2 Nov 2020

Labour's Māori caucus celebrates big promotions in Cabinet

5:47 pm on 2 November 2020

One of the biggest winners of today's Cabinet announcement is newly-appointed Foreign Affairs Minister Nanaia Mahuta - not only the first woman, but also the first Māori woman, to ever hold the role.

It is not the first time she's trailblazed for Māori wāhine either - last Parliamentary term she was the first to be named Māori Development Minister.

Mahuta also holds onto local government and picks up associate minister for Māori development.

The Hauraki-Waikato MP says she's still getting her feet under the table and getting advice on issues like the Pacific reset and the growing influence of China.

Mahuta's elevation to the role was one of the biggest surprises of Jacinda Ardern's Cabinet picks.

Nanaia Mahuta

Nanaia Mahuta. Photo: RNZ / Dom Thomas

The role is vacant on the back of New Zealand First dipping out of Parliament - Winston Peters was foreign affairs minister during the last term.

On being the first woman, and first Māori woman, to take on the role Mahuta says it's a "huge privilege".

"We're the first country to give women the right to vote, the first country to ensure that we are progressive on issues relating to women.

"So I follow in the line of a long legacy of firsts for women, and I hope many other women of Māori and mixed descent across New Zealand will see this as lifting the ceiling once again on areas that have been very much closed to us in terms of professional opportunities."

Mahuta says Australia is an important entry to the rest of the world for the country and New Zealand's close relationship with them will continue.

She isn't the only one within Labour's Māori caucus celebrating a big promotion.

Kiritapu Allan not only flipped the blue East Coast seat red at the election, she's also been promoted into Cabinet taking on the roles of conservation, emergency management and associate for arts, culture, heritage and the environment.

"It's felt like an incredible whirlwind," she says.

"We all stand on the shoulders of giants," she says, noting the work of Eugenie Sage. "I'm looking forward to putting my own imprint on that portfolio ... there's an incredible opportunity for relationships to be built and enhanced."

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Kiri Allan. Photo: RNZ / Dom Thomas

In the nearby Ikaroa-Rāwhiti seat, Labour's Māori caucus co-chair Meka Whaitiri has made a comeback returning to the executive as a minister outside of Cabinet.

She picks up the roles of customs and veterans and associate responsibilities for animal welfare and statistics.

Whaitiri was a minister in the previous government but was stripped of her roles by Jacinda Ardern after an investigation into an altercation between her and a staff member.

Ardern says Whaitiri has done everything that was asked of her and she would not have brought her back into the fold if she did not have confidence in her to do the job.

Whaitiri says she's "honoured to get a callback" but she's under "no illusions about the enormous scrutiny" she will remain under.

Labour Maori caucus - from left: Kiri Allan, Peeni Henare, Nanaia Mahuta, Kelvin Davis, Meka Whaitiri, Willie Jackson, Adrian Rurawhe, and Rino Tirikatene.

Labour Māori caucus. From left: Kiri Allan, Peeni Henare, Nanaia Mahuta, Kelvin Davis, Meka Whaitiri, Willie Jackson, Adrian Rurawhe, and Rino Tirikatene. Photo: RNZ / Dom Thomas

Labour's deputy leader Kelvin Davis had turned down the role of deputy prime minister earlier today, which has been given to Grant Robertson.

"I think Jacinda and Grant are the dream team," Davis says. "They've got my 100 percent support."

He says there are five Māori ministers in Cabinet and two outside. "We're very happy with the level of representation now ... I think it's a first ever and we're proud to be a part of that."

Davis says his focus is on his Te Tai Tokerau electorate and improving Māori outcomes.

He retains the Māori Crown Relations portfolio along with Corrections and associate education, and picks up minister for children.

"I'm open to ideas and proposals from Māoridom. The one thing we know for sure is if we keep doing the same things, we'll end up getting the same results and that's unacceptable so I'm taking nothing off the table."

Labour MP Kelvin Davis announcing he has decided not to put his hand up for deputy prime minister.

Kelvin Davis Photo: RNZ / Nate McKinnon

Davis says he's happy with Māori representation in Cabinet and the wider executive - there are five Māori Cabinet ministers, two outside of Cabinet (including Greens' co-leader Marama Davidson) and Rino Tirikatene has been promoted to an under-secretary.

Labour's Tāmaki-Makaurau MP Peeni Henare had been vocal about wanting to be health minister, but has had to settle for associate in charge of Māori health.

He's been promoted to Cabinet and picks up the Defence portfolio.

His grandfather, Sir James Henare, was the last commander of the Māori battalion and he says he has family and friends within the defence force, giving him strong links.

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Peeni Henare and Willie Jackson Photo: RNZ /Dom Thomas

Henare will continue as Whānau Ora Minister and also has associate roles in Māori housing and tourism.

"We are committed to a Māori health authority. We made it clear ... it is good have an individual Māori authority but we want inequities addressed across the entire health system."

Willie Jackson has also been promoted to Cabinet, taking over the Māori Development role from Mahuta. He also takes on associate minister for ACC and justice.

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