Nick Smith returns to Cabinet

BILL MOORE
Last updated 16:44 22/01/2013
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Nelson MP Nick Smith says he is delighted to be back in Cabinet and pleased with the new challenges he will face as minister of housing.

He's also pleased to once again be handed the conservation portfolio - a full-circle move that puts him back to when he first joined a National cabinet in 1996.

Dr Smith resigned from Cabinet  in the wake of the Bronwyn Pullar ACC scandal and has been on the Government backbenches since March last year. He was environment, local government and climate change issues minister and the resignation cost him $116,000 in annual salary.

''The housing issues are particularly pertinent for Nelson and New Zealand.  I've always had a strong view that home ownership is an essential part of the New Zealand psyche and that has been eroded over the last 20-25 years as house prices have risen faster than people's incomes.''

The challenge was to pick up on the comprehensive report of the Productivity Commission and deliver the reform and change that would  make a long-term difference to New Zealanders' aspirations to get into their own homes.

Referring to the leaky homes issue, he said it was clear that ''just cheap houses is not going to work''.

''It's about how you make them more affordable while maintaining the quality and meeting the needs of the future. It's a big, complex issue.''

He would study the Productivity Commission's report and seek the advice of officials before beginning the reform process.

Dr Smith said he was more confident about his level of knowledge in the conservation area and today talked to the director-general about some briefing papers he wanted to ''get into the detail of''.

''Conservation is particularly special for New Zealand in that just because of our geological history we've got this huge number of species - everything from the kiwi and the kaka - that only exist here, for which we've got a special responsibility, and it's also economically important for the tourism industry.''

He would try to bring a very pragmatic, balanced perspective and ensure the most conservation gains in a tight fiscal environment.

He said he had spoken to Prime Minister John Key this morning and was heading to Wellington tonight.  He would be sworn in on Thursday of next week.

Dr Smith did not want to comment on the dumping of Phil Heatley and Kate Wilkinson from the Cabinet, other than to say that ''politics is a tough business''.

''The prime minister has made calls about refreshing the team. There's no question of the talent that [newly elevated MPs] Simon Bridges and Nikki Kaye will bring in the long-term rejuvenation of National.'' 

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