New Labour Party leader David Shearer's first line-up was an opportunity for him to scorn suggestions that he was a lightweight nice-guy figure bound for a short tenure. He did not waste it. His shadow cabinet was warned immediately that portfolios would be reviewed after a year. Strong performers who made meaningful inroads into the Government's popularity would be rewarded.

This is how it should be But after Labour's desultory performance in Parliament under Phil Goff's leadership, it needed to be said.

So, also, Mr Shearer had to infuse his front bench with youthful energy, political appeal and fresh ideas. Too many faces associated with Helen Clark's Government remained dominant figures under Mr Goff. Five new people are, therefore, on Mr Shearer's front bench, a situation that owes as much to the room to move granted a parliamentarian of less than three years as his ambition to refresh Labour's connections with New Zealanders.

Much of the focus on the party's line-up was on the role that David Cunliffe, the defeated candidate in Labour's leadership race, would play. He has lost his finance portfolio and previous number three ranking to David Parker, but gets economic development. That will put him up against Steven Joyce, the central figure in the Government's plans for economic growth. Mr Cunliffe's undoubted talents will not be wasted. Equally, in a further move to ease tensions, Mr Shearer has found room on his front bench for the deputy on Mr Cunliffe's ticket, Nanaia Mahuta. .


She has the education portfolio, and will come up against Hekia Parata in an area that looms as particularly contentious. On issues such as charter schools, Labour will be seeking a far stronger performance than it has shown. Indeed, it is noticeable that many of Labour's new faces are in roles in which ministers usually strike trouble and where they will have the chance to shine.

Second-term list MP Jacinda Ardern is the most obvious example. Having been promoted from 19 to four, she will handle social development. That pits her against Paula Bennett, who is in charge of an extensive programme of welfare reform. Ms Ardern will have to scrap in a manner much different from the pleasantries associated with her contest with Nikki Kaye for Auckland Central.

Notably, there has been no rapid elevation for Andrew Little, the new MP who was formerly president of the party and a union leader. He does not sit inside Mr Shearer's 20-member shadow cabinet. But he has received the ACC portfolio, and will have the chance to make a mark as the Government opens the corporation competition.

Others on the front bench include Shane Jones, whose indiscretions caused him to be left off Mr Goff's front bench, and Clayton Cosgrove - a "bulldog", according to Mr Shearer - who will carry the fight to the Government over the part-sale of state assets.

Mr Jones has signalled a pragmatic approach to his regional development portfolio, including championing mining for job-starved areas. As such, Labour will walk a fine line. It must marry such pragmatism with winning back Labour voters who defected to the Greens. That task, through the environment portfolio, falls to Mr Shearer's deputy, Grant Robertson,

The Government's policies will provide plenty of opportunities for the shadow cabinet. A second term is always more difficult for a government than the first. Nevertheless, Labour's new line-up will have to be far better than its predecessor if the party is to be rescued from its low ebb.

Mr Shearer has made his break with the past. Now, his shadow cabinet is on notice that it must work hard to help make him a credible challenger.