It has been an unsatisfactory year for the Government and for some ministers in particular.
Only one of Jacinda Ardern’s 26 ministers scored 9 out of 10 in the Herald’s regular Cabinet Report Card and two senior ministers are among those who have rated only five.
Trade Minister Damien O’Connor topped the ratings. He concluded a free trade deal with the EU this year on top of the one he signed with the UK last year, which earned him a nine as well.
Andrew Little in Health, and Nanaia Mahuta in Local Government are the senior ministers who scored lowest. Mahuta hasn’t handled Three Waters well. And Little’s temperament is letting him down in Health.
Notable standouts include Ayesha Verrall, still a first-term MP, who was promoted straight into the Cabinet in 2020 then promoted again in terms of responsibility in the reshuffle five months ago, rising star Michael Wood and front bencher Carmel Sepuloni.
All scored eight, as did Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Grant Robertson who is leading the response to the cost-of-living crisis.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern scored 7.
The ratings are out of 10 and reflect a judgment by me about three factors: How effective the minister has been in delivering the Government’s policy; how effective the minister has been in representing the Government to the public; and how valued the minister is to the Government.
While Ardern is clearly the most valuable person to the Government, she is in an uncertain phase of leadership. She is a little like an empty-nester, only it’s Covid that has gone and she has to rediscover her role without it.
Little’s performance must be causing some concern. He is the best and worst rolled into one. He was one of the few ministers Ardern could have trusted to steer through an ambitious reform of the health system. But he responds badly to criticism.
The system is under severe stress – and no doubt would have been with or without the reforms. But there is no denying the cumulative impact that border closures, Covid-19 and winter illness have had on services.
Professionals, patients and politicians should be free to talk about it without Little getting stressed himself.
There is no chance he will lose Health in Ardern’s reshuffle, which is foreshadowed for early next year, but something else might have to go.
The reshuffle will be a chance for Ardern to refresh her line-up in election year.
The message has gone out to Labour MPs: if you are thinking of not standing at the next election, tell the Prime Minister now. She does not want surprises part-way through next year.
And there should be reciprocity. She should be telling some of her ministers whether or not they have a good chance of being reappointed as a minister if Labour wins a third term.
If not, some may prefer to retire at the next election. There is no shortage of talent in Labour’s backbenchers, especially from the 2020 intake.
But on current polling the party, which won 65 seats in 2020, would lose about 20 MPs.
The ratings are below: All photos are by Mark Mitchell, except Ardern which is by Sylvie Whinray.
Jacinda Ardern 7
Prime Minister, National Security and Intelligence, Child Poverty Reduction, Ministerial Services
Drifting. Improves with experience but ironically losing popularity. Once was a novelty as PM, then a crisis manager. Needs new political impetus. Impressive command of detail across Govt and often trounces Christopher Luxon in Parliament. Could show more oomph outside the House. Has failed to articulate Govt’s co-governance vision or ensure a senior minister does so. Has led NZ’s reconnection with world well. Remains an international superstar. Too loyal and valuable to Labour to be bailing out early. Previously 7.
Grant Robertson 8
Deputy Prime Minister, Finance, Infrastructure, Sport and Recreation
Labour’s backbone. Brings credibility and stability to Finance in tough times. Strongest debater, clearest thinker and most valuable weapon against the Opposition attacks. But hardest year is yet to come with cost-of-living crisis, global pressures and tough decisions for 2023 Budget and election. National has made some dents over fiscal discipline. Previously 9.
Kelvin Davis 6
Māori Crown Relations: Te Arawhiti, Children, Corrections, Associate Education
Patchy. Any improvements to Oranga Tamariki on his watch have been eclipsed by the “litany of failures” in the Malachi Subecz case. Offended Act MP Karen Chhour over her Maoritanga. Success in getting Treaty of Waitangi awareness in public service and largely keeping Corrections out of headlines. Previously 6.
