Shearer shores up Labour's core areas

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Last updated 05:00 26/02/2013
David Shearer
Labour leader David Shearer

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OPINION: Labour leader David Shearer could not have given a clearer signal that the party needs to lift its game in its traditional happy hunting grounds - jobs, health and education.

While health spokeswoman Maryan Street and education spokeswoman Nanaia Mahuta have not been booted out of the top 20, they have been shifted sideways into less critical areas in his long-awaited reshuffle.

In comes Chris Hipkins, who has been acting education spokesman for some time, and feisty veteran Annette King in health.

Insiders say Mr Shearer started with the key areas - jobs, education, health, skills and housing - and then picked his best pinch hitters.

That is a big boost for Phil Twyford who steps up to No 8 in the rankings and takes on the party's crucial housing policy from 2012.

Behind them, keeping them honest, will be former leader Phil Goff and the demoted but not forgotten Trevor Mallard. They will team up as the nucleus of a new "hit-squad", with extra research and media resources to dig and dish the dirt.

Not surprisingly, Shane Jones is on ice, contingent on a clean slate from the auditor-general's report into the Bill Liu saga. He is a strong debater in a relatively weak field and his appointment marks a step-up in the push for regional development, where there are inevitable clashes with environment policy that Ms Street will have to manage.

David Clark deserves his promotion to No 12 as does Andrew Little to No 19 - though he might have hoped for better. Yet he seems an odd choice for justice where Labour may need someone "tough on crims" to counter National's characterisation of it as soft on crime.

Two who may feel aggrieved are Mana MP Kris Faafoi and Palmerston North's Iain Lees-Galloway, but Mr Shearer singled them out so they are likely next cabs off the rank.

It is a thoughtful reshuffle by Mr Shearer, which matches Mr Key's own move to dump two senior ministers, but hardly exceeds it.

And as good as she may be, Mrs King's promotion is a strange signal from a party bent on rejuvenation and supposedly keen to "move on" from the Clark and Goff years.

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