“The Economist” puts spotlight on Ardern and Mahuta – now let’s watch them strut their stuff on the world stage

When a  Labour  government  in New Zealand is the  subject of a page of commentary  in the London-based The  Economist,  you  know  it is on a  roll.  And  the  Ardern    government   has  won  its  place  in  history  through its performance  in winning a  second term so decisively.

Not  only that, but the  Prime  Minister  herself has made her  own mark  on the  international  stage.

The  Economist   is  impressed  with  NZ  legalising  assisted dying, among other progressive steps,   and  is  impressed that  NZ’s  new  foreign minister,  Nanaia  Mahuta, sports a  Maori tattoo  known as  a moko kauae  on her lips  and chin.

It reports Mahuta  as being part  of the  most diverse cabinet in NZ’s history, appointed by Ardern,  following a thumping re-election for  the prime minister and the Labour  Party  she  leads. Ethnically,  almost half the  20  members   are  not white and include five Maori.  There  are eight women, two of whom are lesbians,  with young  children and the  first  openly gay  deputy  prime minister, Grant Robertson.

The  Economist  argues  the  prime minister’s liberal stances are  not so much  shaping  the  country’s attitudes  as  being emblematic  of them.  NZ, after  all, was  the first country to give women the  vote.  The country  is content, even occasionally  smug, about being so very progressive.

As Andrew  Geddis,  of the University of  Otago, observes about Mahuta’s  moko kauae, NZ’s  public face

“ … says something about how we’re changing  as  a society and what we’re comfortable with showing the  world”.

The  question, as  Point of  Order  sees  it,  now  becomes  how Ardern  and   her  new team  can  perform  on the  world  stage.

Ardern    herself   is  understood to  have   accepted that  in  her second term she will have to  play  a  bigger role in  international  affairs.  Climate  change   and the  environment   are   top  priorities for  NZ.

She is  fortunate  to  have as advisers two  of  NZ’s  most  able  public servants,  Brook  Barrington,  head of  the Department of  Prime  Minister and  Cabinet, and  Chris  Seed,  Secretary for  Foreign Affairs   & Trade.

It  seems  Ardern   chose  Mahuta  for the  key  ministry  of  foreign  affairs  post ahead  of  other candidates  such as  David  Parker because  she  believes they  will make a  more  effective  team .   Parker,  for  example,  has  his  own  views   on  how   NZ   should  relate  to other  countries.

Mahuta  is  confident   she has a  strong  contribution  to  make. She  told  Audrey  Young, political editor  of   the  NZ  Herald, she believes she  can  bring a different  perspective, a  perspective that  is  rooted in a culture  which  allows her to have  a  different entry  point  as she  forges  relationships   with  counterparts,

“ … but  also  as  we start to carve out  our unique contribution as  a  country to  the international relations  we  want to  forge” .

Clearly,  one of the most difficult  diplomatic  tasks  confronting  the Ardern-Mahuta  team  will be in handling NZ’s relations with  China, NZ’s  largest  trading  partner.  As   Mahuta  told   Young:

“We   are a  small  country,  critically  aware  of  where  we are  positioned  in the world, where   are   geopolitical interests lie  and what we  need to do in  order to  maintain  stability in  our  part  of the  world”.  

Now   the  country  awaits  the  first  moves   of the Ardern-Mahuta  team  in  shaping  a  new  chapter  in  NZ’s  foreign  relations.  The  nation  will  hope   they  can  emulate  other great  Labour   leaders—Peter  Fraser, for  example —in  elevating    NZ  for a   period  at  least  at   the top table.

3 thoughts on ““The Economist” puts spotlight on Ardern and Mahuta – now let’s watch them strut their stuff on the world stage

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