One of Jacinda Ardern's newest ministers and two experienced ministers have scored highest in the Herald's latest rating for her second-term Cabinet.
Next week will be six months since the Government was sworn in and it seemed a fitting time for an assessment on how the ministers are going.
In a big promotion, Mt Roskill MP Michael Wood was moved by Ardern from Chief Labour Whip to Transport Minister, Workplace Relations and Deputy Leader of the House.
He has scored 9 out of 10, along with Finance Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Grant Robertson and Andrew Little, who lost Justice but was given the big responsibility of Health.
Ardern herself scored 8, along with four ministers: Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins, Foreign Minister and Local Government Minister Nanaia Mahuta, Tourism Minister Stuart Nash, and Climate Change Minister James Shaw.
Trade Minister Damien O'Connor scored lowest with 4 points, and four ministers scored five points: Jan Tinetti, Aupito William Sio, Phil Twyford and Marama Davidson. The others scored six or seven.
Transport was held in the first term by Twyford who was demoted this term to outside Cabinet largely for failing in Kiwibuild but the Auckland light rail project had been shunted into a siding by election time as well.
It is too soon to say whether Michael Woods has got the project back on track but he has got planning
to get the project back on track, with a clear process for an establishment unit and timelines.
The management of Transport is even more important this term because the $12 billion New Zealand Upgrade Programme over five years includes $6.8 billion in transport spending.
Wood is also working on policy to deliver Labour's flagship industrial relations promise of Fair Pay Agreements, which are essentially a return to national awards in selected low-paid sectors.
Robertson is putting the final touches to his fourth Budget, to be delivered on May 20, which will be his true testing ground. He proved himself nimble through the course of the Covid-19 crisis and then again when Auckland faced further lockdowns in August and February.
Andrew Little gets points for taking on the tough portfolio of Health, making decisions on the Simpson report and a plan that has been fairly well received by a difficult sector.
The ambition to have the changes in place by July next year seem heroic.
The likelihood of such mammoth changes being rolled out smoothly over the next year are remote and will be a test of Little's patience.
JACINDA ARDERN 8
Prime Minister, Child Poverty Reduction, National Security and Intelligence
Her first job was to select the best Cabinet she could and she made largely sensible decisions. She has been less visible this year than last because we have not been in crisis. She moved swiftly on house prices although seemed not unhappy to have had a reason to introduce tax changes she dared not promise at election time. Needs to attend to Five Eyes aspirations at leader level. Demerit points for ditching Newstalk ZB after 30 years. A slap in the face for listeners, not the host. A sign of second-term complacency.
GRANT ROBERTSON 9
Finance, Infrastructure, Sport, Racing
Officially recognised for being the second-most valuable person in the Government when he was made Deputy Prime Minister. The ballast of the Government, he continues to be Ardern's star performer in Cabinet, getting the economy through Covid-19, and having a tangible impact on business confidence and people's sense of security. The economy continues to outperform almost every forecast.
KELVIN DAVIS 7
Corrections, Children, Māori Crown Relations
Must get credit for eschewing Deputy Prime Minister's job when he could have had it if he wanted it but knew Robertson would do it better. Has handled Oranga Tamariki well, replacing CE Grainne Moss with the eminently sensible Sir Wira Gardiner and appointing its fiercest critics to an advisory board. Corrections more patchy. Appears to be undergoing niche reforms although prison muster has decreased by 18 per cent from 2017 to 2020 with no change to the bail or sentencing laws.
MEGAN WOODS 7
Housing, Energy, Research and Science
Still a highly valued member of Ardern's kitchen Cabinet but has not maintained the profile she earned in the first term taking over KiwiBuild from Phil Twyford and setting up Managed Isolation and Quarantine. Has also been trumped a few times by National's Nicola Willis on housing but is doing an awful lot in that space.
CHRIS HIPKINS 8
Covid-19 Response, Education, Public Service
Has one of the hardest jobs in Cabinet in running the Covid-19 response and despite some problems this term, is still the best person for the job. Efficient and a good communicator. But has become a little defensive. It would be better to remember how he operated last term, acknowledge failures, don't fixate on what they are called, and just fix them. Supposedly also the Minister of Education.
