5 Nov 2020

Who is Nanaia Mahuta?

From The Detail, 5:00 am on 5 November 2020
Nanaia Mahuta

Photo: RNZ / Dom Thomas

Nanaia Mahuta's appointment as the Foreign Minister in the new cabinet stunned even the political insiders but a closer look at her 24 years in parliament reveal her to be a person of depth and ambition with a record of quiet achievement.

Today, The Detail's Sharon Brettkelly looks at the political career of Mahuta and how it was shaped by her early years spent with her father, Sir Robert Mahuta, the key negotiator in the Tainui treaty deal.

"She has been an advocate for Tainui and for the Tainui-Waikato people for 20-odd years," says Shane Te Pou, a former Labour candidate, campaign manager and executive member. "She assisted her father in terms of the research around the claim. She hasn't appeared from nowhere."

He cites her role last year in organising the stakeholders around the Three Waters reform, aimed at improving drinking water, wastewater and stormwater by slashing the country's current 67 council providers to half a dozen or fewer giant entities.

"Its a very emotional issue, a very detailed issue, I've spoken to people who were involved in that, she had read her papers and she made some really good decisions around that."

Mahuta has held the Hauraki-Waikato seat - previously Te Tai Hauāuru- since 1996 with a strong majority. She moved up the ranks in the Helen Clark government from 2005 to 2008, in charge of customs, youth development and local government. A cabinet minister in the 2017 Labour government, she held local government and Māori development portfolios but also served as associate ministers for trade and export growth, environment and housing.

The controversial Foreshore and Seabed issue was a defining moment in politics - she opposed the first two readings then supported it in the third reading, facing furious protesters on the steps of parliament for her stance.

"Even though it was a highly emotive issue, as it is now, she took a different approach...and even though that particular act didn't have the support of her iwi I think her iwi and her political place was able to see beyond that," says Te Pou.

A former Labour leader and colleague for 17 years, David Cunliffe, says her appointment is an inspired choice. Mahuta is "deeply rooted in her whakapapa, she's a person of very strong integrity, she's tough without showing it, resilient and very values based".

"She is one member of whom I can frankly say that never once in those 17 years we worked together did I feel that she'd ever broken her word to me or told an untruth to me. And that's a pretty good and one might say rare record."

This written piece is just a taster – for the full story, listen to the podcast above.