Audrey Young: Luxons best MPs vs Arderns top ministers

ANALYSIS

Christopher Luxon’s reshuffle of the National caucus will ensure some robust contests when Parliament resumes at 2pm, some of which will be as keenly anticipated as Luxon’s first encounter with Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.

Simon Bridges can be expected to take on Finance Minister Grant Robertson early and often.

But with only four questions a day allocated to the caucus of 33, competition is stiff.

The head-to-head contest between minister and shadow cabinet will be a long game over the next two years, conducted in a variety of forums.

And some of the contests are not necessarily reflected in the rankings.

One of Luxon’s class of 2020, for example, Penny Simmonds, a former polytech chief executive, has been given responsibility for tertiary education and early childhood education; and Simon Watts has picked up local government, which in the context of the Three Waters reform is a huge responsibility for a first-termer.

Erica Stanford’s promotion will see her take on Chris Hipkins in education and continue to mark Kris Faafoi in immigration. Simeon Brown made his mark on law and order but he loses them in his big promotion to take on Michael Wood in transport and Chris Hipkins in the public service.

Brown’s corrections responsibility goes to Simon O’Connor and police goes to Mark Mitchell.

MPs below 20 are unranked. Former leader Judith Collins has been respected with a position on the outer edge of the shadow cabinet but not rewarded with a place on the front bench.

In fact, at No 19, she would almost certainly miss out on a cabinet post if the party were in coalition government. She gets research, science, innovation and technology.

The last ranked shadow cabinet spot is David Bennett, who goes head to head with Stuart Nash in economic development. Former trade minister and Bridges wingman Todd McClay will be marking Nash in tourism, and Damien O’Connor in trade but is outside cabinet.

Barbara Kuriger is No 10 in the top 10 and keeps agriculture, which Collins gave her in an August reshuffle.

Melissa Lee will continue to mark Kris Faafoi in broadcasting where big decisions about the restructuring of radio and TV are on the agenda.

Former leader Todd Muller is outside cabinet and has the uninspiring responsibility of internal affairs and more inspiring oceans and fisheries.

Chris Penk has lost defence to Tim Van de Molen but Penk is in possible contention as senior whip.

THE BIG CONTESTS – Photos by Mark Mitchell

LEADER

Christopher Luxon vs Jacinda Ardern
Luxon has mastered the art of the political press conference but getting the better of Jacinda Ardern, especially in Parliament, will be difficult. She makes it look easy but is accomplished with a high command of detail. His every move and utterance will be judged. The question will be which issues to take to the top, how negative to go, and how scripted should he be. He won’t beat her on debating skills but picking the right subject at the right time, especially on Covid, will be what counts.

FINANCE

Simon Bridges vs Grant Robertson
This will be the second-best contest for the next two years. Bridges is up against an experienced Finance Minister and communicator who is highly trusted. Not that Robertson had much competition. This is the end of the easy ride for him: he had Amy Adams and Paul Goldsmith in term one, then Andrew Bayly and Michael Woodhouse splitting it in term two. Bridges may be behind on the economic front but he will be the best political operator Robertson has faced. Robertson knows that and will respect it.

HOUSING

Nicola Willis vs Megan Woods
Less of a head to head and more of a hand in hand in housing since the pair teamed up over a bipartisan bill to allow more three-storey townhouses to be built in the backyards of our cities. Willis’ better target in Government is the minister for Housing NZ, Poto Williams, who has denied there is a no-eviction policy for the worst tenants.

COVID-19 RESPONSE

Chris Bishop vs Chris Hipkins
It’s not just Chris vs Chris on Covid-19 management but the rightful restoration of Bishop to shadow leader of the House means these two frenemies will work together more on parliamentary matters. Bishop’s targets in Government are broadening to Andrew Little with the spread of Covid and the management of patients at home falling under Health.

HEALTH

Shane Reti vs Andrew Little
Unlike most people associated with the Judith Collins era, Reti enhanced his reputation, having been elevated to the front bench, the health portfolio, the deputy’s job and acting leader for a week. He also went back to work as a front line doctor, dispensing vaccines in Northland. He is no political firebrand, like Little, but has developed a quiet authority about him. In mental health, Little will continue to face the effective Matt Doocey who has leaped from No. 20 to No 8.

SOCIAL DEVELOPMENT

Louise Upston vs Carmel Sepuloni
The most enduring of the head-to-head contests between National and Labour, these two seasoned operators will continue to face off as they have for four years already on social welfare. The positive thing is that their contest is increasingly one of ideas, rather than personal barbs.It means one of the most important ministers gets a very experienced member opposite her. As well, Upston gets to mark Ardern on child poverty reduction.

EDUCATION

Erica Stanford vs Chris Hipkins

Stanford could shake Hipkins out of his comfort zone in education with him having held the portfolio for four years, even if he is somewhat distracted by Covid-19. If she takes the same approach she did in Immigration, she will be firmly focused on what consumers (parents) want, rather than the teachers. She shares the portfolio with first-termer Penny Simmonds who has tertiary education and early childhood education.

TRANSPORT

Simeon Brown vs Michael Wood
Brown should be able to make political capital out of the transport portfolio which has eluded it this term. It’s the fifth time the portfolio has changed hands since National has been in Opposition and hopefully it stays put with Brown, an Auckland MP. The big issues in the short term will be Wood’s imminent decisions around light rail to the airport and the massive cost associated with it and a second harbour crossing.

AGRICULTURE

Barbara Kuriger vs Damien O’Connor
Kuriger has held agriculture for only a matter of months since getting it in Judith Collins’ last reshuffle but has jumped up rankings from No 14 to No 10 under Luxon. She will need to work closely with Scott Simpson on climate change policy and methane emissions. A big part of her contest will be competing with Act to win back rural support.

CLIMATE CHANGE

Scott Simpson vs James Shaw
Climate change is likely to be the least abrasive head to head of the new match-ups, with Simpson replacing Stuart Smith. Simpson’s appointment is a greater nod to bipartisanship than Smith’s represented under Judith Collins. It is a signal to the rump of the climate sceptics in National that they had better get on board or find another party.

JUSTICE

Paul Goldsmith vs Kris Faafoi
Justice is a better fit for Goldsmith than education because it is more suited to his analytical style and at a time when Faafoi’s star is fading. The big issues will be what to do with existing prisoners serving three strikes offences, and hate speech laws. Goldsmith has also been given the coveted portfolio of workplace relations and will be up against rising star Michael Wood on the reintroduction of national awards, also known as fair pay agreements.

POLICE

Mark Mitchell vs Poto Williams
Surprisingly, Mitchell, a former cop, has never been police spokesman before but there has never been a better time for a National MP to have it. Law and order issues present themselves on a daily basis with gang membership and violence on the increase and a weak minister opposite. Big shoes to fill after Simeon Brown did so much with it. But Mitchell may have to toughen up and lose the big softie image.

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