and yak-fuelled charisma seemed to point to an ongoing future in the party. That future is over. He’s now number seven, holding the justice portfolio, water, and Māori-Crown relations. 

Todd Muller, the man who rolled Bridges, has fared worse. Four months ago the entire National Party told the country this man was going to be prime minister. Now he’s slipped to number 19 in the caucus list and is in charge of trade, export growth and internal affairs.

According to Collins’ view of the world, Barbara Kuriger is now more important to the National Party than Todd Muller. Who is that? That’s a good question.

Two more who have tumbled 

Gerry Brownlee was Collins’ first deputy leader and ran the party’s unsuccessful campaign. During her debate in Christchurch, Collins made good use of her deputy as a source of ringside support and some humour. Brownlee lost his electorate of Ilam after a quarter century, stood down as deputy leader and has dropped 13 slots in caucus. He’s now the foreign affairs critic. Ranked above him in importance is the spokesperson for broadcasting and media, Melissa Lee, who jumped seven positions.

Nick Smith dropped to 23rd place in caucus. A former minister who served in the cabinets of Jenny Shipley, John Key and Bill English, he has been in Parliament since 1990. Smith lost the Nelson electorate and got into parliament on the party list. He’s now the spokesperson for research, science and electoral reform.

There were questions after election night about whether Brownlee and Smith would stay on after losing their once solidly blue electorates. Both could have stepped down and allowed younger MPs to enter a caucus with little fresh talent. They both decided to stay on and will now be in the back bench somewhere.

The roads man

National announced a lot of road projects during their election campaign. Many, many road projects. The man behind that was Chris Bishop. The Lower Hutt-based MP was the party’s energetic transport guru, a fan of roads and other modes of transportation. No good deed goes unpunished. He’s now the head of the Covid-19 response at number eight in caucus. With the virus spreading around the world, he’s sure to have a busy time.

Keep your friends close and your enemies… further away

Christopher Luxon, the former head of Air New Zealand and long-rumoured next leader of the National Party, has been slotted in at number 30 in the caucus list. Collins is taking no risks. For the first time in his life, Luxon will be sitting in the cheap seats once parliament convenes. He’ll need binoculars and a portable radio to hear the proceedings from the speaker’s chair.

He’s been put in the low-pressure job of local government and associate transport critic. Luxon has also been put in charge of the newly created position of iwi development. It’s unclear what he’ll do there. However, when he was the head of Air NZ, Luxon tried to trademark “Kia Ora” and banned the wearing of visible tā moko by staff. To his credit, the ban was lifted as Luxon was leaving the chief executive’s office.

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