New Zealand gets first gay deputy PM and a foreign minister with a Maori facial tattoo
Nanaia Mahuta, the first woman to become New Zealand foreign minister, has a moko kauae – a traditional female Maori tattoo on the chin
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, who was re-elected last month in a landslide victory, called her new cabinet ‘incredibly diverse’
New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern unveiled what she called an “incredibly diverse” cabinet on Monday that includes the country’s first openly gay deputy prime minister and a foreign minister with a Maori facial tattoo. The centre-left leader revamped her ministerial line-up in the wake of a landslide election victory, saying her priorities for her second term were responding to Covid-19 and promoting economic recovery. Ardern appointed Grant Robertson as deputy prime minister, making him the first openly gay person to hold the role.
Women and the Maori community are also strongly represented in the 20-member cabinet, including new Foreign Minister Nanaia Mahuta, who has a moko kauae – a traditional female Maori tattoo on the chin.
While expressing pride at her cabinet’s diversity, Ardern also said appointments were made on merit. “It is both a cabinet with huge merit and talent, which also happens to be incredibly diverse,” the 40-year-old said.
“I think it’s an important point to make – these are individuals who have been promoted for what they bring to the cabinet, they also reflect the New Zealand that elected them.”
Robertson, 49, has long acted as Ardern’s right-hand man – he controlled the government’s purse strings as finance minister during her first term and was chief strategist of her election campaign.
The deputy’s role – which he will hold along with the finance and infrastructure portfolios – formalises his position and will see him become acting prime minister when Ardern is overseas.
Asked about the significance of having a gay man as her second in command, Ardern said Robertson was selected for his leadership abilities, not how he identified.
“One of the amazing things about New Zealand is that we are often in a space where these questions become secondary,” she said.
Mahuta, the first woman to become New Zealand foreign minister, was elected to parliament in 1996 but got the traditional tattoo in 2016 at the urging of her daughter. The distinctive decoration is unique to her, although 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 both honour her ancestors and reduce stigma surrounding an aspect of Maori culture that many New Zealanders have associated with crime and gangs.
“She’s someone who builds fantastic relationships very, very quickly and that is one of the key jobs in a foreign affairs role,” Ardern said of her new chief diplomat. Maori and Pacific islanders comprise just under one-quarter of the population but are vastly over-represented in statistics on crime, poverty and prisons.