Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Key personnel

So far, I’ve been encouraged by the way John Key has been handling his government-in-formation, with the clear goal of keeping his Government squarely in the centre. Including the Maori Party is a perfect example, ensuring that neither ACT nor the right wing of his own party pulls his Government to the right. His new cabinet provides even more evidence.

Most of the media attention has gone to Paula Bennett, a former solo Mum on a benefit who will be minister for social development and employment, responsible for a $20 billion budget overseeing benefits. I’ve watched her on TVNZ’s Breakfast programme and have been impressed by her. She always seemed easygoing, competent, not grossly partisan and—perhaps most importantly—real. In other words, she’s not like run-of-the-mill politicians.

As a former beneficiary herself, Bennett understands what beneficiaries need, what works and what doesn’t. And she’s the very example of what National wants people to do: Move from a benefit to work to improve their lives. Wisely, she says that children must come first. I’d expect to see a much more humane dole-to-work scheme than we’ve seen from any previous National-led Government, and probably a more creative approach, too.

Other interesting moves included appointing Pansy Wong as Minister of Ethnic Affairs and Minister of Women’s Affairs, making her the first Asian-New Zealander in cabinet. Similarly, Chris Finlayson, as Attorney-General and Treaty of Waitangi negotiations minister, becomes National’s first out-gay cabinet minister (Chris Carter was Labour’s). Finlayson is National’s only out-gay MP, as far as I know, though there may be some closeted ones.

Many of the old guard who I don’t like have been relegated to low-level positions outside cabinet. However, Murray McCully, often described as “National's Machiavelli”, especially for his role in the 2005 campaign, is Foreign Affairs Minister, which to me seems a mistake. Some of the other cabinet members are MPs who I disliked when they were in Opposition, primarily for their shrill partisanship, but some of them may turn out to be good ministers.

So, on balance, it looks to be a pretty good cabinet, geared mostly to the centre of politics—where the voters are. Obviously there’ll be policies I’ll disagree with, but it’s great to not have to oppose nearly everything the party does, as I would have to with Republicans in the US, or even National of past years. That, too, is encouraging.

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