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English faces first question time as PM

NZ Newswire logoNZ Newswire 12/12/2016 Peter Wilson, Political Writer

<p>Bill English</p> © Bloomberg

Bill English

Bill English is about to face his first question time as prime minister, and opposition party leaders will be doing their best to trip him up.

They'll give him a hard time because a slip up would be a bad way for Mr English to start his first day in parliament holding the top job.

They're unlikely to succeed, because he's been in parliament since 1990 and he's been fielding questions as finance minister for the last eight years.

Mr English won't be losing any sleep over it, but there's another task which could keep him awake.

He's starting work on his new cabinet, and some ministers could be in for a Christmas present they don't want.

Mr English needs to promote some of National's backbenchers to freshen up the cabinet and deal with the discontent that threatened to create problems during his election as leader.

Strife was avoided and his challengers withdrew, but there are ambitious backbench MPs who will expect a payback for their support.

Mr English has said he isn't going to increase the number of ministers in his cabinet, so he has to make room for newcomers.

He and his deputy Paula Bennett were sworn in on Monday by Governor-General Dame Patsy Reddy.

In his first media statement as prime minister, Mr English said better incomes for households, safer communities and supporting the most vulnerable would remain the government's focus.

"In the coming months and years that National-led government will focus on building the roads, public transport, schools and houses needed to support a strong and growing population," he said.

During his first day as prime minister Mr English also:

* Reversed his position on gay marriage, which he opposed in 2013. "I'd probably vote differently now, I don't think that gay marriage is a threat to anyone else's marriage."

* Said he would continue to oppose voluntary euthanasia and abortion

* Left open his position on raising the retirement age, which his predecessor John Key said wouldn't happen while he was prime minister

* Joked about a knighthood for Mr Key, saying "I'm sure that at some time that'll be appropriate ... it's not as if he's never asked."

* Said he's unlikely to move into Premier House because he's happy where he is with his family in nearby Karori.

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