John Key's upcoming Cabinet reshuffle is being promoted as a relatively bold affair - by Key's standards.

All Cabinet shake-ups are inevitably political.

But the challenges that New Zealand faces in a volatile, tough and uncertain international environment are such that the Prime Minister would win more respect from business if he melds a second-term Cabinet together which is strongly focused on the economy.

The key (pun intended) to the Prime Minister's boldness will be whether he puts himself out there and add a much tougher portfolio to his tourism job.


It's pertinent to note that the Prime Minister managed to quickly screw an additional $50 million out of Finance Minister Bill English for his pet tourism project - the national cycleway - when the National-led Government was spraying borrowed money about in the early months of its first Parliamentary term.

It was just one of the "rolling maul of initiatives" that formed a fiscal stimulus programme to offset the effects of the global financial crisis.

But Key's penchant for celebrity behaviour - think his tourism-boosting appearance on David Letterman's Late Show - has palled, particularly amongst the business community that wants him to take a stronger leadership role in the transformation of the New Zealand economy.

Key is not going to upset English by making a move on his finance portfolio. Economic Development is apparently earmarked for Steven Joyce.

But there is a suite of initiatives that Key is well-placed to lead as his government moves past its crisis-ridden first term and focuses on how New Zealand can improve its international competitiveness and drive growth.

If this country is to ever be more than the "farm, a South Seas tourism destination or a retirement village", this Government needs to take some big steps to underpin Key's election campaign rhetoric about a vote for National heralding a "brighter future".

Simply getting on top of the Government's accounts, partially privatising some state-owned assets and getting the Budget back into surplus will not achieve this.

There were indications during the campaign - particularly in the final television debate with ex-Labour leader Phil Goff - that the PM was having to remind himself that he was once a much more substantive figure than the retail politician who is now cruelly lampooned as a leader who mispronounces his words.


Or as that "Nice man Mr Key" or "Smile and Wave".

In the TV One debate he referred to his prior career as a "student of investment banking". He did not mention he rose to run global foreign exchange for Merrill Lynch after years as a forex trader. It was a focused performance and perhaps a signal that Key is intent on a stronger policy performance in his second term as PM.

It's also important that Key's own legend develops beyond his well-worn state-house-to-riches story into one of competent and assured Government leadership.

That story is now being challenged by Labour leadership aspirant David Shearer who is shamelessly contrasting his own international backstory against Key's track record as the rationale for why his colleagues should catapult an unproven politician into the top job over more experienced caucus members.

Using phraseology dreamed up by a right-wing PR man, Shearer's team initially defined him against Key this way: "Key went overseas to make $50 million, Shearer went overseas to save 50 million lives."

It is trite nonsense. But here's what Shearer said yesterday on Labour's blog: "I've worked in extreme pressure - sometimes life-threatening. I've built teams, led sensitive political negotiations in some of the world's most dangerous places, and renewed services like schools, hospitals and power stations with a multi-billion dollar budget."

In other words I may be hopeless in Parliament, have not defined myself in any substantial way since entering politics and am relatively inarticulate on television - but I have real world experience; have proved myself overseas and am therefore the real deal. Much more so than David Cunliffe.

What Shearer doesn't say is that by the time Key was elevated to National's leadership he had already fought one election as National's finance spokesman and was an accomplished performer in Parliament and elsewhere.

Think about the boost that Key could bring to New Zealand's endeavours in the fields of science and innovation if it was seen both onshore and offshore that the Prime Minister was the major political salesman for this vital area.

He already has chief science adviser Peter Gluckman on board. But the New Zealand story is still very much a protein and water play; not a broader innovative picture.

NZTE has a range of work under way to develop NZ's business performance in more innovative ways.

Under Peter Chrisp's leadership it has been studying how other small economies like Denmark have out-performed New Zealand. But this also needs political leadership.

So far, the signs are good that the second term Key Ministry will be focused.

Peter Dunne's reconfirmation as Revenue Minister was a done deal the moment that the PM effectively ordained his bid for the Ohariu seat.

Dunne would have you believe that he has scored big policy wins through the support deal that his party of one - United Future - secured this week.

His utility - apart from his single vote for Government legislation on all issues of confidence and supply - is to keep on developing legislation (and closing tax loopholes) in the important but somewhat arcane world of tax policy. The orchestration of the tax switch relied on his work to underpin English's leadership.

Giving Act MP John Banks a string of economic-related jobs was also sensible. It means both support parties are cemented into National's broader leadership. But the real signal will come when Key unveils the top jobs in his Cabinet, brings in some talented new blood and starts easing out less-than-stellar performers.