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Second-chance time

Last updated 13:00 21/01/2013

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It will be a surprise if Nick Smith is not back around the cabinet table in the next few weeks.

The Nelson MP has spent the past 10 months on the political sidelines after his resignation from John Key's inner circle when he was drawn into the Bronwyn Pullar ACC controversy last March.

He made the best of a bad situation then after acknowledging a perceived conflict of interest.

Dr Smith had written a letter of support for ACC claimant Ms Pullar, a former close friend, while he was ACC minister.

The revelation came out of the blue as part of a wider controversy involving an ACC privacy breach, and just as suddenly Dr Smith was gone.

Fronting up to that mistake and leaving so quickly will make it easier for Mr Key to bring him back to the Cabinet.

The prime minister is expected to stage a mini-reshuffle triggered by the departure of Speaker Lockwood Smith and the resignation of Kate Wilkinson from the Labour portfolio in the wake of the Pike River inquiry report.

While National has a number of ambitious younger MPs, Dr Smith's long experience handling complex ministerial portfolios is likely to appeal more to the Government leadership.

That is especially so given a difficult 2012 for the Government when it took hits over the sluggish economy, became embroiled in messy issues like the Kim Dotcom saga and department privacy breaches, and mishandled education changes.

Mr Key's office has also reiterated that the prime minister holds Dr Smith in high regard.

Just under a year on the backbenches is also probably enough penance to safely bring Dr Smith back without much political fuss.

In 2000, Labour's Ruth Dyson resigned from Cabinet after failing a breath test driving home from the Beehive, but she was reinstated eight months later.

If Dr Smith does get the nod, Mr Key could play to his experience in natural resource issues - he has been a former minister of conservation, environment and climate change issues.

He was also local government minister when he resigned, leading to speculation about him filling one of David Carter's primary industries and local government roles if Mr Carter becomes Speaker.

A refreshed Dr Smith would no doubt bring his trademark energy back to the cabinet, but he will have to avoid any further slip-up.

So too will Education Minister Hekia Parata.

Many thought she would be the first to lose her place in a Cabinet makeover after a series of mistakes and controversies last year, including the resignation of Ministry of Education chief executive Lesley Longstone and the unlawful closure of Richmond's Salisbury School.

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But Mr Key has backed her in the job, saying she is "hugely talented", has learned from the experience, and is one of the "smoothest communicators".

That last description particularly jars with Salisbury leaders, given her failure to even visit the school while the closure was proposed.

Salisbury chairwoman Helen McDonnell is understandably disappointed at Ms Parata's retention given the apparent predetermination over the closure. You can only hope the school, like the minister, also gets another chance.

- The Nelson Mail

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