A leading political commentator says embattled Education Minister Hekia Parata only kept her job in this week's Cabinet reshuffle because she's a Maori woman.
Speaking to Firstline this morning, Bryce Edwards of the University of Otago said Ms Parata was the Government's "most underperforming minister", but as a "relatively attractive woman" she "does wonders for the National Party".
"I think most voters will have noticed that [Prime Minister John] Key got rid of two underperforming ministers, but kept on the most underperforming minister, Parata," says Dr Edwards.
"People will be quite puzzled by that… they'll be looking for an explanation for why that was, and I think they'll be coming up with the answer that it's because she's a Maori woman, frankly."
On Tuesday Mr Key dumped ministers Kate Wilkinson and Phil Heatley from Cabinet, replacing them with Auckland Central MP Nikki Kaye and Tauranga MP Simon Bridges.
He ignored growing calls from school principals and teacher unions to dump Ms Parata, whom last year struggled through a series of controversies in her education portfolio, including class sizes, mergers, charter schools and the ongoing Novopay debacle.
"This government is very vulnerable on being seen as out of touch, and maybe being seen as a club of rich, white, old men, and so they desperately need to modernise," says Mr Edwards.
"John Key wants to modernise the party, make it look like wider New Zealand, but they haven't got a lot of talent there in terms of Maori and women, so they have to keep on Parata."
Associate Education Minister Craig Foss, who held responsibility for Novopay, had his duties stripped and given to Steven Joyce.
Political blogger Cameron Slater says when the Government needs something done, it's always left up to Mr Joyce or his potential leadership rival, Justice Minister Judith Collins.
"Steven Joyce fixes trouble in the National Party," says Mr Slater.
"The only other minister who does that is Judith Collins, so if there's hard things that need doing, then it's either one of them that gets the job."
Mr Edwards says the move shows Mr Joyce has the edge on Ms Collins.
"I think Joyce still has the leading edge, especially with John Key, and that's why John Key keeps giving him the prime jobs and positioning him to take over eventually.
"But watch out for Judith Collins – I think her star is rising too."
Mr Slater isn't sure Novopay will ever be fixed, despite Mr Joyce's appointment.
"I'm not sure that Novopay will ever get fixed, but I'm not sure it's the massive beat-up that the unions have been making out it is. We've got this wonderful tool called Google, and if you start looking up pay issues and disputes with teacher unions, you can see they had exactly the same issues with Datacom over a series of years, and so I just think it's carping unions making the most of an opportunity to kick a hapless Education Minister."
Mr Edwards says Ms Parata will be kept quiet from now – she will be "[rolled] out for the speeches, the photo opportunities et cetera, but I think people will see through it and see it as some kind of positive discrimination by the Prime Minister".