Labour MP Nanaia Mahuta has hit back at speculation she will be demoted in a looming reshuffle by Labour leader David Shearer, indicating she will resist any attempt to take the education portfolio from her.
Mr Shearer confirmed last weekend he intended to go ahead with a reshuffle toward the end of the year. The recent appointment of Chris Hipkins to the education team and Ms Mahuta's relatively low profile in the role until recently prompted speculation she would be taken off the front bench and the education portfolio given to another MP. The reshuffle will also coincide with Ms Mahuta having her second child in December.
In February last year, Ms Mahuta withdrew from the front bench to concentrate on her first child. She was reinstated late last year by new leader David Shearer in a move widely regarded as an olive branch after Ms Mahuta stood for the deputy leader post alongside David Cunliffe.
Ms Ms Mahuta said this time she intended to return to work and her pregnancy should not be a factor in any decisions to do with the reshuffle.
"I've said I intend to come back to work and I am happy in the role that I have in education, and I will work hard and am committed to that because it is an important portfolio."
Asked if she believed there was a perception she had underperformed, she said nobody had raised concerns with her about it.
"I can't think why, and if that is the case, it's the first I've heard about it."
Mr Shearer has refused to comment on his specific plans for the reshuffle. Asked about Ms Mahuta's comments, he said he made it clear from the start that all portfolios would be reviewed after a year "and that's what I'll do."
Asked about her future in politics, Ms Mahuta said she did intend to stand again in 2014. She was more dismissive about the possibility John Tamihere could run for Parliament again, saying Labour had decided during its recent organisational review that it should focus on attracting more young people and women to ensure it was in a strong place through to 2026.
"John Tamihere says a lot of things, and a lot of them are very memorable, like front bottoms, so if there's space for John Tamihere in the Labour caucus it will probably be at the call of the current leadership. But what I know is that the future of the Labour Party will require looking to a younger generation of Maori leadership."
Mr Tamihere is understood to be considering a return - and will not rule it out. However, he is no longer a party member and has not yet applied to rejoin the party - something which will require approval from the party's General Secretary Tim Barnett. It is very rare for a membership to be blocked, but high profile applications are considered carefully, including any previous criticisms of the party.
Shane Jones and Parekura Horomia are yet to commit to standing again, and Ms Mahuta said Labour's leadership needed to ensure strong Maori and Pacific representation for the future.By Claire Trevett @CTrevettNZH Email Claire