Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern's Cabinet reshuffle full of surprise ministerial appointments

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern didn't just reshuffle her Cabinet - she dealt a whole new hand full of surprise ministerial appointments.

"Exciting," the Prime Minister said on Monday when asked to describe her new Cabinet and ministerial line-up in one word.

At the helm of the "exciting" line-up is a tried and true twosome - Prime Minister and Finance Minister - Jacinda Ardern and Grant Robertson, aka 'Gracinda'. Ardern's bestie is now her Deputy Prime Minister.

"Taking on the Deputy Prime Minister role in addition to [Finance Minister] just provides another way in which I can provide support to Jacinda," Robertson told reporters after his appointment was announced.

Robertson is taking over from Winston Peters, whose party New Zealand First did not reach the 5 percent threshold to make it back into Parliament.

"I'm not stepping into his shoes," Robertson said, when asked how it feels to be stepping into Peters' former role. "I'll do this my way."

Robertson was given the chance because Kelvin Davis - the deputy Labour Party leader - turned it down.

"I have made the decision not to seek the role of Deputy Prime Minister," Davis told reporters ahead of the Prime Minister's reshuffle.

Robertson is New Zealand's first 'out' Deputy Prime Minister.

"I think it is important to acknowledge, particularly for the younger members of the rainbow community, that they can see members of their communities taking on roles like being Deputy Prime Minister," Robertson said.

In a day of firsts - and also taking over from Winston Peters - New Zealand gets its first-ever woman Foreign Minister in Māori MP Nanaia Mahuta.

"I follow in the line of a long legacy of firsts for women and I hope that many other women of Māori descent, mixed descent across New Zealand will see this as lifting the ceiling once again," she told reporters.

For the first time, too, there will be a specific COVID-19 response minister shouldering a raft of responsibilities, from testing to managed isolation, border management, right through to details like flights carrying returning New Zealanders, Ardern explained.

Chris Hipkins adds it all to his other big job as Education Minister.

"I think can manage to do that," he said. "I've managed to do both jobs in their entirety over the last couple of months and I think this will be a slightly lower workload than the workload I've had over the last few months."

Hipkins took on health last term after David Clark's string of screw-ups. But Dr Clark cycles back into Cabinet with a string of portfolios - none related to health. That big kahuna - the health gig - goes to Andrew Little.

"I think it's daunting," Little admitted. "I think what's needed now for a reform programme is someone who can drive officials and drive the machine to make the change, so I feel suitably qualified to do that."

Little's former justice portfolio goes to star performer Kris Faafoi.

But Ardern didn't just dish out - she also diced, slashing the two ministers who badly botched housing. Former Building and Construction Minister is Jenny Salesa gone, and so is Phil Twyford, the day's biggest loser, who is still a minister but outside Cabinet.

"He himself will acknowledge that in some of the portfolios he's held we haven't been able to make the progress that he would've wanted," Ardern said of Twyford's demotion.

Despite the "exciting" new line-up of ministers, Ardern says she won't be celebrating the way the BBC's Spitting Image has in mind.

"Now, it's time to crack on with it," she said.

Analysis by political editor Tova O'Brien

Labour should be proud of the diversity - it's about bloody time.

But now the heat is on because despite a term in Government, Labour hasn't turned around the woeful over-representation of Māori in all the wrong statistics. The expectation to address that has now ramped up big time.

And this overhauled Cabinet carries risk. Remember, Jacinda Ardern was forced to sack a bunch of ministers last term for all sorts of bizarre and unexpected reasons.

With a strong coterie of newbies and inexperienced MPs in Cabinet and the wider executive, Ardern may want to take out some liability insurance.