There’s been a fair amount of talk about why James Shaw took the Statistics portfolio in negotiations with the government. While some people don’t understand, I actually think it’s an excellent fit, and will explain why, without resorting to parroting anyone’s dad jokes about numbers and counting.
Statistics is in charge of gathering a lot of information relevant to Shaw’s other, and arguably most important portfolio, Climate Change, a portfolio that relies heavily on accurate information to meet its goals of mitigating what is likely to be one of humanity’s big challenges in the short-to-medium term. By holding both roles, he ensures both that Climate Change is taken seriously and is handled in a way the Greens regard as adequate, and that he is getting the information he needs in the way he needs it with better integration between the two ministries, and he doesn’t have to ask a Labour Minister to change the information gathering process and wait on their feedback as to why or why not- he can either make the change himself or simply advocate for it directly in the relevant cabinet subcommittee if it might impact other Ministries negatively. This is the exact same approach Eugenie Sage has taken with Conservation and Land Information, combining a ministry that is a core Green priority with another that seems unimportant at first glance, but on a deeper look actually has direct relevance to the work she wants to do and has excellent synergy to give to the same Minister. As a finance associate, he will also provide that same level of integration to the gigantic five-person finance team the new Government has appointed, and Labour gets the bonus of potentially saving portfolios it views as meatier for its own caucus, pleasing people on both sides of the negotiating table. It’s a classic win-win move by the Greens.
I’d also argue that we should be looking at all other Ministers in the new government in terms of the synergy of their portfolios, by the way. We can see evidence of similar thoughtfulness in the synergy between some of Labour’s ministerial warrants, such as Andrew Little taking both Justice and Treaty Negotiations and also GCSB and SIS, or Phil Twyford’s pairing of Urban Development with Transport, or basically Peeni Henare’s entire portfolio pairing the satellite responsibilities to Social Development with the associate position in that portfolio, tying them together nicely and letting him report to Carmel Sepuloni on related matters. There’s plenty more examples, too many to go into.
Secondly, taking statistics has some benefits of its own for the Green Party. For instance, there have been rumours that Shaw is looking to have the census count LGBTQI+ people for the first time, providing more accurate information on sexuality and gender identity, where queer people are located, and therefore making it easier to serve our needs, which is excellent for its constituency as the party does very well with queer voters, being arguably the most liberal one in Parliament.
Thirdly, while Statistics sounds like a boring portfolio which you would normally assign someone as part of moving them to the edge of cabinet, Shaw has likely deliberately asked for Statistics as part of the Green Party’s long-term strategy of valuing substance over flair. While Statistics, like Energy or Revenue, is a portfolio that doesn’t sound interesting and on its own does little to advance the profile of ministers, when wielded properly and in combination with other portfolios, it actually has a surprising amount of clout, as determining how government data is gathered, interpreted, and made available has far-reaching implications. It can also help Shaw make sure that requests for official information to Statistics are kept relatively open, holding the two core parties of the new government to account from his position as a confidence and supply partner by ensuring information is released to citizens or the media even when it doesn’t help the government, and just promoting the Greens’ goal of a more open, transparent government in general.
Finally, in addition to being a party of environmentalists and liberals, the Green Party is also a party of nerd who value openness to new experiences and evidence-based decision making, and James is essentially the king of the nerdy sub-community inside the Green Party. James famously plays D&D, and makes in-jokes about it in the media. James knows that knowledge is power, and being Minister of Statistics basically puts him in charge of general knowledge for the entire government. In a classic nerd move, when asked what room he wanted to be in charge of, he took over the library, not just because it gives him power over all the information, but also because he simply loves knowledge for its own sake, and wants to make sure it’s used responsibly, and made freely available to those who want it. When you understand that about the Greens, this portfolio choice makes all of the sense in the world, even discarding the three other points in its favour.