Megan Woods 6
Housing, Energy and Resources, Building and Construction, Associate Finance
Ms Fix-it. Given the job of getting public housing back on track and has largely delivered, except for emergency housing in Rotorua motels. Oversaw Gib shortage response. Highly trusted. Under-worked but leaves her free to run Labour’s election campaign again in 2023. Previously 6.
Chris Hipkins 7
Education, Police, Public Service, Leader of the House
Mr Fix-it. Built high credibility with public during Covid. Speaks frankly. Parachuted into Police portfolio five months ago to stem damage in law and order, especially on gangs and youth crime. Will not be solved quickly but instils confidence that it will be addressed. The bungled Te Pukenga polytech restructuring is back on track. Previously 7.
Carmel Sepuloni 8
Social Development and Employment, ACC, Arts, Culture and Heritage
In control. Runs potentially problematic portfolios capably and handles critics well. Has overseen changes in benefit levels, employment services, commissioning social services and expanded ACC to cover childbirth injuries. Bulldozed through the Oversight of Oranga Tamariki bill despite wide criticism. Previously 9.
Andrew Little 5
Health, GCSB, NZSIS, Treaty Negotiations, Govt Response to Royal Commission on Mosques Terrorist Attack, Pike River Re-Entry
Oh dear. May be the best minister to drive through health reforms but terrible at handling criticism over failures in health system. A system under pressure needs a minister to stay calm, not bursting his boiler when the Opposition points out failures. Sound job in Treaty Negotiations and spy agencies but should lose one of them to concentrate on Health. Previously 8.
David Parker 6
Attorney-General, Environment, Oceans and Fisheries, Revenue, Associate Finance
Mis-steps. Has barely come up for air from RMA reforms but when he has, has had two big fails in Revenue by not seeing political risk. Plans to apply GST to KiwiSaver fees dropped after 24 hours, and allowing IRD sloppiness on cost-of-living payments. His experience is still valuable despite blunders. Previously 7.
Nanaia Mahuta 5
Foreign Affairs, Local Government, Associate Māori Development
In deep water. Quite a disconnect between how she is viewed inside the caucus and outside it. Well regarded inside. Doing a reasonable job in Foreign Affairs. But has mismanaged Three Waters. Set to lose portfolio in next reshuffle. Husband’s public sector contracts being reviewed at her initiative. Previously 7.
Poto Williams 5
Conservation, Disability Issues, Associate Children
Pressure lowered. Relieved of Police five months ago for Conservation. Mainly photo ops in Conservation, until the removal of 44 huts from Te Urewera, which began before replacement huts ready. Not a DoC decision, but she felt the need to defend removals. Previously 4.
Damien O’Connor 9
Agriculture, Biosecurity, Land Information, Rural Communities, Trade and Export Growth
Outstanding year. Another FTA under his belt with EU–NZ deal concluded after UK-NZ deal last year. Important role in setting climate change policy in agriculture. Chairing CPTPP next year. Ageists may expect him to retire but why should he when he is at the peak of his career? Previously 9
Stuart Nash 7
Economic and Regional Development, Forestry, Small Business, Tourism
On the ball. Competent and credible in business-facing portfolios, a valued commodity in Labour. Also holds a safe provincial seat. Doesn’t make the headlines often but works hard in regional development and tourism. Diligent. Previously 6.
Peeni Henare 7
Defence, Whānau Ora, Associate Health, Associate Housing, Associate Tourism
King of the caucus on the marae. Some wins in Maori housing. Overseeing Defence at a crucial time including NZ contribution to invasion of Ukraine. Reviews coming out his ears. In danger of being too close to Defence but has appointed excellent civilian group to oversee reviews of policy and spending. Previously 8.
Willie Jackson 7
Broadcasting and Media, Māori Development, Associate ACC
Staunch. Combines strong advocacy with pragmatism in Maori development. Picked up RNZ-TVNZ merger from standing start. Not a great salesman for it (nor was Kris Faafoi) because so much is being left to board of the new entity eg balance between commercial and public broadcasting. Kudos for trying to explain co-governance policy. No one else is. Previously 7.
