Former media minister Melissa Lee (Image: Tina Tiller)
Former media minister Melissa Lee (Image: Tina Tiller)

The BulletinApril 26, 2024

Media industry sheds few tears for minister Lee

Former media minister Melissa Lee (Image: Tina Tiller)
Former media minister Melissa Lee (Image: Tina Tiller)

The sector says it’s hopeful her replacement Paul Goldsmith will be able to throw it a lifeline, after six months with a minister deemed missing in action, writes Catherine McGregor in this excerpt from The Bulletin, The Spinoff’s morning news round-up. To receive The Bulletin in full each weekday, sign up here.

‘A clear and decisive message’

Almost 48 hours on, reaction to the demotion of ministers Melissa Lee and Penny Simmonds continues to arrive. Both lost their portfolios after performing badly over recent weeks, though PM Chris Luxon would not admit that performance was an issue in either case. Instead he said only that their portfolios had grown “too complex” and he had decided he needed “senior Cabinet ministers considering these issues”. Writing for The Post (paywalled), Kelly Dennett says the sackings “sent a clear and decisive message to [Luxon’s] caucus – that it won’t take a scandal or serious wrongdoing to be sent to the backbenches”. The demotions come less than six months into Luxon’s term in office. By contrast, Jacinda Ardern’s first demotion, of broadcasting minister Clare Curran, took place in August 2018. However Curran held onto her portfolio and was only dismissed from Cabinet. She resigned as minister the following month.

Good riddance, say media insiders

Of the two sackings, it is Lee’s which has been most scrutinised. Newsroom’s Laura Walters reports that her dismissal “came after another failed attempt at presenting a paper to Cabinet Committee” to address the closure of Newshub and the wider crisis in media. It was the third paper Lee had prepared since the announcement of Newshub’s closure in February, and Luxon felt it still “did not adequately deal with the complexities of the issues facing the media industry”. Meanwhile commentators have weighed in on Lee’s brief tenure as media minister. Mark Jennings, the former TV3 head of news and Newsroom founder, tells the Herald’s Adam Pearse the media likely breathed a “collective sigh of relief” at the news of her removal. “I don’t think any of us thought that she has displayed any deep understanding of the issues and challenges facing us.” Q & A host Jack Tame observes that she was also “notably unenthusiastic about being questioned in her role”. After refusing to appear on the show in the run-up to the election, she “declined an additional four separate requests to be interviewed on the show this year. Her reasoning? She didn’t feel there was much she could really say.”

Goldsmith a safe pair of hands

Lee’s replacement in the media portfolio is Paul Goldsmith, already one of the government’s busiest ministers with responsibility for justice, state-owned enterprises, Waitangi Tribunal claims, and arts, culture and heritage. He’s currently in Europe, where he’s due to appear before the UN next week (more on that on Monday), but a spokesperson says he plans to meet with media as soon as possible upon his return. Jennings says Goldsmith is a good choice given his understanding of, and relationship with, the media industry. “He’ll also have the respect of his Cabinet colleagues, so when he puts something forward that is likely to help or solve some of the issues that we’re currently facing, I think it’ll be taken seriously.” Labour leader Chris Hipkins says the early government reshuffle shows the “wheels are falling off already” while bringing up the $4b “fiscal hole” in Goldsmith’s costings when he was finance spokesperson last year.

Climate change reclaims its seat at the Cabinet table

It’s a partial goodbye too to Penny Simmonds, sacked after showing “an apparent lack of attention” to her disabilities issues portfolio, writes Newsroom’s Walters. She also “managed to unify the disability and caring community in collective outrage by placing the blame [for budget shortfalls] on carers for spending up large on haircuts, massages and pedicures”. Simmonds’ replacement is social development minister Louise Upston, while climate change minister Simon Watt has been promoted into Cabinet in Lee’s place. “He was unlucky to miss out on a spot in Cabinet in November… and he’s clearly shown Luxon he’s up to the job,” says RNZ’s Jo Moir. “It will also bring to an end the frustration from climate and environment quarters over the climate change portfolio being outside Cabinet in the first place.”

Keep going!