Labour's new health spokeswoman Annette King has sent a warning shot to Health Minister Tony Ryall that she intends to put an end to his golden run in the portfolio, saying the apparent calm in the sector was only a veneer and he had created a "climate of fear" which prevented people speaking out.
Ms King, a former health minister, moved back on to Labour's front bench in a reshuffle by Labour leader David Shearer yesterday and was allocated the health portfolio in a clear sign Labour wants to start getting some hits in the critical portfolio area. Ms King will be the fourth health spokesperson Labour has put up to try to tackle Mr Ryall since National entered Government in 2008: she was preceded by Maryan Street, Grant Robertson and Ruth Dyson.
Ms King said Mr Ryall was a good political operator and made a lot of noise about success in areas such as waiting times but stayed silent about the areas that were hurting from cuts.
"One of the things I do know is there is a kind of a climate of fear in health which has prevented people speaking out. I think Tony Ryall has been very successful in closing down health. I think he does intimidate the health sector, I'm going to try and find people brave enough to come out. Their stories are there and my job is to find them."
Ms King's comments drew a retort from Prime Minister John Key who said Mr Ryall had made health "one of the real success stories of the National Government". He rejected the insinuation Mr Ryall had effectively intimidated people into staying quiet, saying people only spoke out if they've got reason to speak out and Mr Ryall had given them little reason to do so.
Although Mr Shearer moved other long-standing MPs down to make way for new blood, he said Ms King escaped the same fate because her skills and experience were needed in health. "She is passionate and formidable."
The line-up he described as a mix of "new talent and experienced hands" included three of the four first term MPs in the shadow Cabinet: David Clark, Andrew Little and Megan Woods. Mr Clark was the biggest mover, from unranked to 12th place and given economic development - pitting him against one of National's most effective ministers, Steven Joyce. Mr Clark said he was not daunted by that challenge, describing Mr Joyce as a "tough customer - but he's got a soft underbelly".
Phil Twyford and Chris Hipkins moved into the top 10 - taking over the portfolios of housing and education respectively. David Cunliffe remained outside the top 20, but was allowed back into the finance team as an associate finance spokesman and given the revenue and fisheries portfolios - a position Mr Shearer said gave Mr Cunliffe "a chance to play a constructive role in the Labour team".
The reshuffle was bad news for others - Mr Shearer said the "tough decisions" included dropping Christchurch East MP Lianne Dalziel and Trevor Mallard out of his shadow Cabinet of 20. Mr Mallard later said he went willingly because he hoped to be Speaker if Labour went into government after 2014 rather than take a ministerial role.
Others demoted included Nanaia Mahuta, who lost education and slipped from the front bench to 11th-ranked, and Su'a William Sio who moved from 10th to 14th.
Although Shane Jones will remain unranked for the time being, Mr Shearer has reserved a front bench seat for him pending the final report from the Auditor-General on Mr Jones' handling of the decision to grant William Yan citizenship in 2008.
If that is not overly critical of Mr Jones, he will also get the regional development, forestry and associate finance portfolios - areas he has indicated an interest in.
Shearer's sweet and sour
* David Clark (Economic Development): First-term MP moves into the 12th ranking.
* Annette King (Health): While other old hands suffered, Ms King moved on to the front bench.
* Phil Twyford (Housing): From 11th to 8th with a good portfolio.
* Andrew Little (Justice), Megan Woods (Tertiary Education): First-term MPs get in the shadow Cabinet 19th and 20th respectively.
* Sue Moroney (ACC, Early Childhood Education): Back in the top 20 and picks up ACC.
* Chris Hipkins (Education and whip): From 15th to 10th.
* Lianne Dalziel (Canterbury Earthquake Recovery): From 14th to unranked, outside the shadow Cabinet.
* Nanaia Mahuta (Youth Affairs, Maori Development): Loses education, slips from 8th to 11th
* Trevor Mallard (Internal Affairs, Shadow Leader of the House): Dropped out of shadow Cabinet but claims to be happy because he wants to be Speaker post-2014.
* Maryan Street (Environment): Mixed fortunes - lost Health, but kept her 9th ranking.
* Shane Jones (Regional development, Forestry): Front-bench seat has a reserved sign on it while he awaits Auditor-General's report.
* David Cunliffe (Revenue, Fisheries): Still unranked, but is back in the finance team.