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Wilkinson's exit gives chance for minister with drive

In a portfolio requiring a certain political robustness, Kate Wilkinson always looked out of her depth as Minister of Labour.

Today’s resignation, which has been hung on the Pike River inquiry, is probably not a bad thing overall for the John Key-led government, depending on who picks up the role now.

Ms Wilkinson stays in the cabinet, holds her 16th ranked position and hangs on to the conservation and food safety portfolios.

So she is not really giving up anything by resigning – the main thing she is sacrificing is a tough job. 

Chris Finlayson is acting Minister of Labour and could certainly do the job, but the government might do well to keep it away from the legal profession.

For that has been seen as Ms Wilkinson’s problem in the role. There have been some behind-the-scenes mutterings about her decision-making ability in the job and what is seen as a certain lack of political drive.

While the Minister of Labour is not the high-profile portfolio it was in the days when wages awards and strike settlements were hammered out over late-night meetings in the Beehive, labour market rules are still one of the largest points of difference in politics.

Ms Wilkinson has tended to bring  a lawyer's approach the role, something which initially was seen as a plus but as time wore on has turned more into a minus.

That is not to say her time has not been without achievement. Getting the three-month trial period law through, her technocratic rather than political approach helped defuse some of the political sting.

More recently, though, the legalistic approach has drawn fire as it has caused issues to stagnate when they needed speedily resolution. 

Business has also been frustrated at the pace of promised labour reform.

That was heightened last week when Ms Wilkinson’s long-awaited tweaks to Part 6A of the Employment Relations Act, concerning “vulnerable worker” provisions, were seen as a gutless move by the government and having taken far to long to emerge from the minister's office. 

Although small businesses with less than 20 staff were unshackled from the messy Part 6A provisions, business groups felt large businesses should have also been made exempt from legal obligations to take on any existing staff or meet their entitlements if they are taking over a business or service contract.

Better still, the complex provisions should have been repealed in their entirety, Employers and Manufacturers Association boss Kim Campbell said.

Ms Wilkinson has also been under pressure to explain turnover at the Employment Relations Authority this year, at a time when the employment watchdog was seen by employers and employees to be doing a reasonable job.
Heads were scratched as non-specialists were appointed to replace four well-respected members with sound employment law and industrial relations backgrounds.


More by Rob Hosking and Georgina Bond

Comments and questions

Dear John, Anyone at all other than Nick Smith thank-you.

Dr 'Dick' Smith is scheduled to be our ambassador extraordinaire to Kyoto so he can attend the funeral of his love child, the ETS/ Kyoto 'Agreement'.
Wilkinson has qualified for the Smith Club. And sadly, Findlayson qualifies too as he has filled the Bell Gully trough for a generation....while screwing the next non-Maori generation's access to our beaches etc.
Not much talent in Parliament these days really.

We have to agree with this analysis.
Ms Wilkinson did look weak and a stronger political push in this portfolio could sort out the problems that are surfacing here,particularly with unions.

Which particular trouble with unions are you referring to, liberte? The waterfront workers? The High Court thought they had a point. The miners? To say they require more representation would be an insulting under-statement, if it wasn't so tragically true.

Plank by plank, the platform is burning. John Key is trying to run everything his own way. But he also hides behind cabinet members who are supposed to know how to build and execute policy. His problem is that they don't. Everything they touch turns into an ideological custard. At best.

Let's say he muddles his way through to the next election. Which of his current muddle of mediocre ministers look remotely capable of navigating the country through another three years?

You have it in one Private sector Anarchist, this would have to be the least competent Government in my life time and I can remember back to Walter Nash as Prime minister in 1957
With lack of vision, lack of leadership, lack of comprehension of how the economy works.
Keith Holyoake, Norman Kirk, Robert Muldoon, David Lange (Roger Douglas) all had visions for this country and clear ideas of what was required to deliver that vision. You may not have agreed with them but they did have vision and the tenacity to actually do something productive.
The three since Bolger Clarke and now Jonkey have been a steady decline to mediocrity bordering onto the incompetent
Which way is up? and with who? from here

National is coming apart at the seams but it doesn't matter, because Labour is liquefied jelly.

Sooo, the government coming apart doesn't matter, because the next in line to replace it is also hopeless? Struggling to follow your logic there #4.

Still, thank god for the Greens, I guess.

If Wilkinson is incompetent then John Key, as her boss, picked her for the roll, and should take some responsibility for the debacle.

It s such a blimming shame that the Labour Party has just as many incompetent looking MPs., from top to bottom. One can just imagine that if Labour by some miracle wins the next election, we will be faced with same old problems ! We can all rest assured that neither Labour nor National are capable of digging the country out of whatever issues we faced - both wants to get into power or stay in power, promised the earth, deliver zilch ,

Get real folks. Pike River claimed Kate's ministerial post. What could she have possibly done about it when the writing was on the wall before she took up the role. It was a terrible incident that was going to happen.Kate has huge strengths and has done a fantastic job. Yes she may be a lawyer and bring a legalistic approach to her job but what is wrong with that. What about all of the positive things she has achieved. Her abiliity will see her around the cabinet for a long time to come.

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