Politicians given 2012 report cards

16:00, Dec 14 2012

The 2012 political year has lurched to an end and savaged more than its fair share of reputations.

Throughout it all the parties' front benches eye-balled each other across the House, laughed at their own jokes, heckled and jeered their opponents, tried to score points off each other, and in between put in a decent day's work at their real jobs. So how did they go?

The Fairfax political team rated the front benches from one star to five, following Parliament's seating order from left to right around the debating chamber.


❏ Attorney-General and Treaty Negotiations Minister Christopher Finlayson

Strong in the treaty negotiations portfolio, middling as Attorney-General. A sarcastic streak robs him of the gravitas that others like Sir Douglas Graham brought to the role. A sort of Sir Michael Cullen without the laughs.

***1/2 (three-and-a-half stars)

❏ Social Development Minister Paula Bennett

Cabinet's resident Westie, with her back story as a solo mum made good, is a potent weapon on welfare reform. But is she typecast?

**** (four stars)

❏ Finance Minister Bill English

Unemployment is still high, asset sales are delayed and the surplus target is on a knife edge. It's been a tough year for the finance minister who needs to get out from the backroom more and raise his profile.

***1/2 (three-and-a-half stars)

❏ Prime Minister John Key

Has had a bad year - think Dotcom, the GCSB, David Beckham, Cabinet u-turns. But still National's biggest asset and without him their prospects of winning in 2014 would be sunk.

**** (four stars)

❏ Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee

Has visibly greyed since the Christchurch earthquakes. Brownlee has the heaviest burden of anyone in Cabinet (no pun intended) and, bar the occasional outburst, carries it well.

**** (four stars)

❏ Economic Development and Tertiary Education Minister Steven Joyce

The affable face hides a ruthless strategist. He is driving through significant change in science and tertiary education. But the jury is still out on whether his brain child, the Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment, is a dud.

***1/2 (three-and-a-half stars)

❏ Justice and ACC Minister Judith Collins

Apologies to Murray McCully, but Judith Collins takes out the award for National's most Machiavellian minister. Ripped through justice and ACC like a dose of salts. Seems hellbent on dismantling the legacy of her one-time leadership rival, former National golden boy Simon Power. But gets marked down for turning the David Bain compensation bid into a circus.

**** (four stars)

❏ Health Minister Tony Ryall

Highly effective minister and a safe pair of hands in the traditionally troubled health portfolio. Has stared down a succession of Opposition MPs.

****1/2 (four and a half stars)

❏ Education Minister Hekia Parata

What can we say? Class sizes, Novopay, school closures, gaffes - has any one minister had a worse year – ever?

1/2 (half a star)

❏ Primary Industries and Biosecurity Minister David Carter

A workmanlike performer in the agriculture and biosecurity portfolios.

**1/2 (two-and-a-half stars)


❏ ACT leader John Banks

He should have retired gracefully after the mayoralty race. Both he and ACT are now dog tucker at the next election. No stars



❏ United Future leader Peter Dunne

He gets marks for durability.

***1/2 (three-and-a-half stars)


❏ Maori Party co-leader Pita Sharples

Does even Dr Sharples know why he is here any more? A man with enormous mana who has faded under the political spotlight. He should step aside for Te Ururoa Flavell.

*1/2 (one-and-a-half stars)

❏ Maori Party co-leader Tariana Turia

A rebel with a cause: Whanau Ora. But unlike Dr Sharples, she has at least realised it is time to go.

**1/2 (two-and-a-half stars)


❏ Green Party co-leader Metiria Turei

Able and affable but needs to lift her profile in 2013

**1/2 (two-and-a-half stars)

❏ Green Party co-leader Russel Norman

The most effective opposition leader for most of 2012, but made a misstep with his quantitative easing plan. First among equals in the party's co-leadership.

****1/2 (four-and-a-half stars)


❏ NZ First leader Winston Peters

The year could have ended badly after scandal descended on one of his MPs, Brendan Horan. Mr Peters' decisive handling of Mr Horan has been criticised but it had the desired effect of limiting fallout.

*** (three stars)

❏ NZ First MP Barbara Stewart

On the front bench to make up the numbers. Clearly a patient woman after putting up with Mr Peters for so long.

** (two stars)


❏ Mana Party leader Hone Harawira

Reigning in his propensity to provoke controversy has also led to a lower profile but he is positioning himself to step in where the Maori Party left off.

*** (three stars)


❏ State-owned Enterprises spokesman Clayton Cosgrove

A workmanlike performer for Labour

** 1/2 (two-and-a-half stars)

❏ Health spokeswoman Maryan Street

Brainy but disappointing in the health portfolio.

** (two stars)

❏ Social development spokeswoman Jacinda Ardern

Growing into the role and one to watch for the future. Starting to get under Paula Bennett's skin.

*** 1/2 (three-and-a-half stars)

❏ Finance spokesman David Parker

Nerdy but effective - the brain behind Labour's economic policy rewrite.

****1/2 (four-and-a-half stars)

❏ Leader David Shearer

This will no doubt be a controversial score and if we were rating him on his first week in 2012 we would give him a one. But it takes some serious steel and sheer bloody-mindedness to emerge stronger after the battering he has taken this year. And his final speech for the year was a pearler.

**** (four stars)

❏ Labour deputy leader Grant Robertson

Talked up as a future leader within the party but his public profile doesn't yet live up to those expectations.

*** (three stars)

❏ Labour education spokeswoman Nanaia Mahuta

Briefly lifted her profile as running mate to David Cunliffe in his leadership run last year but slipped back into obscurity this year, despite the government being on the ropes over education policy. Shearer's to-do list next year surely includes putting a stronger performer in the portfolio.

* (one star)

❏ Employment spokesman Su'a William Sio

Talked up on his arrival at Parliament but failed to deliver.

** (two stars)

Fairfax Media