Shane Jones says penance has been done.

Sitting outside a Kerikeri cafe in the lead up to Waitangi Weekend the Labour politician attracts attention - this time for the right reasons.

Passers-by come up to shake his hand and say "kia ora" and a boy holds out a scrap of paper for an autograph.

The man dubbed "Minister of Pornography" is on his way back.

It is eight months since Jones, 51, fell from grace after thousands of documents, released under the Official Information Act, revealed the credit-card spending habits of various ministers. Jones bore the worst of the humiliation, finally admitting that he had charged up to 50 pornographic movies to his ministerial credit card from late 2007 to late 2008. He also spent thousands of dollars on chocolate, a flight to Great Barrier, CDs, wine, energy drinks, petrol, restaurants, clothes, books and rugby gear.

All of the spending was later reimbursed.

Last June Jones told reporters he was not a "sex fiend" but had got into the habit of watching pornographic movies while he was away. He was a "red-blooded robust dude" he said, but it shouldn't have happened.

His wife was enraged when he broke the news to her.

It was a day of "great shame", he said. "It's beyond excuse and it's a day of humiliation for me."

Political observers thought at the time there was no way back for Jones, that he would be the political scapegoat for widespread credit card misuse, including former Labour minister Chris Carter.

Jones was stripped of his environment and economic portfolios and shunted down the party list.

Now, like the man on the Northland street, Labour leader Phil Goff has offered Jones a welcoming hand back. In this week's shadow Cabinet reshuffle Jones got the transport, infrastructure and fisheries portfolios and bumped up the party list from 21 to 13.

"It genuinely feels like a fresh start," says Jones.

Asked if he regrets being free and easy with personal spending on his credit card, Jones shakes his head and looks exasperated at again facing the question that has dogged him the past few months.

"No one wants to willingly go through an experience like that, but having said that, I've elected to remain around and bear my part of the burden for the party to bring back the voters," says Jones.

When the credit-card scandal broke in June last year, Jones came very close to resigning. He says he was approached by senior Maori to go back to working for Maori economic development. (Prior to entering Parliament he was chairman of the Waitangi Fisheries Commission). He didn't. "I felt I owed it to myself, and the party who enabled me to come into public life, more than just moving on after one episode of foolishness."

Jones is guarded when it comes to how his wife, Ngareta, mother of his seven children, has coped with his "foolishness" and months of penance. "It wouldn't be tolerable for me to repeat what she says to me. We're a strong family, she's a hardy woman and she wants us to get on with life."

Indiscretions with his credit card may have cost Jones dearly. In the past, colleagues and media have touted him as a potential leader of the Labour Party and future Prime Minister, but Jones swats this possibility aside. At the moment, he says, it is not his goal.

"I'm in the process of being rehabilitated."

Instead, Jones singles out two younger MPs as future leaders of the party. Grant Robertson - who came into Parliament at the last election and is taking over from Ruth Dyson as shadow health minister - is one to watch, says Jones. "This will give him a chance to show his wares."

He also names Darren Hughes, Labour's new education spokesman, as a star of the future.

Although Jones was tipped to pick up the Maori Affairs portfolio in the reshuffle, Parekura Horomia retained the role and Jones has been named as his associate.

Jones is clearly disappointed not to get the job but is dutifully toeing the party line.

"In reshuffles there is always a mixture of ambition and ego and wanting to reach out and achieve your full potential. The last thing you want to do is spit the dummy over a reshuffle. I'm not a dummy spitter and I'm not a waka jumper."

In an election year there are still hard rows to hoe for a party that is behind in the polls and Jones is taking on some of that burden.

After two failed attempts at getting elected in his home Northland electorate of Te Tai Tokerau, where he was born and raised, Jones is shifting his battle to Auckland. He will be taking on Maori Party co-leader Pita Sharples in the fight for Tamaki Makaurau.

"It's an opportunity for me to offer something back to my colleagues in the Labour Party. Take on an arduous task to try to fell the southern totara tree, otherwise known as Pita Sharples."

He is not worried about abandoning his home base. There are more Northlanders living in Auckland than in Tai Tokerau, he says. "It's not a tribal seat as such," says Jones. "The bulk of people are from the four winds and they can expect me to be a respectful advocate."

Jones is frank in his admiration of John Key's buoyant popularity. He describes his own political style as people-focused and shows impatience for the "technocrat" style politics "that is better served in a university common room". Jones is going for that common touch, which has worked so well for the Prime Minister.

"The reality is we've got to show that our ideas and personalities are competitive with John Key and the genius that he's been able to bring - i.e, ongoing aspiration, smiley disposition - where he has perfected the politics of popularity. Whereas the Labour style has been the policy of substance. How do you drive a political agenda based on substance so it eclipses an agenda based on popularity?"

Jones' new transport portfolio sees him toe-to-toe with Steven Joyce, another popular figure in the Cabinet, on an issue he says is integral to the economic development of the country.

"It's not the highest thing in political sex appeal but very few things seem to enrage Aucklanders more than ongoing transport woes," he says.

He will be fighting for a less extravagant approach to National's $1.69 billion "holiday highway" from Puhoi to Wellsford, which Jones says seems to be about the minister's and his colleagues' property investments around the Mahurangi area. It may be unpopular among Jones' Northland mates, but then, he is used to rubbing a few people up the wrong way.