CARMEL SEPULONI 7
Social Development and Employment, ACC, Arts, Culture and Heritage
Doing a solid job in her second term in Social Development and has already implemented promised improvements to the abatement regime for beneficiaries. Will have her work cut out sorting out emergency accommodation in motels although Megan Woods appears to have been landed with it. Giving her ACC is a chance to stretch her and a vote of confidence by Ardern and putting Employment back with MSD minister makes sense.
ANDREW LITTLE 9
Health, Pike River, Royal Commission, GCSB, SIS, Treaty Negotiations
One of Ardern's most trusted ministers, to be given main responsibility for implementing the March 15 Royal Commission findings and given Health with massive reforms that will need to be driven through. Most of the sector seemed impressed with the plan outlined last week but he will need to draw on his small reserves of diplomacy to keep them on board. Handled Pike River as well as anyone could. Is showing estimable patience over Nga Puhi Treaty negotiations.
DAVID PARKER 7
Environment, Attorney-General, Revenue, Oceans and Fisheries
Most challenging job this term will be to implement the RMA reforms but he has a head start in receiving a detailed blueprint from the Randerson review. The job he will relish most is slogging property speculators as Minister of Taxation, sorry, Minister of Revenue.
NANAIA MAHUTA 8
Foreign Affairs, Local Government
A strong performer so far this term in both Foreign Affairs and Local Government – discounted a little for the fact that she did not put abolition of a local veto on Māori wards in Labour's manifesto, then passed it under urgency soon after the election. The best local government minister in years, consolidated in work on Three Waters. Kudos for setting out the Govt's position on Five Eyes rather than leaving it to armchair tea-leaf readers.
POTO WILLIAMS 6
Police, Building and Construction, Associate Housing (Public Housing), Associate Children
Has a set of portfolios that are not particularly challenging. With frontline police numbers settled, the main challenge is changing the culture of the Police which is better handled by a commissioner, not a minister. Had a few wobbles answering questions in the House but the Opposition has largely laid off since Speaker Trevor Mallard all but accused them of racism for picking on her.
DAMIEN O'CONNOR 4
Agriculture, Trade, Biosecurity, Land Information
He will always be a valued Cabinet minister because so few can connect easily to rural NZ. But it is hard to get past that appalling start in Trade when he lectured Australia on how to deal with China – with a little more respect. It may have been a rookie's mistake in thinking that because he was giving an interview to an Asian television channel it would not go any further. But he is not a rookie. The test will be how much progress he can make on the Europe and UK trade talks.
STUART NASH 8
Economic and Regional Development, Small Business, Tourism, Forestry
Much more active and visible as Tourism minister than Kelvin Davis was and is closely connected to business, which is always a plus for a Labour Govt. High energy minister brimming with announcements and plans in tourism. Not so much in the economic development space yet. Looking more accomplished and distinguished in his second term.
KRIS FAAFOI 7
Justice, Broadcasting and Media, Immigration
Proved his value in the first term as a relatively safe pair of hands but is under a lot more pressure with Immigration this term, mainly because of Covid-19 and how it relates to labour shortages and the wider economy. Responded to split families but several months after PM promised to look at it. Took action to get TVNZ/RNZ merger plans advanced to assessable stage through use of private sector governance group to work up business case. Big challenge ahead on hate-speech laws in new role as Justice Minister.
PEENI HENARE 7
Defence, Whanau Ora, Associate Health, Associate Housing, Associate Tourism
Previously a minister outside Cabinet. Has demanded attention this term, particularly in Health over vaccination plan and Māori Health Authority – and got it. And is a good face for the Govt. Likely to get more in housing in the Budget. Overseeing Defence during what appears to be a period of little change, with big procurement plans confirmed last term. Whanau Ora portfolio seems settled for now.
WILLIE JACKSON 6
Māori Development, Associate ACC, Associate Justice
Previously a minister outside Cabinet. His greatest value to Ardern this term is still behind the scenes. Played a key role in brokering Ihumatao deal and still holds plenty of sway in Labour's Māori caucus despite handing the reins to Rino Tirikatene. Helped to secure largest number of Māori yet in Cabinet but lost Employment to Sepuloni. Hasn't yet got his teeth into anything. Real challenge could be as Associate Justice Minister.
