Two ministers. That is the sum total that the Prime Minister has had to sack since coming to power. Neither Minister was sacked for incompetence, but for behaviour unbecoming of a Minister. And despite Shane Jones' repeated indiscretions, it seems those two will be the only Ministers who suffer for that reason this term.
But there is another very good reason to sack Ministers. The inability to actually do your job.
The Prime Minister is cursed with such a Minister in Phil Twyford.
In the lead-up to the 2017 election there were two major policies of Labour's that people seemed really enthusiastic about; KiwiBuild and the new rail system to go in Auckland. Twyford, for reasons that are now entirely unclear, was given responsibility for both. Boundless enthusiasm, confidence and some might say smugness poured forth as he promised the country 100,000 houses over 10 years and light rail up Dominion Road in Auckland by the time APEC rolled around in 2021.
So far he's managed to make a complete hash of both.
He was stripped of his responsibility for KiwiBuild after it became too embarrassing to keep him on, however he kept transport and in another baffling move was given economic development. What we've learned in recent days suggest that he's now severely damaged both of those portfolios too.
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While the Government continues to deny it solicited a proposal from the Super Fund for the light rail contract, there was engagement between Twyford and the Super Fund prior to the announcement of the bid. The fact that Twyford worked with Sir Brian Roche engaging with the Super Fund and then installed Sir Brian as Chair of NZTA is also a huge misjudgment. And the fact that not only will the light rail system not be ready in time for APEC it's likely it won't even have been started, is the final misstep that means Twyford just has to go.
After the former National Government awarded SkyCity the rights to build a convention centre and the subsequent inquiry by the auditor general into the process of awarding the contract, the country's reputation for having a clean and fair process for procurement was tarnished. The appearance of direct ministerial involvement in the even bigger light rail contract further dents that. Why would international companies with international expertise and experience bother bidding for work in New Zealand if it felt like the final outcome might be a stitch up?
This doesn't just hurt the transport portfolio, but the economic development portfolio too, given that we will need international companies to help fill the infrastructure deficit left by Key's Government.
The Australian Government has committed to spending AUD$100 billion over the next decade in infrastructure. After the murkiness of the SkyCity and light rail affairs, we've reached a point where even Australia is starting to seem cleaner than New Zealand. Why would any international engineering company bother bidding for a New Zealand contract when they've got Australia's A$100b golden goose to go for?
Twyford's inability to deliver on the two big promises he was tasked with really leaves the Prime Minister with no option but to remove him from any meaningful portfolio, or out of Cabinet completely. He is single-handedly hurting Labour's brand as we head into the last 12 months of this Government before we go to election.
There are a number of things that this Government has achieved. Not many of them involved Twyford. There are a number of things it can still do before the next election, none of them should involve Twyford.
While some argue that the talent pool for Cabinet Ministers is shallow within the Labour Party at the moment, that doesn't mean the party should commit seppuku by sticking with one who is clearly not cut out for the job and is not just harming the party's re-election chances but damaging the country's reputation internationally.
It would be unfair to lump Megan Woods with yet another disaster bequeathed by Twyford, and Kris Faafoi is too loaded up with portfolios too, so maybe it's time to bring Michael Wood in. Whoever it is, the bar has been set very low and so they couldn't possibly disappoint.