Jacinda Ardern appoints first Maori woman as foreign affairs minister

Jacinda Ardern appoints first Maori woman as foreign affairs minister


New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has unveiled her new ministry, promoting Nanaia Mahuta to become the country’s first female Minister of Foreign Affairs.

Mahuta, who is Maori, is a veteran Labour MP having held a seat in parliament since 1996. She was the first woman to wear a “moko”, a traditional Maori facial tattoo, in New Zealand’s parliament in 2016.

“She is someone who builds fantastic relationships very, very quickly and that is one of the key jobs in a foreign affairs role,” Ardern said of Mahuta.

“You only need to look at the difficult work that she has had to conduct over, for instance, her local government portfolio and that to me demonstrates those diplomacy skills that we need to represent New Zealand on the world stage.”

Ardern’s ministry appointments come after New Zealand elected its most diverse parliament in history in a landslide win for the Labour Party on October 17.

Eight members of the new 20 person cabinet are women, with women making up 43 per cent of the wider Ardern administration. Five members of the cabinet are Maori, three are Pasifika, and three are LGBTQ. Overall, almost half, 47 per cent, of the new parliament is made up of women.

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There are many privileges in this job, and one is creating a team of people who can work together on our big challenges, and our exciting opportunities. Yesterday I announced that team, and you can tell that I was pretty happy about it! I spend a lot of time thinking about everyone’s skills and experience, and how to make the most of that for the benefit of New Zealand. I had a particular focus on our health response to COVID with a strong health team (Chris Hipkins will lead our COVID response and Andrew Little will take on the wider health portfolio and our big reform agenda there. They’ll be joined by Dr Ayesha Verrall an infectious diseases specialist, Peeni Henare and Aupito William Sio as Associate Health Ministers. Grant Robertson takes on Infrastructure and oversees our economic recovery programme with Stuart Nash in economic and regional regional development, tourism and small business. David Parker plays a big role with our RMA reforms and Michael Wood comes into the team, taking on Transport. Joining the team is also Kiri Allan, with a background in law and a passion for the environment she takes on Conservation and an Associate Environment role. Nanaia Mahuta, who has worked on trade issues in the last term takes on Foreign Affairs and Kelvin Davis will be our lead on Oranga Tamariki. For the full details, I’ll post a link below. Needless to say, it’s a team I am proud to serve with!

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Grant Robertson has become the first gay man to hold the role of Deputy Prime Minister, while a newly elected Labour MP, Dr Ayesha Verrall, an infectious disease doctor, will come straight into the cabinet as an associate health minister. Verrall has been a key scientific advisor to Ardern during the pandemic, prior to her election as an MP.

“It is both a cabinet with huge merit and talent, which also happens to be incredibly diverse,” Ardern said when announcing the cabinet. “I think it’s an important point to make; these are individuals who have been promoted for what they bring to the cabinet, they also reflect the New Zealand that elected them.”

“I think as a country we should be proud of this.”

Ardern has also chosen to facilitate a cooperation agreement with the Green Party, despite the Labour Party having a majority in their own right. The agreement means Labour and the Green Party will work together in parliament, with Green leaders James Shaw heading the climate change portfolio and Marama Davidson, the family violence portfolio.

“I’m excited by this team,” Ardern said. “They bring experience from the ground and from within politics. We know we have a big job ahead of us as New Zealand continues to respond to some enormous challenges. But the commitment this team has to the task is absolute.”

“I think one of the amazing things about New Zealand is that we are often in a space now where all of these questions [about diversity] often become secondary,” she said.

“The representation is there. And that is not the first consideration.”

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