Mahuta and Henare – key appointments which show NZ no longer should be regarded as a European outpost

Diplomatic eyebrows were raised when PM Jacinda Ardern named Nanaia Mahuta as Minister of Foreign Affairs. She  is the  first  woman  to  hold   the  portfolio  and  she  got  the   job   ahead   of   more  highly ranked  figures  including Andrew  Little  and  David  Parker,  who  were  understood  to  be  interested  in steering  policy in this  field.

Mahuta’s only international experience seems to have been as associate trade minister in the previous government but Beehive insiders say David Parker – as Minister of Trade and Export Growth – was loath to let anything of substance out of his reach  in that field.  In the past three years every press statement in this portfolio was released in Parker’s name except for a few released in the name of Damien O’Connor as Minister of State for Trade and Export Growth.  We found none released in Mahuta’s name, although she did issue some trade-related statements as Minister for Maori Development.

As  a  politician  she has been   relatively  self-effacing, although in her  own  fields   she  is  said  to  be   thorough   and  careful.  but  Ardern  offered  a  powerful  rationale   for  Mahuta’s  elevation to  one of the  key  ministries, pointing to her aptitude  for  building  strong relationships.  She  might   also  have mentioned  that  Mahuta  listens  carefully to  her  advisers.

In following  Winston Peters  as  Foreign  Minister   Mahuta  will be  expected   to  continue  the  Pacific  reset  he  initiated.   The  more  difficult    diplomatic  area  may be in the  relationship  with  China.

But  given  the international glow which Ardern  enjoys, it   could be  the  PM  herself  that  seeks  to  burnish   NZ’s  credentials  in  the  global  theatre.

There  are   plenty  of  previous examples  in  NZ’s  history  where  the PM of the day  has  kept  a close eye  on the heavy stuff in NZ’s  international  affairs.

In 1981 PM Robert Muldoon appointed Warren Cooper, the Otago Central MP, as minister to replace Brian Talboys who had retired after a glittering career as foreign and trade minister during the thick of the UK-Common Market negotiations.

Cooper was no intellectual but was a shrewd operator and became an effective foreign minister, especially in the lead up to the Springbok rugby tour.  He effectively shielded MFAT from Muldoon’s wrath when the PM suspected the ministry had a hand in some of the anti-tour tactics at home and abroad.

Another  Maori, Peeni Henare,   who  had  ambitions  to  be  Health  minister,  has  also had a  big  promotion,  winnning Defence.  Within the forces there is relief, considering some of those otherwise on offer. He has distinguished lineage with his grandfather, Sir James  Henare, a former commander of the Maori Battalion with the rank of lieutenant colonel who subsequently became a National MP.

As  Audrey  Young commented  in the  NZ  Herald,  having  Maori  in  both Foreign Affairs  and Defence  is  not  new:  Winston Peters  and Ron Mark held the  portfolio  last term.

But it  makes a statement  that  Maori ministers will be up for all jobs, including the ones  that represent  NZ internationally, not just the ones  that  address  social disparities”.

Henare  clearly has  serious  political ambitions and has  the  chance  now to  show  he  can   handle  a  major portfolio.

The  elevation   of  Mahuta  and  Henare  to  roles   on  the  international  stage  underlines to the  world   that  the  days   when   NZ  could   be  regarded  as  a  European  outpost  are  long gone.  The  government  now  speaks  with  a  bicultural  voice.

3 thoughts on “Mahuta and Henare – key appointments which show NZ no longer should be regarded as a European outpost

  1. The government now speaks with a bicultural voice.

    No, it doesn’t, it’s voice is more mono-culture than ever.

    Pity is New Zealand is a multi-cultural country.


  2. Agreed. Mahuta has already said she will bring an “indigenous approach” to foreign affairs. What does that mean? One thing for sure, it telegraphs that she does not see herself representing all New Zealanders, only some of them. You will reap what you have sown New Zealand!


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