Reshuffle for government   7 Sep 2004

Police Minister George Hawkins is expected to be the main casualty of a Cabinet reshuffle as Prime Minister Helen Clark refreshes her lineup for election year.

Other moves would mean changes in the big-spending portfolios of health, welfare and education. Government insiders are tipping Education Minister Trevor Mallard, whose bruising style has alienated some in the sector, will be replaced, perhaps by Social Development Minister Steve Maharey, who already has responsibility for tertiary education. If so, Mr Mallard, the Government’s "enforcer", will certainly be given another senior role. It is understood Health Minister Annette King wants to keep her main portfolio. Timing is yet to be finalised, with some in Labour favouring the week before the party’s annual conference opens, on November 13. Others are tipping December, before Speaker Jonathan Hunt takes up the post of high commissioner in London in the new year. Defence Minister Mark Burton is in line to replace him.

Clark confirmed her plans for a reshuffle when she announced minor changes in July after Tariana Turia resigned. She said ministers had projects they wanted to complete, but those would be over by late 2004. "So people will be looking for new challenges and they will be getting them." Hawkins, who is also Internal Affairs Minister, has been a poor performer in the House and stumbled over the leaky buildings crisis. If he goes, it would open up two slots. One should go to well-performed Damien O’Connor, who is a minister outside the Cabinet and from the same rightist faction as Hawkins.

The other could go to the chairman of the select committee on the foreshore and seabed law, lawyer Russell Fairbrother, who could replace Margaret Wilson as attorney-general if she changes her mind and steps down in 2005. It is possible former minister Lianne Dalziel, also a lawyer, could be rehabilitated though a return to full Cabinet status might have to wait till after the election.

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