Kaye Takes Education & Brownlee Takes Foreign Affairs in Safe Cabinet Reshuffle

Last week saw a shake-up in cabinet as ministers Hekia Parata and Murray McCully depart ahead of this year’s general election

The reshuffle has been perceived as a safe refresher for PM Bill English’s team—a balanced response to the departure of two senior officials. Nikki Kaye will replace Hekia Parata as Education Minister; Gerry Brownlee will replace Murray McCully as Foreign Affairs Minister.

Gerry Brownlee isn’t the most diplomatic of the bunch and commentators often note his lack of finesse, restraint, and patience. Even Bill English has described Brownlee as ‘blunt but effective’. One remembers Brownlee’s handling of the Christchurch rebuild and his blunt comments to a Kaikoura farmer after the more recent earthquakes: “Sorry you’re frustrated, but I’m pissed off you took that attitude quite frankly.” 

That said, Brownlee’s long political experience and the international contacts made during his tenure as defence minister means he, with his “rat-like cunning”, as Rob Hosking put it, will be able to navigate the world of foreign affairs, even if he’s seen as a bit rough around the edges. 

The reshuffle saw Nick Smith removed from responsibilities regarding Crown Land and the government’s house-building efforts, which will now be handled by Social Housing Minister Amy Adams. Considering the housing crisis will be a significant issue in September, English must feel comfortable with Adams becoming the face and leader of the government’s efforts to build tens of thousands of new homes. 

Nikki Kaye, who had a recent battle with cancer, takes over education, a portfolio that caused Hekia Parata a lot of controversy over the years, as she faced fierce debates with teachers’ unions over new standards and policies. Kaye will immediately be faced with the government’s new plans to both change funding for about two-thirds of schools and replace the decile system. 

In a move likely to receive criticism from the country’s most important education unions, the NZEI and PPTA, Kaye has already identified accommodating private online learning providers as a future priority. She says, “The world is changing. We’ve connected almost every school to fast-connection uncapped data and we need to leverage that from a learning perspective. So that’ll definitely be a focus.”

This article first appeared in Issue 9, 2017.
Posted 11:21am Sunday 30th April 2017 by George Elliott.