Tonic or more of same?
Prime Minister John Key has been unexpectedly bold, with the ministerial promotions and demotions he announced on Tuesday. He has been peculiarly diffident about pruning all of the dead wood, too.
He described his decisions as "refreshing" his ministerial team. Refreshment was certainly needed, although the timing was dictated by the need to replace the Speaker of the House, Lockwood Smith, who is bound for London as New Zealand's High Commissioner. Mr Key's nominee for Speaker is Primary Industries Minister David Carter, confirming speculation that has swirled around Parliament for several months. Filling the vacancy created by Mr Carter's shift from the Cabinet paved the way for what turned out to be a hefty shake-up.
The most unexpected aspect of Mr Key's announcement was that two other ministers "will also be leaving Cabinet on 29 January". Phil Heatley and Kate Wilkinson were advised of this only hours before the decisions were made public. To be blunt, they were sacked.
But Mr Key avoided blunt language in his media statement. He said he "had made the judgment that it is time for fresh energy and ideas, and for other members of our talented 59-strong caucus to be given an opportunity".
Appointments such as Nikki Kaye and Michael Woodhouse indeed inject new blood into the team and the promotions of the likes of Simon Bridges, Jonathan Coleman and Amy Adams are laudable.
But the wretched Novopay project has become the responsibility of Steven Joyce, thereby furthering his claim to be Lord High Everything, and Mr Key has kept Hekia Parata in the Education post. The faith being shown in her is admirable but risky. The rhetoric about refreshment is something else.
Nick Smith, who will return to the Cabinet in the Housing and Conservation portfolios, is not exactly a source of fresh ideas. He has been an MP since 1990 and had held 10 ministerial portfolios in the Bolger, Shipley and Key Cabinets before a letter he wrote when he was ACC Minister in support of ACC claimant Bronwyn Pullar, whom he knew personally, exposed a woeful lack of judgment. Ms Wilkinson has been an MP for just seven years and Mr Heatley is just 45 years old. Their demotions and Mr Smith's rehabilitation are more a churn than refreshment.