With the deal-making done and an "action plan" in place, John Key has the foundations for a second term of significant reform. What the Prime Minister also needs, however, is a Cabinet that will drive that change, rather than settle for managing what has already been achieved. Yesterday's announcement of the personnel of that Cabinet was, therefore, pivotal to what happens over the next three years. By and large, Mr Key has succeeded in assembling a line-up imbued with both experience and freshness to achieve that.
The Prime Minister was fortunate in having a good amount of room to manoeuvre, thanks to the retirements of Simon Power, Wayne Mapp and Georgina te Heuheu. National's supporting parties also helped by not seeking seats at the Cabinet table. This has allowed him to downgrade some ministers, such as Nick Smith and David Carter, without being too abrupt about it. It has also enabled Mr Key to give substantial promotions to those who proved their worth in the first term or those he regards as particularly promising.
In the first camp is Steven Joyce; in the second Hekia Parata.
Mr Joyce's promotion from 14 on the Cabinet list to four reflects, in many ways, the influence he has wielded over the past three years. But it also signifies that he will now be a central figure in the Government's economic growth ambitions. His portfolios encompass economic development, science and innovation and associate finance. He is also in charge of a new portfolio called tertiary education, skills and employment. This places employment in a growth context, rather than placing it under the social welfare umbrella.
Mr Joyce does, however, lose transport, which goes to Gerry Brownlee. That choice is somewhat perplexing because Mr Brownlee's focus, as the Minister for Canterbury Earthquake Recovery, will be on Christchurch. His main transport decisions, however, will involve Auckland.
Hekia Parata has been handed an especially testing assignment in replacing Anne Tolley as the Minister of Education. Like her predecessor, she can expect no respite from the teachers' unions as she seeks to embed increased accountability to parents. National's proposed personality test for aspiring teachers has simply raised the ante. But even more contentious will be the establishment of charter schools in South Auckland and central Christchurch as part of National's agreement with Act. Hekia Parata will have to prove herself adept at working with Associate Education Minister John Banks on these, not least in keeping everything on an even keel.
Judith Collins is another to rise. The former Police Minister picks up the justice portfolio vacated by the industrious Mr Power. A toughening of the bail laws and the establishment of civil detention orders for high-risk sex offenders will be among her priorities. During her time in the police portfolio, she showed a penchant for making light of civil liberties. She must be careful not to compromise freedoms in her reform of the justice system. Commerce, the other portfolio in which Mr Power made big steps, goes to Craig Foss, who was a minister outside Cabinet in the previous term. He will have his hands full embedding Mr Power's work.
The Maori Party's three votes of confidence and supply give Mr Key a total of 64 votes in the 121-seat Parliament. But that party is not bound to support National's "action plan", including partial asset sales. That means the Prime Minister may be able to count on just 61 votes in some situations. It also means the Government can afford no fraying around the edges because of ministerial ineptitude. In the main, Mr Key seems to have guarded against this while also creating the right climate for reform.