New PM to name Cabinet on Sunday with swearing in planned for Tuesday; Sam Lotu-liga says will step down at next election; Ministers seen in play include McCully, Parata and Smith; MBIE up for grabs

New PM to name Cabinet on Sunday with swearing in planned for Tuesday; Sam Lotu-liga says will step down at next election; Ministers seen in play include McCully, Parata and Smith; MBIE up for grabs

By Bernard Hickey

Prime Minister Bill English began his first full day in the job by foreshadowing a major cabinet reshuffle to be announced on Tuesday, and facing tough questions about reducing child poverty from a fired up Opposition.

Meanwhile, one more position opened up in the cabinet. Local Government and Associate Health Minister Sam Lotu-liga, who has been seen as a poor performer and potential loser in the reshuffle, told reporters in Parliament he would be stepping down at the election next year.

Aside from Lotu-liga, English will have to make decisions about who replaces new Finance Minister Steven Joyce as Minister for Business, Innovation and Economic Development (MBIE), whether to replace retiring Education Minister Hekia Parata, whether to demote Health Minister and Leadership rival Jonathan Coleman and whether to replace Foreign Minister Murray McCully, who is stepping down as East Coast Bays MP but may stand again as a list MP.

Building, Housing and Environment Minister Nick Smith is also seen as a candidate for removal or reshuffling, although he is also seen as close to English.

English told reporters in Parliament he had not decided on the nature of the new cabinet, although he has indicated Joyce would be the new Finance Minister and Social Housing Minister Paula Bennett has already been selected and sworn in as Deputy Prime Minister.

Child Poverty questions

Later, English was challenged in Parliamentary Question Time for the first time as Prime Minister by Opposition Leader Andrew Little over the issue of child poverty.

Earlier, new Childrens' Commissioner Andrew Becroft released the third Child Poverty Monitor report and called on the Government to take urgent action to prevent a third generation of children being consigned to living in poverty.

"My simple plea today is for the government urgently to provide a plan to tackle child poverty in New Zealand," Becroft said.

The report showed 85,000 kids went without nine or more things they needed, while 90,000 children or 8% of children were in both low income households and living in material hardship.

"I think we have a real social responsibility, all New Zealanders, to ensure that the benefits of economic growth are made accessible to all in the community, especially children," Becroft said. "This is not a recent problem - it goes back several decades and rates of child poverty have not improved," he said.

'Just wait for the latest results'

Little asked if English took responsibility for the Government's record on Child Poverty and why there were more children in poverty in 2014 than when the Government took office.

English said he did not accept there were more children living in poverty.

"The most recent information is up to 2014, which is prior to changes in free doctors visits for under-13s, the hardship package that was introduced under this Government, and other measures that we are taking for smarter support for vulnerable families," he said, referring to the Government's NZ$25 a week increase for beneficiary families from April 1 this year.

'No plans for a child poverty target'

English also did not agree with Little's call for the Government to accept Becroft's arguments about setting targets on child poverty.

"After 8 years of rising child poverty on his watch, will he sign up to Andrew Becroft's target of reducing child poverty by 10 percent in the next year and take immediate steps to get there, or are we going to continue to hear empty words, just like we did from his predecessor?," Little asked.

English replied: "Since 2012 we have published a set of quite focused targets aimed at dealing with the social dysfunction that traps families in the combination of welfare dependency, criminal recidivism, low education levels, and child abuse."

"The data about that is more detailed and more transparent than in pretty much any other developed country, and the Government is acting on that information—in many cases, family by family, because that is the only way to change their lives. Signing up to a target does not change their lives," English said.

Labour signs up

Earlier, Labour Children's spokeswoman Jacinda Ardern said Labour had committed to Becroft's target of reducing material hardship by 5-10% in the next year, which was a target rejected by the Government.

The Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) focused on housing costs and low incomes in its comments on the report.

"While it’s clear Government cannot meet the demand for housing so many in need, what is being fundamentally ignored is the need to address family incomes," said Frank Hogan , CPAG Housing and Law spokesman.

"The beans thrown at beneficiaries on April 1 this year would have been swallowed up almost entirely by housing costs," he said.

We welcome your help to improve our coverage of this issue. Any examples or experiences to relate? Any links to other news, data or research to shed more light on this? Any insight or views on what might happen next or what should happen next? Any errors to correct?

We welcome your comments below. If you are not already registered, please register to comment.

Remember we welcome robust, respectful and insightful debate. We don't welcome abusive or defamatory comments and will de-register those repeatedly making such comments. Our current comment policy is here.

6 Comments

Comment Filter

Highlight new comments in the last hr(s).

Not quite sure just how deep the actual talent is in the National Party. If Mr English has ambition to be the master of his own ship he will require to do some pruning. Not sure how but McCully seems to have wielded influence well beyond his actual ability, dating back to Brash, and has had the best of all those big international sporting events and conferences etc etc and etc. First sweep of the broom one would hope. The biggest challenge though would seem to be Ms Collins and the rather baffling appearance of Mr Coleman , by his own sponsorship, as a potential PM. The big problem for Mr English will be dealing with and controlling his MP's whose ambitions outrun their ability., it is not a small percentage unfortunately.

Hopefully Casher Collins can be quietly moved away from the cabinet now that she can no longer put pressure on Key over suspected secrets shared between them.
McCully, In todays environment we need someone a bit sharper than he has proven as Foreign Minister.
Smith, is he there because he is known to be hopeless and National want, no need the status quo to remain in Housing?
Really apart from English and some of the ladies there's not much talent there. Key knew that and that was why he fronted every issue with the gormless minister involved hanging off to the side.

It is remarkable how the dominating presence of Key has masked the incompetence of several ministers. We will get a chance to see the next cabs of the rank in action before the next election which is actually a positive. The biggest problem English has is that there is now a fair proportion of his caucus who would be personally better served if he leads them to defeat. They have actually gone backwards in terms of succession and if he succeeds he presents a genuine roadblock for all the pent up ambition. Watch your back Bill.

Key led the way by getting out at a time of his choosing. Expect that several other ministers will also decide there a better places to be and you always don't have to stay until you are ejected. Might be one or two resignations now and some more before the 2017 election.

Foss gone already. !!!! It's only been 1 1/2 hours ! Government clearly reading my comments and taking note. Nice.

MPs who are listless by nature could become listless in reality,the mediocre can be ministerial but still dont see a dream team,they have been a supporting cast for too long just a bunch of wafflers.