Goff plans radical shake-up at the top

By Audrey Young

New Labour leader Phil Goff and his deputy, Annette King, are planning a radical shake-up of the front bench to prepare the party for what they hope will be only one term in Opposition.

Defeated Prime Minister Helen Clark and deputy Michael Cullen yesterday handed over the reins to Mr Goff and Ms King in a seamless transition that was largely arranged by Helen Clark.

It means that, while Helen Clark took responsibility for Saturday's loss to National, she has avoided having to face lengthy post mortems about it.

Helen Clark persuaded David Cunliffe, the outgoing Health Minister, that now is not his time to have a tilt at the deputy leader's job and to take Finance and the No 3 ranking instead.

She has taken the role as Foreign Affairs spokeswoman and Dr Cullen will be shadow Leader of the House. Both are committed to staying on and seeing the party through its transition to Opposition and a new leadership. But neither has ruled out leaving during the term.

Both will move off the front bench, as will long-server Pete Hodgson, outgoing Education Minister Chris Carter and Progressive leader Jim Anderton.

The promotions are likely to be Maryan Street, David Parker, Clayton Cosgrove, Lianne Dalziel, and Ruth Dyson. Parekura Horomia may remain for a time but is likely to be replaced by Nanaia Mahuta later.

All are from much newer political generations than Mr Goff, who was elected in 1981, and Ms King, elected in 1984.

The revamped front bench will offset the perception that the leadership team is not fresh enough.

Mr Goff, 55, is sensitive to suggestions that he is too old to match National Party leader and incoming Prime Minister John Key, 47.

"I've got to tell you that I'm not old enough to be John Key's father - maybe his older brother - slightly wiser and slightly more experienced," he said.

Mr Goff is considered one of the strongest performers in Labour both as a former minister and in terms of House performance.

Mr Goff said yesterday the party would reflect on the election loss and "how there came to be a disconnect with a significant proportion of the electorate".

"We accept the verdict of the people that after nine years in Government the mood was time for a change.

"Time will tell whether the changes which are proposed will be what the public was led to believe. We will be watchful for secret agendas."

Labour won seven fewer seats than in 2005 but because of retirements and list rankings has brought in 13 new MPs. Mr Goff described them as the strongest intake since 1984.

After silver trays were presented at the party caucus yesterday to defeated MPs, the formal leadership team was changed.

Helen Clark was leader for 15 years and Prime Minister for nine.

Dr Cullen has been her deputy since 1996 and Finance Minister for nine years.

Helen Clark said it had been an incredible 15 years but she had made the right decision for the party and herself in standing down.

"Now I am looking forward to giving the new team my total and unconditional support," she said.

Darren Hughes was elected Senior whip and Steve Chadwick was elected junior whip.

Party president Mike Williams was at caucus too, and he has previously indicated he will step down some time after the election.

- NZ Herald

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