Jan Tinetti 7
Internal Affairs, Women, Associate Education
Steady. Is now virtually in charge of compulsory education sector and is handling it reasonably well. Has credibility as a former principal that she could use more to her political advantage - so long as she remembers that parents, not teachers, are her constituency. Previously 6.
Michael Wood 8
Immigration, Transport, Workplace Relations and Safety
Excellent minister. On top of portfolios. Combines good public communications with attention to policy detail and promotion of party values. Appeals to the base. Especially valuable in sorting out immigration in past five months. Transport needs extra attention. On the rise whether Labour wins or loses the next election. Previously 8.
Kiri Allan 7
Justice, Associate Arts, Culture and Heritage, Associate Environment, Associate Finance
What a roller coaster this term. Landed in Cabinet, fought cancer, then gained huge job with Justice five months ago. Making her mark by co-managing major law and order with Hipkins and has alcohol reforms underway. A big future in Labour. Has come a long way in a short time but needs time to develop political skills. Previously 7.
David Clark 6
Commerce and Consumer Affairs, Digital Economy and Communications, SOEs, Statistics, Earthquake Commission
Adequate. Competent but nothing special. Doing a reasonable job of addressing the supermarket duopoly and this week Buy Now, Pay Later lending. Introduced regulation to protect borrowers from unaffordable loans then had to quickly address complaints it distorted ordinary lending. Previously 6.
Ayesha Verrall 8
COVID-19 Response, Research, Science and Innovation, Seniors, Associate Health
Gets things done. This week it was access to abortion medication over the phone. Doctors don’t always make good politicians. But it has been valuable having an infectious diseases doctor at the table to oversee public health. Trusted enough to get Covid-19 Response, plus Research and Science in recent reshuffle. Hasn’t put a foot wrong. Previously 6.
Priyanca Radhakrishnan 6
Community and Voluntary Sector, Diversity, Inclusion and Ethnic Communities, Youth, Associate Social Development and Employment, Associate Workplace Relations and Safety
Quiet progress. Promoted from outside cabinet to inside five months ago. Doesn’t get much opportunity to be tested or to publicly show what she is made of but has done well in the House this year when filling in for others. Doing important work building relationships with ethnic communities. Previously 6.
Aupito William Sio 5
Courts, Pacific Peoples, Associate Education, Associate Foreign Affairs, Associate Health, Associate Justice
Enjoying the added responsibilities Mahuta has given him in Foreign Affairs in the Pacific. But gone about as far as he can go. Previously 7.
Meka Whaitiri 5
Customs, Food Safety, Veterans, Associate Agriculture, Associate Statistics
Labour’s redemption story. Showing there is a way back for ministers who get into trouble (reinstated after altercation with staffer last term). Previously 6.
Phil Twyford 5
Disarmament and Arms Control, Associate Trade, Associate Environment, Associate Immigration
Despite demoting him from Cabinet this term, the PM looked after him. Has the perfect set of portfolios for his interests – disarmament, urban development, Pacific trade – but can’t expect the same treatment again. Previously 7.
Kieran McAnulty 6
Emergency Management, Racing, Deputy Leader of the House, Associate Local Government, Associate Transport
On the way up. A bright future. Set to take over Local Govt and Three Waters implementation in next reshuffle and it can’t come soon enough. A good man to have in a flood. No previous rating.
Marama Davidson 5
Prevention of Family and Sexual Violence, Associate Housing (Homelessness)
The Greens used to celebrate having one co-leader in Government and another outside connecting with its base. Time to return to that model. Previously 6.
James Shaw 7
Climate Change, Associate Environment (Biodiversity)
A victim of his own success. The fact he is a good minister and has made more progress than any other in climate change puts him in jeopardy with his own party. Previously 8.