New Zealand PM Hipkins reshuffles Cabinet to focus on key election issues

Mr Chris Hipkins has signalled he will row back some unpopular policies. PHOTO: REUTERS

WELLINGTON - New Zealand Prime Minister Chris Hipkins announced a Cabinet reshuffle that he said will better focus his government on key voter concerns ahead of an October election.

“The new Cabinet will be focused on core bread and butter issues like the cost of living, education, health, housing and keeping communities and businesses safe,” Mr Hipkins said on Tuesday in Wellington. “We need a greater focus on what’s in front of New Zealanders right now. The new Cabinet line-up strengthens that focus.” 

Support for the ruling Labour Party jumped in two polls published on Monday after Mr Hipkins replaced Ms Jacinda Ardern in the top job last week.

He has signalled he will row back some unpopular policies and seek to regain centre-ground voters by focusing on the economy as it slides towards recession.  

Mr Hipkins confirmed Mr Grant Robertson remains finance minister, saying he will “apply his full focus on fighting inflation and helping New Zealand families and businesses to get by”.

Mr Michael Wood is a big mover, rising to seven from 16 in the Cabinet rankings. He becomes Minister for Auckland and an associate finance minister, in addition to retaining the transport and immigration portfolios. 

Housing Minister Megan Woods remains a senior member of Labour’s front bench at No. 5, while new Deputy Prime Minister Carmel Sepuloni jumps to No. 2, keeping social development and employment and adding associate foreign affairs.

Ms Nanaia Mahuta has been demoted. She remains foreign minister, but loses her local government portfolio to Mr Kieran McAnulty and drops to 16 from nine in the rankings.

She has failed to tamp down concerns about the government’s planned reforms of water infrastructure, leaving it open to attack from the opposition.

Mr Stuart Nash takes the police portfolio from Mr Hipkins, who as prime minister takes over national security and intelligence. Mr Andrew Little loses health to Ms Ayesha Verrall, but gains defence. Ms Jan Tinetti gets education.

“In the reshuffle, I have balanced the need for stability with renewal,” Mr Hipkins said. “New Zealanders want to see the government getting on with the job, but I also want to demonstrate the depth of our talent and bring some new energy and focus to the task ahead.” BLOOMBERG

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