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The good, the bad and the ugly – The ministers in National’s new government by underground

John Key has shown some promise, and left even his doubters reconsidering their opinions of the man, with the new ministers he announced yesterday. Of course those on the Left are never going to be happy with a National-led government, but there are some signals that, at least for the first term, National will be sticking to the centre ground. It is certainly a lot more pleasant than anything I could have imagined Don Brash coming up with had he won in 2005. The likes of Paula Bennett with the social development portfolio may temper National’s tendency to screw over those on the bottom of the heap, as will the inclusion of Tariana Turia and Peter Sharples from the Maori Party. Turia is minister of the community and voluntary sector and Sharples is Maori affairs minister, which must be reassuring for many Maori. National has given the Maori Party more than Labour managed, particularly when they dropped the ball siding with New Zealand First and Greens in 2005, shunning the more principled partners of the Greens and the Maori. National has trumped Labour in their post election arrangements here, although they have created a four-headed monster after warning of the perils of something similar from Labour. Another example of National Party hypocrisy, expect more to come!

Having spoken to Jonathan Coleman I feel he is a safe pair of hands for his portfolios, particularly broadcasting, which I know he is excited about. I don’t think he will sell TVNZ either. I don’t know where he stands on immigration issues and his being appointed minister in this area did come out of left field for me.

As minister of tourism, John Key will have to learn that New Zealand’s tourism is dependent on the environment, particularly our ‘clean, green’ image, so perhaps it is time the climate change denier concerned himself with environmental issues. Many of our waterways are horribly polluted and I can’t imagine him telling his farming industry supporters to clean up their act. At least Nick Smith, the new Minister of the Environment and Climate change, has a better grasp of environmental issues, but I do recall him pushing for less marine reserves in the past, hopefully a position he has stepped back from.

Although bypassed for social development, New Zealanders have not escaped the madness that is Judith Collins, who frighteningly will be minister of police and corrections. Act’s ill thought-out and costly law and order policy may be enacted, but hopefully Sharples will be a moderating influence as associate corrections.

Fortunately, the ugly has been left out, as promised by Key, but Roger Douglas’s Act colleagues have still obtained portfolios. Rodney Hide is in charge of regulatory reform, which no doubt means no regulation, and local government, and his party deputy Heather Roy is Minister of consumer affairs and associate defence and education.

Thankfully Obama is now the US president, so we can hopefully foresee no imminent foolish conflicts waged over resources and lies. There is of course no Phil Goff to represent us overseas, or even Winston Peters, who did a good job. Instead we Murray McCully, who is to the right of the party, as Foreign Affairs Minister. Unlike other portfolios which are held by those we should be wary of, foreign affairs has no strong moderating forces; McCully’s associates are Act’s Roy, which is concerning, and National’s trade minister Tim Groser, who does however seem reasonable enough. Defence minister is Wayne Mapp. Hopefully the world won’t present these hardliners the opportunity to make any stupid mistakes.

Gaffe-prone trouble-makers Maurice Williamson and Lockwood Smith have been left out in the cold somewhat, although not completely; Williamson will be a minister outside cabinet, and Smith will likely be speaker, where hopefully he cannot do too much damage.

There are many more to comment on, but I think the bulk of them, particular those who are new, are best reflected on once they’ve performed in the role for some time. It is a very fresh cabinet, although there still are some ministers responsible for detrimental policy implemented in the nineties. It will interesting to see how the newbies (Steven Joyce minister in his first term!?) perform.

Whether the government succeeds and wins a second term will come down to how well Key can balance his own party’s and Act’s right wing ideology with the moderating forces of the Maori Party and others. The Government will not be able to simply ram through unpopular legislation reminiscent of the nineties as, despite its large majority, it hasn’t the mandate and is governing on a knife edge. But with the economic crisis scare tactics of the likes of ‘TINA’, or There is no Alternative, could be employed, so it is up to journalists and those on the left to keep a critical eye on this National government.

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