NZ Election 2020: Kelvin Davis 'more comfortable on marae' than in the debating chamber - Jacinda Ardern

Kelvin Davis' poor performances at Question Time appear to have played a role in him turning down the job of Deputy Prime Minister. 

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern's Cabinet reveal on Monday contained a few surprises, one of them being Labour's third-ranked MP - Grant Roberston - taking the deputy role, instead of Davis, who's ranked above him at number two. 

"I came into politics for two reasons - one to represent Te Tai Tokerau, and the other, to make a difference for Māori," Davis told reporters. "That's what I've been doing and I'll continue to do."

Davis has struggled in the debating chamber at times. Once when he stood in for Ardern as Acting Prime Minister, Question Time went so badly RNZ senior political reporter Jo Moir (then writing for Stuff) described it as "nothing short of a trainwreck". At other times he's been criticised for failing - or refusing - to answer questions, in both the debating chamber and at select committees. 

Ardern told The AM Show on Tuesday Davis admitted he'd often rather be doing the mahi elsewhere. 

"If you know Kelvin, you'll know what a hugely humble person he is. The nature of the conversation I had with him, he said to me, 'Look - I came to Parliament for these specific reasons. I want to help improve relations between Maori and the Crown, I want to improve the safety of our families.'

"You'll remember before he was in Government he was leading hikois in the north around family and seuxal violence. He wanted to focus on those passion areas and being the humble man he is, he just said, 'Look - I'm just more comfortable on marae than I am on the debating chamber. It's just not the job that I want.'

"I have to respect that. He is a hugely valued member of my team. I'm so pleased he will still be the deputy leader of the Labour Party - that's the job he's had for the last three years. But he made a choice, and I have to respect that." 

Davis has kept his roles as Minister of Corrections, Minister of Tourism and Minister for Māori -rown Relations, and picked up Minister for Children.

In previous MMP Parliaments, the Deputy Prime Minister role has usually been held either by the second-ranked member of the major coalition partner (eg. Michael Cullen, Bill English, Paula Bennett) or the leader of a minor coalition partner (eg. Winston Peters, Jim Anderton).

Kelvin Davis.
Kelvin Davis. Photo credit: Getty

Other choices explained 

Another surprise choice was Nanaia Mahuta as Minister of Foreign Affairs - the first time New Zealand has had a woman in the role. Ardern said she asked around, and the feedback was that Mahuta "formed exceptional relationships very, very quickly, and that's exactly what we need".

"Foreign affairs is all about relationships. It's all about your ability to build up a connection with the people you work with, to represent New Zealand's interests, to be really diplomatic in really difficult situations - she can do all of those things." 

Nanaia Mahuta.
Nanaia Mahuta. Photo credit: Getty

In contrast, Phil Twyford keeping his job as a minister surprised many. As Minister of Housing, Twyford struggled to make inroads - the KiwiBuild scheme failing to live up to initial promises. 

"We know that in housing we weren't able to achieve what we needed to. We know that," said Ardern.

"But... in the last short period when we had a bit of a reshuffle, he took on economic development. He got up and running a redeployment programme in regions that made a difference to people's livelihoods. They got jobs because of that work. You ask some of our Mayors in the areas where he was working on some of that urban development agenda and they'll tell you, great working relationship.

"So I kept him because he has something to add - I just needed him to be in areas that weren't around that space."