Claire Trevett: National Party leader Judith Collins’ reshuffle – finance twist expected

Simon Bridges is set for a big prize in Judith Collins’ reshuffle on Wednesday, but he might have to swallow a fish hook to get it – the NZ Herald has learned of a possible surprise twist as Collins works out who will win and who will be disappointed.

National Party leader Judith Collins is understood to be considering splitting the finance portfolio between two MPs, including former leader Simon Bridges, in a reshuffle she said will hold “surprises”.

Collins would not discuss the details of her reshuffle, which is likely to be announced on Wednesday afternoon, but said “there will be some surprises.”

“I’ll be looking to reward talent, hard work and loyalty to the party.”

Her reshuffle is expected to put a strong emphasis on the economy – and the most interesting move could be in the finance portfolio.

It is understood Collins is considering splitting that portfolio between MPs Simon Bridges and Andrew Bayly rather than using the usual “associate” roles for one.

However, Bridges in particular could be resistant to such a move given it would carve up the portfolio, and risk blurred boundaries.

It is likely to be loosely modelled on the Treasurer and Finance Minister split which is used in Australia, and had a brief appearance in New Zealand during the National – NZ First Government of 1996 when Bill Birch was Finance and Winston Peters was Treasurer.

Typically, the Treasurer is responsible for overall fiscal policy while the Finance Minister is in charge of matters such as tax and revenue.

Bridges would not comment to the NZ Herald, but is understood to have made it clear he was most interested in finance in the reshuffle.

It could see specific areas such as revenue, infrastructure and KiwiSaver split between them, while one other dealt with political management and the broader brush monetary, fiscal and economic policy.

If Collins goes ahead with the plan, the latter would likely rest with Bridges, who is far more agile politically than the little-known Bayly and more capable of footing it against Finance Minister Grant Robertson in Parliament.

The role had been held by Paul Goldsmith, but he is expected to lose it after the blunder with a $4 billion error in National’s fiscal plan during the campaign.

There is no shortage of jobs for her to hand out, given National’s previous caucus of 54 has shrunk to just 33.

The top ranks are tipped to include Shane Reti in health, Bridges, Bayly and Louise Upston in social development.

Shane Reti is widely expected to be elected deputy leader at the party’s caucus meeting tomorrow, where MPs will also hold the post-election confidence vote in Collins’ leadership.

Collins is not expected to be challenged and has made it clear Reti is her choice for deputy.

Over the past week, Collins has had meetings with all MPs to discuss what roles they wanted, but will not tell most of her final decisions until after that caucus meeting.

Collins has already said Reti would retain health. He could also be given the wider Covid-19 portfolio, unless Collins opts for somebody with more political attack skills.

The reshuffle could also see the senior whip Barbara Kuriger given heavier portfolio responsibilities, and the whip’s job handed to Matthew Doocey.

Some of the big questions Collins needs to wrestle with include what to do with new MP Christopher Luxon.

Luxon is new to Parliament, but the wider party will expect to see him given opportunities to test and prove himself – without great risk of coming a cropper too early.

Collins has said she would also consider who each MP was going up against on the Government benches.

That, and Luxon’s background, could see him pitched up against Stuart Nash in economic development, small business and tourism.

Several otherwise-good MPs have blotted their copy books and will be waiting to see whether they are punished for it.

They include Paul Goldsmith and Michael Woodhouse for portfolio-related blunders. Chris Bishop and Nicola Willis are considered National’s up-and-coming MPs, but have upset some in caucus for their roles in the Muller coup. Muller will also be waiting to learn his fate, after Collins kept him on her front bench immediately after he stepped down from the leadership.

How Collins deals with those could be crucial for uniting the caucus.

Collins will also have to decide on Gerry Brownlee’s role. Brownlee has stepped down as deputy leader, but is still valuable for his experience in Parliament and Collins cannot afford to waste that. If Bridges gets finance, foreign affairs could return to Brownlee or it could go to Todd McClay.

National will need someone with experience in trade, as the Government tries to progress the ongoing, but sticky, European Union and UK negotiations, and the change of presidency in the US potentially re-opens trade opportunities with the US.

That could go to either McClay, a former trade minister, or stay with Todd Muller, who is less proven.

Collins prefers portfolios such as Justice to rest with lawyers.

That could see lawyer Chris Penk given a chance in that portfolio, or his Navy background could land him Defence.

Collins may also be considering moving housing from Jacqui Dean to an urban or Auckland MP, given it is likely to be an area of political contention again as the Government tries to restore its credibility following the failure of KiwiBuild.

Local Government could also go to an Auckland MP.

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