Jacinda Ardern: New government will have strong focus on Covid-19

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Now the deal with the Greens is done and dusted, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s next move is to appoint her new ministers.

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Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern with members of the the Labour caucus. Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

It’ll be an executive stacked with Labour ministers – except for two – the Green co-leaders each taking ministerial portfolios outside Cabinet.

Ardern said she has been talking to her MPs, in some cases several times, as she put together New Zealand’s first majority government under MMP.

Ardern said the next government would have roughly the same amount of ministers, with a sharp focus on Covid-19.

“I am very mindful that of course those acute issues that require very focused attention. I have been mindful of that when forming this cabinet,” she said.

Covid’s devastating effect on Europe was a sign New Zealand can not be complacent, she added.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern (centre R) speaks with senior members of parliament a day after her landslide election win.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern speaks with senior members of parliament a day after her landslide election win. Photo: AFP

Ministers in the last government will be hoping to retain a place in the executive, and of course for promotion.

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Ardern may also use the opportunity to sideline ministers who didn’t perform to expectations.

Nipping at their heels are the likes of Michael Wood, Kiri Allan and Kieran McAnulty.

Even first term MP epidemiologist Ayesha Verrall could be in line for an associate portfolio, or under-secretary role.

Looking for a comeback will be Meka Whaitiri and David Clark, but for him it wouldn’t be in health, with Ardern having already ruled that out.

The question is still whether Labour deputy leader Kelvin Davis will be appointed deputy prime minister.

Ardern was not giving anything away, while being questioned by reporters, comparing it to a “not very fun pub game.”

“I will not be entertaining any speculation,” she said.

One potential change – already prompting criticism – is to extend the parliamentary term to four years.

There is a commitment to start talks with other parties on that and other electoral law but Ardern said any change like extending the term would likely go to referendum.

“No politician wants to be seen to be feathering their own nest. Traditionally it has gone to referendum and I imagine that will be a most likely scenario.”

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National’s Nick Smith said any change should ultimately be decided by the public.

“We need to have good process, we need to have cross-party engagement and because it is our electoral system, that must belong to the public, any final decisions must be made by referendum,” he said.

But Smith said he was worried the new government’s prioritising its own interests and re-jigging electoral laws for the next election, over the massive challenge needed to get through the Covid pandemic.

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