9 Dec 2016

Tough decisions await English as PM

5:45 am on 9 December 2016

Bill English has yet to be sworn in as Prime Minister and is already facing pressure over a possible early election and questions on who will make up his Cabinet.

Bill English speaking to media on 5 December, after PM John Key's resignation.

Bill English is not ruling out an early election. Photo: AFP

Mr English is set to replace John Key as Prime Minister on Monday, after the other two contenders dropped out of the race for the National Party's leadership yesterday.

The pressure will be on Mr English to avoid a costly by-election in the first few months of 2017, with the imminent departure of Labour's David Shearer from Parliament and his Mt Albert seat.

Mr English will want time to settle in as new leader and pass his first Budget before going to the polls, but opposition parties are already starting to agitate for an early election.

Mr English is not ruling it out.

"All I can say is whoever the leader is after Monday, I don't think they'll be driven by the internal politics of the Labour caucus. Mt Albert's their problem."

Mr Shearer is expected to leave his Mt Albert seat for a job at the United Nations in the first few weeks of the new year.

A date for a by-election has not been set, but it could hasten the departure of three other MPs - Maurice Williamson, John Key and David Cunliffe - all of whom have been biding their time to avoid by-elections in their Auckland electorates.

Labour leader Andrew Little said Mr English should call an early election.

"It's starting to look like a pretty ropey end to this Parliament, and it may just - to short-circuit the whole thing - go to the country, and let's have the argument about the issues that matter right now."

Green party co-leader James Shaw said his party was ready to go.

Labour Party leader Andrew Little

Andrew Little wants Bill English to call an early election. Photo: RNZ / Rebekah Parsons-King

"We are ready to fight an early election, we are much more advanced in our planning ... than in any previous election cycle, so we could pretty much go now if we had to."

But ACT party leader David Seymour said an early election wasn't necessary.

"By-elections happen all the time and pretty soon we'll be within six months of the likely election date in any case.

"So people will talk about an early election, certainly gets a lot of people excited, but it's not obvious why it's in the public's interest."

New Cabinet line-up looks to be on the cards

Mr English faces more pressing issues around naming his Cabinet.

The leadership race has seen the backbench flex its muscles with a call for a rejuvenated Cabinet line up.

Yesterday Mr English named Steven Joyce as his replacement as Finance Minister.

Backbench MP Chris Bishop said a refresh was important, as long as it did not destabilise cabinet.

"No one wants to throw the baby out with the bath water, and the reality is two years ago people voted for John Key and Bill English and the senior team around them - which was Steven Joyce, Gerry Brownlee and Paula Bennett.

"What we're going to have is a Bill English-led government, so we're going to keep one of the best operators from the former regime, but also we've got to make sure we provide stable leadership for the country."

Mr Joyce said the senior members of caucus had been listening and whatever the final team, there would be some change.

"You will see some new direction, it is an opportunity to have a look at that.

"But everyone is also very cognisant that the government, and the direction of the government, is well supported by the public of New Zealand at this point," Mr Joyce said.

Mr Joyce said after getting over the shock of the Prime Minister quitting on Monday, the National caucus had had a very positive debate about the things it may change over the next few months.

Mr English said he would not be making any firm decisions on the make up of the Cabinet, or on an election date for 2017 until he, and his deputy, are confirmed on Monday.

In the contest for the deputy race, Ms Bennett appears to have an early lead over Mr Bridges, but most MPs have not yet disclosed their hand and there may be others who put their hat in the ring on Monday.