Disappointed, but unbowed, Whangarei MP Phil Heatley said his dumping as a cabinet minister means he will have more time to concentrate on his electorate.
Mr Heatley was unexpectedly dumped from his Energy and Resources and Housing ministerial portfolios in Prime Minister John Key's latest cabinet reshuffle yesterday.
The Northern Advocate spoke to Mr Heatley shortly after the reshuffle was announced and he said the first he knew he would lose his place round the cabinet table was yesterday morning.
"I'm disappointed, but I fully understand that John Key has to refresh the team and I completely accept that. I've been around long enough to know that's something that can happen," he said.
Mr Key said Mr Heatley had made a great contribution as a minister but there was a need for National to refresh and he had had a commitment from him that he would remain a team player on the back bench.
"I made the judgment it was time for fresh energy and ideas and it was timely for other members of what is a talented caucus of 59 to be given an opportunity," Mr Key said.
Mr Heatley said he hadn't given any thought at this stage to any possible return to cabinet, as his colleague Nick Smith has done.
"I've always been MP for Whangarei and that's my first priority. This will allow me to have more time in my electorate working for Whangarei."
Recent comments from readers of the Northern Advocate website, and letters to the editor, criticised Mr Heatley for being absent from his electorate, but the MP said one of the down sides of being a minister was that he had to focus on national issues and didn't get to spend as much time on electorate issues.
"But I still returned home once a week and will now be able to spend more time in Whangarei," he said.
Mr Heatley said he felt he had done a good job at his portfolios in his four years as a minister so the demotion came as a surprise. He said he was keen to continue as Whangarei MP and was would stand for the party in the next election if wanted.
Mr Heatley stood down from his ministerial posts in 2010 before returning 34 days later after being cleared of any intentional wrongdoing over the misuse of his ministerial credit card. He had signed an expense claim for a dinner when, in fact, the $70 charge was for bottles of wine at a National Party function.