I think the Labour reshuffle is quite clever in how it signals the portfolios that its willing to give to the Greens and encourages them to set about being lead opposition spokespeople on those topics. Sure, the reshuffle has some weird stuff in it – ChCh Earthquake spokesperson a backbencher!, 6 ex-staffers in the top 10, Mallard’s ‘demotion’ that isn’t. But there’s some smarts there too.
Let’s start with economics. There’s a big question over where Russel Norman will fit into the finance/economics team of the next government. But with Cunliffe gone and a rookie handed Economic Development, it’s clear that Labour’s adjusted itself to giving him that role. No disrespect to my fellow Standardista’s brother; David Clark’s been outstanding. But putting such a junior MP in that position when Finance is held by a former Cabinet Minister ranked number 3, is a clear sign that Labour sees itself giving the role to Norman – a rookie’s not going to get the job over a co-leader.
Leaving Transport, Maori Affairs/Treaty, Energy, Climate Change and Conservation out of the top 20 (ie shadow Cabinet) would also be a joke if it wasn’t clearly being done to give the Greens space.
In Transport, Phil Twyford had done a remarkable job given the ambiguity of his party’s positions on the individual Roads of National Significance (they only flatly oppose one of them). Brendan Horan had also been doing a good job with his Kiwirail connections. Now, the board is clear for Julie Anne Genter to make her mark and cement her case to be Transport Minister. You couldn’t not have transport in Cabinet, it spends 5% of the budget, let alone its wider economic impacts.
Likewise, you can’t not have Maori Affairs and Treaty Settlements in Cabinet. Are they planning to give Metiria Turei Maori Affairs and maybe the Children’s Minister role that both parties want, and which Annette King had been eying up but won’t be able to do if she’s busy with Housing. Just as Norman wouldn’t have his hands directly on the cheque book if he was Economic Development rather than Finance, giving Turei advisory ministries to run rather than a big-budget department like MSD would fit with Labour’s desire to control the ‘real’ decisions in coalition.
Energy and Climate Change could be given to a single Green Minister to hold, given they’re very unlikely to remain with Moana Mackey in outside Cabinet roles. Gareth Hughes and Kennedy Graham could both put their hands up, or the roles could be split between Norman and Genter.
Conservation also needs to be in Cabinet because it makes decisions on large developments and the management of vast swathes of the country. Eugenie Sage is the Greens’ Conservation spokesperson and their Earthquake Recovery spokesperson – could Labour be planning to palm off both these roles that are frequently no-win to her? Interesting strategy if so.
Finally, ACC remains in Labour’s top 20 but it has been taken off the up and coming ex-union boss, Andrew Little, who as a union lawyer knows ACC and its issues like few others – with the exception of ex-DHB boss Kevin Hague, and given to the much lower profile Sue Moroney. On the other hand, Annette King has health now. That’s a clear signal that Labour is willing to give up ACC to Hague, but not health.
The Greens may be happy with some of the spots that Labour has de facto left open for them, and not so happy about others. Economic Development is the best Norman could ever hope for from Labour but also the least he should accept. Turei would want more than just advisory ministries, she’ll want her hands on the tiller. But it is good to see that Labour is acting now with an eye to a post-election coalition. Just the fact that ‘when we’re government’ is seriously in their heads is a positive frame of mind that was completely absent in the lead up to the 2011 election.