Brownlee gets foreign affairs, but Smith's demotion on drip-feed video

Gerry Brownlee has been handed the foreign minister's job vacated by Murray McCully.
ROBERT KITCHIN/FAIRFAX NZ

Gerry Brownlee has been handed the foreign minister's job vacated by Murray McCully.

OPINION: In the end, it probably wasn't such a tough call to make.

For all his "bluntness" and an occasional diplomatic gaffe - anyone remember how he thought Finnish people were uneducated and disrespectful? - Gerry Brownlee was the safest choice Prime Minister Bill English could make when he was looking for someone to replace Murray McCully in foreign affairs.

Let's not forget, too, that Brownlee is very senior and English owes him a favour or two. Word was from his colleagues that if Big Gerry wanted it, the job was his.

The tougher and more "political" call in Monday's reshuffle that has passed somewhat under the radar is the slow extraction of English's long-time friend and ally Nick Smith from the housing roles that are causing the government so much pain.

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Smith had already lost some of them last year and this time around all the housing, land and Housing NZ roles are now firmly "consolidated" in the steady hands of Amy Adams.

Smith is left with the regulation role of building and construction; the theory, but definitely not the practice of finding and building houses.

If it weren't for the need to put Adams into such a key role she could have taken the Christchurch earthquake job - now known as regeneration - vacated by Brownlee.

It will likely be a big disappointment for Nicky Wagner that she missed out to Mitchell on a cabinet slot and a surprise to Christchurch that its recovery is now downgraded to a role for one of the five ministers outside cabinet.

Prime Minister Bill English with newly-promoted Defence Minister Mark Mitchell during his swearing in last year with ...
ROBERT KITCHIN

Prime Minister Bill English with newly-promoted Defence Minister Mark Mitchell during his swearing in last year with Governor-General Dame Patsy Reddy.

The other options for foreign affairs besides Brownlee included Mark Mitchell, who was seen as too junior, though he gets a big promotion to cabinet and the defence role in just less than five months after he was minted as a new minister. Mitchell, with his police and war-zone experience, will be the armed forces' kind of guy.

English could also have turned to Jonathan Coleman or Chris Finlayson, but they are fulfilling useful roles where they are.

The major downside from putting Brownlee in the role was that it takes a senior minister into what could be an interim role - seat- warming until a deal has to be struck with NZ First and either Winston Peters or an incoming Shane Jones.

English was adamant "Gerry's the guy we want as foreign minister" and that it was not an interim appointment - while conceding that any ministerial position was dependent on what voters handed down at the election.

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That doesn't change the fact that a possible post-election hook-up with NZ First, and its built-in requirement for a very senior role or two to go Winston's way, means foreign affairs is perhaps the most critically-endangered portfolio of them all.  

But who knows? Maybe Brownlee has been promised a plum replacement role if that comes to pass.

 - Stuff

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