Hodgson says goodbye, who will succeed him?

Science minister Pete Hodgson gave a gracious speech at the Science Honours dinner in Wellington on Tuesday night one he admitted amounted to a farewell to the scientific community he has had close contact with for years.

“I’ve come to say goodbye,” started Hodgson. “The truth is, it has been a hoot.”

His speech is available for playback below.


So who will inherit the RS&T mantle in the National cabinet and is there a chance that science will be one of those portfolio’s dished out to a coalition member who will sit outside cabinet?

That’s unlikely. Both science under Hodgson and ICT under David Cunliffe were awarded to senior cabinet ministers in the Labour government and it would seem unlikely that the importance of these two policy areas would be diminished under National.

Let’s look at science first. The spokesperson for RS&T in the National caucus has been Dr Paul Hutchison, a former medical specialist (obstetrics and Gynaecology) who entered politics in 1999. He’s been fairly active on the science front, and previously held the spokesperson role for CRIs and associate health.

But Hutchison is reasonably far down the rankings in National, so unless he’s brought much further up, it is unlikely he will get the portfolio given the big changes John Key is making in the area of science policy and funding. So who are th eother potential candidates?

Dr Nick Smith – will likely take the conservation portfolio and be responsible for climate change policy which should keep him busy on tinkering with the ETS. Will there be enough room for science? Unlikely, but possible.

Dr Lockwood Smith – He has a PhD in animal science and is the longest serving member in National’s caucus, but he has never held the science portfolio but has handled other big portfolios like agriculture and tourism. He was the only government minister at the laucnh of AUT’s radio telescope last mint,h but that wa smainly because he is the MP for Rodney where the telescope is located.

The ICT shadow spokesperson role has been held for years by Maurice Williamson. But since National’s $1.5 billion broadband plan was revealed and even earlier, Bill English and John Key himself have been doing most of the explaining about broadband. That’s because National wanted to make broadband an election issue, but it also suggests that Williamson, who is well-known in the ICT industry, may not get the potfolio.

So who else is there? ICT is an issue that will get a lot of play in the next year given the spend involved in the broadband plan and the complexity of the issue so it will likely go to a high-ranking cabinet minister. Potential ministers include newcomer Stephen Joyce (formerly National’s campaign manager and entering parliament for he first time), Bill English (interested in the telecoms scene but will probably have his hands full with finance), Lockwood Smith and as an outside bet Jonathan Coleman. Coleman has been broadcasting spokesman. If telecommunication and broadcasting regulation begins to merge in the way regulators abroad have (see Ofcom in the UK), he may be thrown telecommunications as well.