Jacinda Ardern appoints Maori woman Nanaia Mahuta as New Zealand's foreign minister

Nanaia Mahuta, the first woman to become New Zealand foreign minister, is part of an 'incredibly diverse' cabinet unveiled by the Prime Minister on Monday

WELLINGTON, NEW ZEALAND - NOVEMBER 02: Newly appointed Minister of Foreign Affairs Nanaia Mahuta speaks during a Labour press conference at Parliament on November 02, 2020 in Wellington, New Zealand. Labour's Jacinda Ardern claimed a second term as prime minister after claiming a majority in the 2020 New Zealand General Election on Saturday 17 October, claiming 64 seats.  (Photo by Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)
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Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern unveiled what she called an "incredibly diverse" cabinet Monday that includes the country's first female foreign minister, indigenous woman Nanaia Mahuta.

The centre-left leader revamped her ministerial line-up in the wake of a landslide election victory, saying her second-term priorities were responding to Covid-19 and promoting economic recovery.

Women and the Maori community are strongly represented in the 20-member cabinet, including new Foreign Minister Ms Mahuta, who has a moko kauae – a traditional female Maori tattoo on the chin.

These are individuals who have been promoted for what they bring to the cabinet, they also reflect the New Zealand that elected them

While expressing pride at her cabinet's diversity, Ms 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."

Ms 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," Ms Ardern said of her new chief diplomat.

New Zealand's first indigenous female foreign minister

New Zealand's first indigenous female foreign minister

Maori and Pacific islanders comprise just under a quarter of the population but are vastly over-represented in statistics on crime, poverty and prisons.

Ms Ardern said it was simply a coincidence that her ministers for 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.

Ms Ardern won the October 17 election campaigning on New Zealand's success containing coronavirus and her cabinet includes a new role of minister for Covid-19 response, filled by former health minister Chris Hipkins.

She said the change would allow Mr Hipkins to focus on issues such as border control and managed isolation, without distraction from the wider health portfolio.

Ms Ardern also appointed Grant Robertson as deputy prime minister, making him the first openly gay person to hold the role.

Mr 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 Ms Ardern is overseas.

While Ms Ardern won the election with an absolute majority, meaning her Labour Party can govern alone, she also appointed two Greens lawmakers to ministries outside the cabinet.

One Greens co-leader, James Shaw, will become climate change minister and the other, Marama Davidson, will have a portfolio focusing on preventing family and sexual violence.

The government will be sworn in on Friday.

epa08792322 New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern speaks to the media after announcing her new government cabinet at Parliament in Wellington, New Zealand, 02 November 2020.  EPA/BEN MCKAY AUSTRALIA AND NEW ZEALAND OUT