Jacinda Ardern unveils new cabinet to focus on Covid-19 containment and recovery | New Zealand

New Zealand’s prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, has brought in her reliable right hand man, Grant Robertson, as deputy leader as the new cabinet line up focuses on Covid-19 containment and economic recovery.

Ardern said Kelvin Davis had been re-elected as deputy by Labour party MPs but he chose not to continue in the role. Davis is regarded as a hard worker but was seen to lack a strong public presence.

Robertson, one of Ardern’s most capable ministers, handled the government’s spending in response to Covid-19, dishing out NZ$48m in six months. His promotion came as no great surprise.

The government created a NZ$50bn Covid response and recovery fund targeted at new initiatives meant to address both the immediate response to the pandemic and the longer term economic damage left in its wake.

Robertson picks up the infrastructure portfolio to go with finance, a combination Ardern said will enable him to focus on the overall agenda of recovery and ensure the roll out of infrastructure projects “because it is an enormous investment”.

Ardern announced a new ministerial post for Covid-19 response, with Chris Hipkins taking the role. Hipkins took over as health minister in July when David Clark resigned following gaffes including going mountain biking during lockdown.

Jacinda Ardern and new foreign minister Nanaia Mahuta
Jacinda Ardern and new foreign minister Nanaia Mahuta Photograph: Bianca de Marchi/AFP/Getty Images

Hipkins responsibilities will include overseeing Covid-19 testing, managed isolation and border controls. He retains the education portfolio.

Andrew Little, one of Labour’s most effective ministers, and the politician who begged Ardern to take his place as party leader before coming to power at the 2017 election, takes up the health portfolio.

A new MP, Ayesha Verrall, an infectious disease doctor, has been brought straight into cabinet. Verrall was one of the Ardern government’s key scientific advisers during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Ardern said it would be foolish at this time not to use Verrall’s experience and said she wanted her voice in cabinet rather than in a consultation role.

Clark returns to cabinet, overseeing commerce, the digital economy, statistics and state owned enterprises.

New Zealand’s response – to go hard and early on lockdowns – has been generally praised around the world, moreso as new lockdowns are being announced in Britain and Europe.

Four new Covid-19 cases – all in managed isolation – were announced today. The last case in the community was 10 days ago, on 23 October.

New Zealand has 77 active cases. Its total number of cases is 1603 including 25 deaths.

Nanaia Mahuta, an MP since 1996, becomes foreign minister, replacing New Zealand First leader Winston Peters, a populist maverick whose party was not returned to parliament at the election on 17 October.

A f ormer prominent cabinet minister, Phil Twyford, paid the price for under-delivery of Kiwibuild – the programme aimed at addressing homelessness and housing affordability – and transport projects. He has been given minor portfolios outside cabinet.

Green Party leaders James Shaw and Marama Davidson are also ministers outside cabinet – climate change and family violence portfolios respectively – having reached a “cooperation” agreement with the government.

Under New Zealand’s MMP system, agreements between parties are common, particularly when no one party can form a government alone. In this case the agreement with the Greens was reached even though Labour did not need them to govern.


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