Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern unveiled what she called an “incredibly diverse” cabinet on Monday that includes New Zealand’s first openly gay deputy prime minister and a foreign minister with a Maori face tattoo.
The center-left leader modernized her line-up in the wake of a landslide election victory, saying her second-term priorities were to respond to Covid-19 and promote economic recovery.
Ardern appointed Grant Robertson as Deputy Prime Minister, making him the first overtly gay person to hold the role.
Women and the Maori community are also strongly represented in the cabinet with 20 members, including the new Foreign Minister Nanaia Mahuta, who has a moko kauae – a traditional female Maori tattoo on her chin.
While Ardern expressed pride in the diversity of her cabinet, he also said appointments were made on merit.
“It’s both a cabinet with huge profits and talent, which also happens to be incredibly different,” said the 40-year-old.
“I think that’s an important point to make – it’s individuals who are promoted for what they bring to the cabinet, they also reflect the New Zealand that elected them.”
Robertson, 49, has long served as Arden’s right-hand man – he controlled the government’s wallet as finance minister in her first term and was the main strategist for her election campaign.
The role of deputy – which he will occupy together with the finance and infrastructure portfolios – will formalize his position and will see him become acting Prime Minister when Ardern is abroad.
Asked about the importance of having a gay man as his deputy commander, Ardern said Robertson was selected for his leadership skills, not how he identified himself.
“One of the great things about New Zealand is that we often find ourselves in a space where these issues become secondary,” she said.
Mahuta, the first woman to become New Zealand’s foreign minister, was elected to parliament in 1996, but got the traditional tattoo in 2016 at the urging of her daughter.
The distinctive embellishment is unique to her, even though it has design elements specific to her iwi or tribe. The male moko covers the entire face.
At the time, Mahuta said the tattoo was a way to honor his ancestors and lessen the stigma surrounding an aspect of Maori culture that many New Zealanders have associated with crime and gangs.
“She’s a person who builds amazing relationships very, very quickly, and that’s one of the most important jobs in a foreign policy role,” Ardern said of his new chief diplomat.
Maori and Pacific Islanders make up just under a quarter of the population, but are very overrepresented in statistics on crime, poverty and prisons.
Ardern said it was simply a coincidence that her ministers of justice, courts, domestic violence, corrections and the police came from these communities.
“My focus was just (choosing) the best person for the job,” she said.
Ardern won the October 17 election campaign on New Zealand’s success with coronavirus, and her cabinet includes a new role as minister of Covid-19 response, filled by former health minister Chris Hipkins.
She said the change would allow Hipkins to focus on issues such as border control and managed isolation without being distracted from the broader health portfolio.
While Ardern won the election by an absolute majority, meaning her Labor Party can rule alone, she also appointed two green lawmakers to ministries outside the cabinet.
One Green co-leader, James Shaw, will become climate change minister, and the other, Marama Davidson, will have a portfolio that focuses on preventing domestic and sexual violence.
The government is sworn in on Friday.