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Attorney-General Margaret Wilson's surprise nomination yesterday to become Parliament's Speaker met immediate political resistance.

National's shadow leader of the House, Gerry Brownlee, said her selection was "a recipe for chaos in Parliament".

"Respect is earned, not granted by appointment," he said.

"The Opposition has no confidence in Margaret Wilson's ability to do the job."

Former Act leader Richard Prebble said the choice "fits in with Helen Clark's gender-promoting strategy".

New Zealand First leader Winston Peters confined himself to a complaint that he was not consulted.

The appointment, to replace Speaker Jonathan Hunt in March, creates three vacancies in the Cabinet for Prime Minister Helen Clark to use in her pending ministerial reshuffle.

Ms Wilson is Attorney-General, Treaty Negotiations Minister and Commerce Minister.

The announcement that she will take over from Mr Hunt, who becomes High Commissioner to London, was a surprise because the Speaker's job had long been tipped to go to Defence Minister Mark Burton.

It is likely that Helen Clark decided the genial Mr Burton was not the person to put in charge of the House in election year and that a stronger hand was needed.

He could not be contacted last night but is likely to be very disappointed, having led the field ahead of Health Minister Annette King.

It is not known how long Helen Clark has considered Ms Wilson a possibility.

The announcement sparked short-lived speculation last night about a possible return of Lianne Dalziel to the Cabinet, following her sacking in March over a lie.

She is one of only five lawyers in Labour, and the Attorney-General's job traditionally goes to a lawyer.

Labour's only lawyers are Ms Wilson, Ms Dalziel, fellow former minister John Tamihere - whose fate rests on two inquiries into his financial dealings - and first-term MPs Russell Fairbrother and David Parker.

But it is more likely that Helen Clark will give the portfolio to a non-lawyer. Two who could handle the task with ease would be Deputy Prime Minister Michael Cullen and Justice Minister Phil Goff.

The reshuffle is expected early next week.

Ms Wilson has been an MP for only five years, and has never been in Opposition or a backbencher.

But she does not think this will be a disadvantage in her new role.

"I think you learn on the job."

She also has a reputation for lacking patience, but believes she can overcome this.

"I've had a lot of jobs where I have found patience I didn't know I had. If the job requires it, I will have the patience."

She thinks her style is to be efficient and organised but not bossy.

Mr Prebble believed Ms Wilson was being shifted because she was the most unpopular minister.

Mr Peters said he would have expected to have been consulted before the announcement was made.

Ms Wilson will have the support of a clear majority - Labour, the Progressives, the Greens and United Future.

Ms Wilson went from dean and professor of law at the University of Waikato to being a list MP in 1999 and straight into the Cabinet.

As well as being Attorney-General, she earned her ministerial stripes in the Labour portfolio by overseeing legislation repealing the Employment Contracts Act.

Margaret Wilson

Aged 57.

One leg amputated after contracting cancer.

10th in Cabinet.

Labour president 1984 to 87.

Chief adviser to former Prime Minister Sir Geoffrey Palmer.

Former dean and professor of law, Waikato University.

Elected to Parliament 1999.

Attorney General; Commerce Minister; Treaty Negotiations; former Labour Minister.