3 Nov 2020

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern reflects on Cabinet and ministerial appointments

9:35 am on 3 November 2020

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says everyone announced yesterday in ministerial positions had rightly earned their spot and she had faith in the newcomers.

Jacinda Ardern at the Auckland Town Hall on election night.

Photo: RNZ / Dom Thomas

The new Cabinet is being welcomed as the most diverse in New Zealand's history. Māori now make up a quarter of the Cabinet, 40 percent are women, and several are queer.

Ardern told Morning Report it was something New Zealand could be proud of.

"But of course it's not a new goal to try and reduce disparities and inequalities ... we've had that for the last term of office and it continues to be our focus, now we happen to have a wider range of new people who will be working on those goals too."

On the newer members, she said in the last term the party had only three pre-existing ministers with experience.

"It's not just whether or not you've been a longstanding politician that brings what you need to be a well-performing Cabinet minister... I have huge faith in this team because the majority have had experience in politics, but they also bring good solid life experience outside this place and that's exactly what a good Cabinet should do."

Decisions on ministers

On Kelvin Davis, who is now minister for Māori Crown relations, minister for children, minister of Corrections, and associate minister of education (Māori education), Ardern said he had lots to offer.

Davis had already indicated to Ardern prior to the election results that he did not wish to take the role of deputy prime minister, despite being the deputy of the party. Since then, he has not changed his mind.

Ardern said although her expectation was that he would be her deputy, she respected his view.

"His personal view was his focus was on issues like for instance the relationship between Māori and Crown, the work he wants to do on family safety, he explicitly said children and Oranga Tamariki was an area he wanted to work in.

"He has always said to me he feels often more comfortable on the marae than in Parliament in the debating chamber."

Nanaia Mahuta is now minister of foreign affairs, minister of local government, and associate minister for Māori development. She is the first woman in New Zealand history to hold that position.

Ardern said she had seen Mahuta's work in the international space as associate minister of trade, and working with her counterpart in Australia on the last trip there.

"So for me it was a choice that made good sense, but I accept that some people in their speculation wouldn't necessarily have predicted that."

Jenny Salesa lost her role as a minister, and the prime minister said they had agreed it would be helpful to take a different path.

"I will be nominating her as an assistant speaker... I'm always looking to make sure we use those roles to reach into our relationships, particularly in to the Pacific, I've asked her to strengthen those relationships with the Pacific parliaments, she will also be in mind for the nominations as part of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee."

Despite failures in the housing portfolio, Phil Twyford will still hold several roles, including minister for disarmament and arms control, minister of state for trade and export growth.

Ardern said she made those decisions based on the expectations that she makes clear to ministers when they are given their role.

"It's been clear to the public, and to both Phil and myself, that expectations around housing were not met, and so for him a price has been paid there. But I would not keep someone as a minister unless I still felt they had a contribution to make and he does."

As for David Clark, who had quit the health portfolio after his admission of errors in judgment at the height of the pandemic, Ardern said she wanted to continue to utilise his skills.

"It made no sense to do a major reshuffle at that time so I did not. I am of the view that particularly in the area of digital economy, we're pulling together a portfolio there that will bring more coherence to our work as a government to digitalise the public sector and to work on issues enhancing the use of digital technologies for our economic growth agenda, and I think he's well placed to do that work."

Meka Whaitiri, who was stripped of her responsibilities in 2018 over an incident with a staff member, has now taken on the roles of minister of Customs and minister for veterans.

"I told her I was someone who would allow second chances if that work was done," Ardern said. "She has done exactly as was asked, I gave my word that if the work was done then I would follow through and I have."

Dr Ayesha Verall - a newcomer - is now minister for food safety and minister for seniors. Ardern said since Dr Verrall was also associate minister of health, she would also report to both Minister of Health Andrew Little and Minister of Covid-19 Response Chris Hipkins.

"It's highly likely we'll be having a strong public health focus for her. At the same time as someone with a background in infectious diseases, I will be looking for her to play a supporting role alongside minister Hipkins, and [it's] not unusual at all for ministers to be working across different subject areas in that way.

"So for instance, having her there on the daily calls where we're working through new cases, asking the questions around infection control and management [is] invaluable."

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs