Jacinda Ardern’s new Cabinet: Who’s up or down, in or out?

Keeping communities free of Covid-19 and firing up the economic recovery have been front of Jacinda Ardern’s mind in deciding senior Cabinet roles.

The Prime Minister will today reveal those positions, and of particular interest will be the roles of Deputy PM, Health Minister, Winston Peters’ successor in Foreign Affairs, the number of Māori ministers, and how far Phil Twyford might fall.

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Finance Minister Grant Robertson is expected to be given Infrastructure so he can oversee the roll out of the $12 billion NZ upgrade programme and the $3 billion shovel-ready fund.

Yesterday Ardern gave nothing away over whether Chris Hipkins would keep Health,Education or both, or continue with parts of either.

But she has been mindful of Covid-19 in deciding Cabinet positions, she said.

“Covid is having another devastating effect in Europe, in particular, at this time. That is a sign to us we cannot be complacent.”

Yesterday the UK went into a strict four-week lockdown, following lockdowns in France, Belgium and, to a lesser extent, Germany.

“It is a tricky virus and it is only swelling once more. That’s all the more reason for us to continue a very concerted effort here,” Ardern said.

“I have been mindful of that when forming this Cabinet.”

Health next term will include not only the Covid-response, but implementing reforms set out in the Heather Simpson review.

Yesterday Labour deputy leader Kelvin Davis wouldn’t be drawn on whether he wanted to be Deputy PM.

Ardern will also reveal the fate of David Clark, who resigned the health portfolio following his lockdown indiscretions, and Meka Whaitiri, who was stripped of ministerial roles after an alleged assault that she has denied.

Twyford, who presided over the failure of KiwiBuild and the lack of progress on Auckland light rail, is expected to be demoted but may keep his seat at the Cabinet table.

There are six empty seats at the Cabinet table: those vacated by the four NZ First ministers, and the unfilled vacancies of former Labour Party ministers Iain Lees-Galloway and Clare Curran.

Ardern said she wanted to balance expertise and experience with caucus talent.

That could include promotions for, among others, chief whip Michael Wood, junior whips Kiri Allen and Kieran McAnulty, and former primary school principal Jan Tinetti.

Cabinet usually has 20 ministers, and Ardern said the size of the executive would be largely unchanged.

There are currently 25 ministers in the executive council, which includes ministers outside Cabinet, and 27 members of executive government, which includes two under-secretaries.

Two ministers outside Cabinet will be Green Party co-leaders James Shaw and Marama Davidson, who yesterday joined Ardern and Davis in formally signing the Labour-Greens co-operation agreement.

Shaw will be Climate Change Minister and Associate Environment Minister (Biodiversity). Davidson will become the Minister for the Prevention of Family and Sexual Violence and Associate Housing Minister (Homelessness).

They will represent the Government in their respective portfolios, but differences between the Greens and the Government can be noted in Cabinet minutes.

Standard agree-to-disagree provision also apply, and they are free to oppose the Government on matters outside their portfolios.

“We’re both agreeing that we don’t actually need to agree,” Ardern said of the deal.

“The Green Party can make it clear where they don’t agree while we get on with things. We have the numbers that we need, but equally that isn’t a reason not to work [together] in areas where we agree.

“That is what makes this a unique agreement.”

Davidson added: “We agree to agree to disagree.”

She stressed the ability of the Greens to maintain an independent voice, adding that she could stand against the Government on Ihumātao because it was an issue outside of the Greens’ ministerial portfolios.

And she said the party could continue to be a loud voice on its proposed wealth tax – ruled out repeatedly by Ardern – as well as other ways to address inequality.

The Greens cannot oppose the Government on confidence and supply, but if they feel the Government is not going hard enough to address, for example, inequality, they can abstain on relevant Budget votes.

Davidson said 85 per cent of the Greens’ membership supported the agreement, well above the needed 75 per cent but much lower than the level of consensus for 2017’s confidence and supply agreement.

As well as the ministerial posts, Labour has promised to work with the Greens in “areas of co-operation” including achieving the purpose and goals of the Zero Carbon Act, protecting our environment and biodiversity, and improving child wellbeing.

Asked about the loss of Green MPs Julie Anne Genter and Eugenie Sage as ministers, Shaw said: “We could spend much of the next three years dealing with ‘what ifs’. We’re really dealing with what’s next.”

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