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Goff reshuffles Labour caucus

Published: 11:04AM Tuesday May 05, 2009 Source: NZPA

Labour has announced a caucus reshuffle just five months into its time as opposition.

Leader Phil Goff has briefed his MPs on the changes he has made following the departure of Helen Clark and Michael Cullen.

The changes, including the return of Trevor Mallard to the front bench, were prompted by the resignations of Helen Clark and Michael Cullen and the return on the  list of Damien O'Connor.

Labour has undergone a major rejuvenation effort, but only two new MPs were given added responsibilities.

Kelvin Davis got tourism and associate Maori affairs on top of associate education, while Chris Hipkins has had sport and recreation added to his internal affairs and associate energy responsibilities.

"They've been here not five minutes but five months," Goff says.

"I don't think anybody in the new intake was expecting to have a major change in  their responsibilities."

A major reshuffle would be held in the second half of next year.

The major change today was Mallard's restoration to the front bench. He was given Chris Carter's education portfolio, and had the Rugby World Cup and America's Cup added to his workload, which already included labour. Mr Carter was offered a choice of education or foreign affairs and chose the latter, he says.

Labour sees Education Minister Anne Tolley as a weak link for the Government and Mallard has a reputation as a strong attacker.

"I think you will find that particular characteristics that Trevor has will make  him very effective in that area," Goff says.

As a former education minister Mallard took "hard decisions" to close some schools, but he had earned respect in the sector, Goff says.

"I think he'll do a tremendously good job in education. He'll certainly know far  more about education than the minister that he is shadowing."

Mallard says he would work with Tolley on shared policy and look for areas she was prepared to move on. "And there are some areas I think with minor changes, their policy could be a lot better.

"I will attack her in the House on things she is wrong in and where there is a clear difference and where people in New Zealand think that improvements can be made."

In November 2007 Mallard was moved off the front bench and lost portfolios after a taking a swing at National MP Tau Henare.

Mallard told reporters he had learned a lesson after his demotion; "I learned that you shouldn't go toe to toe with Tau."

Goff says Mallard has earned the front bench position for his work.

"I think Trevor has shown himself to be very effective in opposition, he's taken  a mature approach to the responsibilities he's been given."

Prime Minister John Key says he "didn't care" whether Mallard was on the front bench or not and said his promotion showed the lack of talent in Labour.

Asked if he thought Mallard would be good for Labour he said: "Don't care, he's probably good at throwing his fists around".

Nanaia Mahuta gave up her environment spokeswoman role and moved off the front bench for personal reasons. She is now Maori social development spokeswoman.

Shane Jones takes on economic development and environment, while Mr O'Connor has been given rural affairs, biosecurity and associate agriculture.

David Shearer is standing for Labour in Mt Albert. If he wins, he might be given responsibilities, Goff says.

Deputy leader Annette King told reporters she would be going into the 2011 election as deputy leader. Speculation that she would not was National's plan not hers, she said.

Goff is not anticipating any further retirements. If that is the case former MP Judith Tizard is unlikely to get an opportunity to return to Parliament this term.

Other changes were Maryan Street, who has had Treaty of Waitangi negotiations added to her roles; Darren Hughes -- shadow leader of the house; David Parker -- conservation, Charles Chauvel -- associate justice, Winne Laban -- spokeswoman interfaith dialogue, Steve Chadwick -- arts, culture and heritage; George Hawkins --  local government, Ashraf Choudhary -- associate research and development.

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