Audrey Young is the New Zealand Herald’s political editor.

Audrey Young: Front bench 'freshened up'

Amy Adams, New Zealand's new Minister of Internal Affairs. Photo / Geoff Sloan
Amy Adams, New Zealand's new Minister of Internal Affairs. Photo / Geoff Sloan

John Key has not only "freshened up" National's front bench, as he put it a short time ago at a press conference, he has modernised it.

When Parliament resumes next week for the first time since the election, National's front bench will have three women out of nine, and two of them are Maori: new Education Minister Hekia Parata, and Social Development Minister Paula Bennett.

Gender and ethnic considerations have not been that important to National in the past.

They are becoming more so - as the growing diversity in its list under MMP also suggests.

That is not to say that Parata and Bennett have not been promoted on merit.

They performed very well for National last term, with Parata gaining the biggest promotion from No 20 in the last cabinet to No 7 and landing the huge responsibility of Education.

Education unions traditionally clash with the National Education Minister after a Labour Government has been ejected from office - Merv Wellington, Lockwood Smith, Anne Tolley.

Parata can expect an easier time partly because Tolley has already done the bulldozing work on national standards. And the most controversial policy this term, charter schools, will probably affect very few schools.

Key has tried to soften the blow for Tolley over her demotion from the front bench with a couple of high-profile portfolios in Police and Corrections and the role of Deputy Leader of the House to Gerry Brownlee.

Nick Smith has been shifted back from No 6 to No 10 to make room for a younger political generation. Fellow member of the Brat Pack, Tony Ryall, has held his front bench position but had a slight demotion.

The Health Minister has done nothing in particular to deserve a demotion from 5 to No 6 and been widely praised for his handling of the portfolio.

But Judith Collins has been bumped just ahead of him.

Her promotion breaks up an otherwise consecutive run of men in the top five.

Ryall was elected in 1990 and is unlikely to go further. Collins being elected in 2002 is modern National and could go further in the future.

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Audrey Young is the New Zealand Herald’s political editor.

Audrey Young is the New Zealand Herald’s political editor, a job she has held since 2003. She is responsible for the Herald’s Press Gallery team. She first joined the New Zealand Herald in 1988 as a sub-editor after the closure of its tabloid rival, the Auckland Sun. She switched to reporting in 1991 as social welfare and housing reporter. She joined the Herald’s Press Gallery office in 1994. She has previously worked as a journalism tutor at Manukau Technical Institute, as member of the Newspapers in Education unit at Wellington Newspapers and as a teacher in Wellington. She was a union nominee on the Press Council for six years.

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