New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced a new cabinet Monday, describing her ministers as an “incredibly diverse” group that is highly qualified and reflective of “the New Zealand that elected them.”
“I think as a country we should be proud of this,” said Ardern, 40, who has been widely praised for her handling of the coronavirus pandemic. The island home to about 5 million people went into a strict lockdown early on in the pandemic and has thus far recorded 25 deaths. Ardern won reelection in a landslide last month, with her Labour Party taking the majority in parliament.
Her cabinet, which is set to be sworn in Friday, will focus on helping the nation recover from the coronavirus pandemic. It is made up of 20 people, five of whom are Maori, the Indigenous people of New Zealand who make up more than 16% of the nation’s population. Eight cabinet members are women.
They include Nanaia Mahuta, who will serve as foreign minister, becoming the first woman to do so in New Zealand’s history. She was first elected to parliament in 1996 and has served as minister for Maori development and minister of local government. In her new role, she will replace Winston Peters, who lost his reelection bid this year.
“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 Monday. “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.”
Mahuta has already made history in New Zealand’s parliament. Four years ago, she began wearing moko kauae, a traditional Maori chin tattoo, becoming the first woman to do so while serving as a lawmaker.
“Moko is a statement of identity, like a passport,” she told The Guardian in 2016. “I am at a time in my life where I am ready to make a clear statement that this is who I am, and this is my position in New Zealand.”
On Monday, Mahuta said she hopes “many other women of Maori descent, of 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,” TVNZ1, a New Zealand television channel, reported.
Three lawmakers with Pacific Islander heritage and three members of the LGBTQ community will serve in Ardern’s cabinet, according to The Guardian. Finance Minister Grant Robertson, who will serve as deputy prime minister, will be the first openly gay person to hold that position.
Ardern said he will also oversee “the key portfolios central to . . . economic recovery.”
After last month’s election, Ardern started her victory speech with a greeting in the Te Reo Maori language. In September, she said that if elected, she would name the Maori New Year a national holiday.
“We’re very happy with the level of representation we have now,” Kelvin Davis, the deputy Labour leader who is Maori, said Monday, according to the New Zealand Herald. “Maoridom has been wanting representation for 160 years – this government has the interest of Maoridom at his heart.”
But, he said there is “a lot more work to do.”
Ardern said Monday that “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.”
“The representation is there,” she added. “And that is not the first consideration.”