Claire Trevett

Claire Trevett is the New Zealand Herald’s deputy political editor.

King, Jones tipped for return to front bench

Labour pre-election Cabinet reshuffle could see seasoned MPs back on top.

Ms King's likely return to the front bench. Photo / Supplied
Ms King's likely return to the front bench. Photo / Supplied

Labour's reshuffle this week is expected to include a surprise move in the return of one of the party's longest-standing and most effective MPs, Annette King, to the front bench, where she is tipped to take over the health portfolio.

The reshuffle is also likely to see the return to the front bench of Shane Jones in the Maori Affairs portfolio, while Chris Hipkins and relative newcomer Phil Twyford are also contenders for the portfolios of education and housing respectively.

Labour leader David Shearer is due to announce his reshuffle early this week.

Ms King, who was former leader Phil Goff's deputy, shifted to the midbenches after she and Mr Goff stood down from the leadership after the 2011 election. However, Ms King is a former health minister and one of the hardest hitting MPs over the past term - valuable attributes given Labour has failed to get any major hits on Health Minister Tony Ryall.

Ms King's likely return to the front bench and such a major portfolio also indicates she has given a cast iron commitment to stand again in 2014.

Te Atatu MP Phil Twyford is likely to take on the housing portfolio from Ms King, who was the author of Labour's major $1.5 billion affordable housing policy to build 100,000 homes in 10 years. Mr Twyford is well-placed to take over and has the advantage of a base in Auckland where the policy is targeted.

The change is likely to see current health spokeswoman Maryan Street slip off the front bench to the mid-benches - much of her work has been out of the public eye and she has not had the impact Labour needed against Health Minister Tony Ryall.

Others understood to be set for promotion include Kris Faafoi, and newcomers David Clark and Andrew Little, who is expected to get the justice portfolio after the resignation of Charles Chauvel to work in New York for the United Nations.

There is likely to be some redemption for David Cunliffe who will be allocated some portfolio areas, although a promotion up the ranks is unlikely. Mr Cunliffe was stripped of his front bench seat and portfolios after refusing to rule out a challenge to David Shearer's leadership in November last year.

However, Mr Jones is set to return to the front bench after being stood down while the Auditor General made an inquiry into Mr Jones' 2008 decision to grant citizenship to Chinese businessman William Yan, against officials' advice. Mr Shearer said at the time he would reinstate Mr Jones if that inquiry cleared his name.

Although the final Auditor General report on that matter is yet to be released, Mr Shearer is clearly comfortable enough with the draft report to reinstate Mr Jones now. That draft report has not been publicly released, but a promotion for Mr Jones indicates Mr Shearer is willing to ride out any criticism of Mr Jones that might be in the report, which was sent to those involved.

The early decision could also be prompted by the need to have a Maori MP on the front bench. Parekura Horomia has been low profile this term and Nanaia Mahuta is expected to be shifted off the front bench and current whip Chris Hipkins made education spokesman. Mr Hipkins impressed his colleagues as acting education spokesman while Ms Mahuta was on maternity leave, including his handling of the Christchurch schools restructure.

A spokesman said Mr Shearer could not be interviewed yesterday and was not commenting on the reshuffle. In 2011, Mr Shearer put his 34 MPs on notice that they had to perform and warned he would re-evaluate his line-up after a year and reward those who were performing.

Herald tips for Labour reshuffle

Front bench
Annette King
(Health)
Shane Jones
(Maori Affairs)
Chris Hipkins
(Education)
Phil Twyford
(Housing)

Up?
Andrew Little
David Clark
Kris Faafoi

Down?
Nanaia Mahuta
Maryan Street
Lianne Dalziel
Su'a William Sio

- NZ Herald

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