Election 2020: Audrey Young – what a Judith Collins’ cabinet might look like


Whether National leader Judith Collins is a loser or a winner after Saturday’s election, she will face dilemmas about what jobs to give some of her MPs.

The best sort of dilemma she could wish for would be that of a party leader having to choose a cabinet.

Although it is not looking likely, National on say 37 per cent, Act on 8 per cent and Labour on 44 per cent would deliver a National-led government.

But the “strong team” on which Collins campaigned might not necessarily be the same team that would make up her ministry, were she able to form a government with Act.

Her difficult decisions could involve sorting out jobs for finance spokesman Paul Goldsmith, former Air NZ chief executive Christopher Luxon and former leader Simon Bridges.

The big decision would be what to do with Goldsmith, whose sloppy errors in National’s fiscal plan during the election campaign hobbled the campaign literally from the day of its launch.

He had one job to do, to come up with a credible alternative budget, and he failed.

Judith Collins has given no hint over the campaign that he would lose finance. But in any other workplace, such a failure would not be rewarded.

And he should not assume he would step into the finance minister’s job.

Collins’ most radical move would be to make Christopher Luxon finance minister immediately. It is not unheard of for a high-flying first-term MP to become a minister – Steven Joyce and Margaret Wilson have been recent examples.

It would be unheard of for them to become finance minister but he could be as well placed as any experienced MP to be a contender.

Luxon has been one of the most respected business executives and headed the Prime Minister’s business council. He cannot be expected to breathe through his nose for three years as other backbenchers are advised to do.

There is no obvious alternative to Goldsmith within the current caucus. Bridges could do it and so could Chris Bishop or Nicola Willis. Andrew Bayly would want it. It would be challenge for anyone. Christopher Luxon, who is set to become the MP for Botany, would be worth taking a risk on.

Collins could have issues about what to do with Bridges. After licking his wounds in the wilderness following his ousting, he was eventually given the coveted portfolio of foreign affairs in a reshuffle shortly before Todd Muller resigned.

The portfolio had been held by former Foreign Minister Gerry Brownlee who subsequently became Judith Collins’ deputy leader and could presumably want it back.

Collins would be better to leave it with Bridges along with several other demanding portfolio that might reduce the potential for mischief.

Bridges could be one of Collins’ best performing ministers if he was content to be a minister.

Brownlee’s attention would be required on establishing a new border agency to deal with the response to Covid-19 and it would make sense for him to take back the Defence portfolio he once held.

The two appointments Collins could quickly determine would be in education and in health, presuming both spokespeople made it back to Parliament – Nicola Willis and Shane Reti respectively.

Louise Upston would have social development and Scott Simpson environment.

Some of Collins’ appointments three months ago when she became National leader were on the basis of loyalty, not merit. Harete Hipango, for example, might keep Treaty Negotiations but the crucial role of Attorney-General should go to a more senior MP such as Bridges.

Collins’ reshuffle left several highly competent former ministers with not much to do – such as Michael Woodhouse who lost health to Shane Reti and Mark Mitchell, who harbours leadership ambitions of his own. Her best approach would be to keep them as ministers and keep them busy.

Many decisions about a Collins cabinet would depend on whether Act wanted to be in a formal Coalition – as the Greens do with Labour – and what role Act leader David Seymour would want.

Seymour would certainly be able to claim the role of deputy prime minister and under a formal coalition arrangement, Collins would be obliged to give it to him.

But Seymour himself is not keen. As an experienced MP with a swag of new MPs likely to come into Parliament with him, he would likely eschew a ministerial role and opt to devote his energies to helping them become effective MPs.

There could still be a coalition agreement with policy commitments and procedures for Act’s agreement to be sought on all major decisions.

Seymour could become a minister of state without portfolio, enabling him to attend any cabinet meeting or any cabinet committee meeting, and ensuring that Act received all cabinet papers on all subjects.

Judith Collins’ cabinet could look like this – and leave room for four or five people to be appointed as ministers outside cabinet to portfolios such as Internal affairs, conservation, and local government.

Judith Collins – Prime Minister

Gerry Brownlee – Deputy Prime Minister, Covid Border Agency, Defence, GCSB, SIS, Leader of the House

Christopher Luxon – Finance

Simon Bridges – Foreign Affairs, Justice, Attorney-General

Shane Reti – Health

Nicola Willis – Education

Chris Bishop – Transport, Infrastructure, State Services

Todd McClay – Economic Development, Tourism, Small Business

Paul Goldsmith – SOEs, Treaty Negotiations, EQC

Todd Muller – Trade, Immigration

Louise Upston – Social Development

Scott Simpson – Environment, Climate Change

David Bennett – Agriculture

Michael Woodhouse – Oranga Tamariki

Mark Mitchell – Housing, Police

Melissa Lee – Broadcasting, Communications, Consumer affairs

Andrew Bayly – Revenue, Commerce

Barbara Kuriger – ACC, Workplace relations

Harete Hipango – Māori development, Māori-Crown relations

Matt Doocey – Corrections, Mental Health

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