New Prime Minister Bill English faced one big question when it came to shaping his Cabinet: how much change does the country really want? Since the resignation of John Key, the tenor of commentary has been of change. English is a different character and he will lead differently. But the country's economic fundamentals are in good shape and most voters may want nothing more than reassurance that government will continue much as before. English seems to believe so. The new Cabinet looks very like the last one.
Most notably, two senior ministers who intend to retire at the next election, Murray McCully and Hekia Parata, are staying in their portfolios until May. Veterans who might have been eased out, Gerry Brownlee and Nick Smith, are still there. It cannot have been a want of courage that caused English to keep faith with these ministers because he has dared to demote Judith Collins.
Collins, who briefly stood against him for the leadership, might have hoped to regain the Justice portfolio she relinquished when suspended by Key at the last election. Instead she has lost Police and Corrections too. Clearly English does not want her in roles where she can indulge her penchant for tough talk, unless she wants to do it on the subject of tax avoidance as Minister of Inland Revenue, which would be no bad thing. But her demotion is likely to hurt deeply and she will be a potential thorn in his side.
The arrival of new ministers is always of interest. David Bennett, Jacquie Dean, Mark Mitchell and Alfred Ngaro have been chosen from a large number of National backbenchers, which suggests they are worth watching. The public will be looking for the qualities that have earned them promotion. Let us hope it is not simply the time some have served. There is no reason those who came into the caucus in 2008 or 2011 should be preferred to the intake at the last election. The Government needs to promote its best.
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In retaining McCully and Parata, the Prime Minister has put the value of their experience ahead of political renewal. McCully is now a seasoned Foreign Minister and can no doubt help English find his feet and make important connections on the world stage. Parata gives National a comfortable and dignified presence in the Maori community which is highly valued by English and he will be reluctant to let her go.
The notable risers in his line-up yesterday are Transport Minister Simon Bridges and Justice Minister Amy Adams. Bridges follows Steven Joyce into Economic Development and also becomes Joyce's associate in Finance. Listening to Bridges, and recalling his pork barrel politics for the Northland byelection, the public may wonder at the heights he is reaching but colleagues know him best. Amy Adams is more conspicuously capable and is taking over the social housing task that has tested Paula Bennett this year.
Adams also has a newly created "social investment" portfolio that will be of central strategic importance to the English Government.
It is a Cabinet of continuity, but there are glimmers of change.