11.45am - By FRANCESCA MOLD



Customs Minister Rick Barker was this morning promoted to Cabinet, replacing his colleague Mark Gosche who resigned last week to take care of his seriously ill wife.



Prime Minister Helen Clark recommended Mr Barker for the Cabinet post during a Labour caucus this morning. His appointment was supported unanimously by his fellow Labour MPs.



Mr Barker was previously a minister outside Cabinet, with responsibility for Customs. He was associate minister of Justice and Social Services and Employment.

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The Tukituki MP was also Labour's senior whip in the previous Government.



Mr Barker's promotion follows Mr Gosche's decision to give up his Cabinet responsibilities so he could spend more time with his wife Carol, who suffered a brain haemorrhage last year. Mr Gosche had already taken the past three months off work.



Prime Minister Helen Clark said Mr Barker had worked hard as a minister outside Cabinet, had experience as party whip and an excellent knowledge of how Parliament and Government worked.



"It has always been my intention to promote Rick as the next cab off the rank if a vacancy occurred," she said outside Labour's caucus room this morning.



Helen Clark said the distribution of Mr Gosche's portfolios would be decided in the next few days.



Mr Barker said he had enjoyed his work as Customs minister and there were a few projects he would like to see through to fruition. But he was willing to take on new responsibilities.



"There are other challenges and I'd like to be stimulated by them."



Mr Barker said he was sad about the circumstances of his appointment and wished the Gosche family well. But it was an "overwhelming privilege and an honour" to be appointed.



Mr Barker said he came from a humble background. His grandfather was a coal miner and his grandmother, who had brought him up, worked as a baker and a hotel cook.



"To be an MP, let alone a Cabinet minister would be beyond their comprehension. This is a very proud day for me."



Mr Barker was educated at Greymouth High School and attended Otago University. He has worked as a shop assistant, bartender, storeworker, farmhand, driver, factory worker and quarrier. He worked his way up through the union movement and has been a member of the Labour party since 1973.



Mr Barker is married with three teenage children. He rides a classic Triumph motorbike, enjoys reading and is a member of the Parliamentary Rugby Team.