JAN TINETTI 5
Internal Affairs, Women, Associate Education
Previously a first-term backbench list MP. Former school principal and now doing apprenticeship in Education for possible third term Labour Government. Fairly uninteresting set of portfolios but Internal Affairs can throw up the unexpected. She showed last week she could make the tough calls, by reining in expenditure and timeframes of Royal Commission into Historical Abuse.
MICHAEL WOOD 9
Transport, Workplace Relations, Deputy Leader of House
Previously senior Labour Whip. The outstanding new minister who has the confidence and competence of someone who has been a minister much longer than six months. Managed to reset the Auckland Light Rail project from a floundering flop into an idea on which to build a viable proposal with proper local engagement. The right person to bring in Fair Pay Agreements. Has the air of someone who could handle anything. Excellent in the House.
KIRI ALLAN (on medical leave) 7 *
Conservation, Emergency Management, Associate Environment, Associate Arts, Culture, Heritage
Previously Junior Labour Whip. Made an impact in both portfolios in a short time before taking leave to battle cervical cancer.* Originally did not receive a grade but she sent a special request to be given one, saying: "I have every intention of being back at work as soon as possible so consider my request a bid to aid me on my path!"
DAVID CLARK 6
Commerce and Consumer Affairs, SOEs, Earthquake Commission, Statistics, Digital Economy and Communications
Rehabilitated to Cabinet from Labour backbencher after resigning as Health Minister in July. Has a large workload to keep himself busy and in the sort of portfolio he should have been given from the outset. The rebuilding of EQC alone will be a big challenge. Has managed to stay under the radar and stay busy.
AYESHA VERRALL 7
Seniors, Food Safety, Associate Health
Did a Margaret Wilson and Steven Joyce, leaping straight into Cabinet from a stellar career outside. Previously infectious disease expert and elected member of Capital and Coast District Health Board. It helps the adjustment that she was already good friends with Grant Robertson and Chris Hipkins from student days. But she has begun strongly. Apart from assembling an excellent Covid advisory group, she is active in other areas of delegation, fluoridation of water, abortion services and smokefree NZ. Not yet strong in the House.
AUPITO WILLIAM SIO 5
Courts, Pacific Peoples, Associate Foreign Affairs
Previously outside Cabinet and still outside Cabinet. But seems to have been delegated some Pacific work by Nanaia Mahuta in foreign affairs. Is also active in trying to persuade Pacific communities to get the Covid-19 vaccination.
MEKA WHAITIRI 6
Customs, Veterans, Associate Agriculture
Back outside Cabinet after having been sacked in 2018 over claims she manhandled a ministerial staffer. Is back in portfolios she handles perfectly well covering Customs and animal welfare. She and Robertson have begun review of greyhound racing industry welfare record.
PHIL TWYFORD 5
Disarmament, Associate Trade, Associate Immigration, Associate Environment
Demoted from No 5 in Cabinet for failures in Kiwibuild and Auckland light rail. Wife's serious illness, however, has meant a faltering start to the term. No great pluses or minuses to judge him on at this stage.
PRIYANCA RADHAKRISHNAN 7
Community and Voluntary Sector, Diversity, Inclusion and Ethnic Communities, Youth, Associate Social Development and Employment
New minister with promise. Has been working with Little on March 15 Royal Commission outcomes. A difficult set of portfolios in which to make public impact. Has done well in the House when standing in for Sepuloni on Social Development.
MARAMA DAVIDSON 5
Prevention of Family and Sexual Violence, Associate Housing (Homelessness)
New minister and Greens co-leader. Being a good minister can't be judged solely on press releases or speeches but two press statements on housing and two speeches on women in six months confirms the lack of impact in the role. Hopefully the Budget in May may show evidence of greater activity.
JAMES SHAW 8
Has maintained a cracking pace of new climate-change measures in his second term in the job, starting with a declaration of a climate emergency, to setting target of carbon neutrality for public sector by 2025, the first Climate commission budget, requirements on business to declare high-emitting activities, and making contact with the new US envoy on climate change, former Secretary of State John Kerry. Has a plan and knows how to implement it.