Shane Te Pou: Nanaia Mahuta’s appointment a rock-solid call


Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s decision to make Nanaia Mahuta our new Minister of Foreign Affairs came as a surprise to many, but it shouldn’t have.

Ardern has recognised Mahuta as one of her most reliable ministers — she gets the job done, she keeps people onside, and she doesn’t create negative headlines. In other words, perfect attributes for a Minister of Foreign Affairs.

Nanaia Mahuta has built her 24-year career as an MP by being a quiet achiever. She connects to communities and stakeholders, builds consensus, fixes problems without a fuss, without a splash. She constantly surpasses expectations.

I was on the selection panel when Mahuta put her name forward to be a Labour candidate in 1996. I’ll confess, she wasn’t the top candidate in my mind, until she came and spoke to us.

Her research and knowledge was impeccable, her vision was impressive. Already in 1996, she was thinking about the post-Treaty settlement future that we’re only just starting to grapple with now.

She won that selection and has gone on to win eight successive electorate races. Through the foreshore and seabed controversy, when she voted against the bill in its first two readings, she decided the best course was to stay with Labour and be part of rebuilding the Māori voice in the party. She went back to her people and made the case for staying with Labour, and she won re-election — one of only two Māori seats Labour held in 2008.

People underestimate Mahuta at their peril. They think that because she’s not all over the news she’s not doing much, but that’s a mistake. Not every minister needs to be a star or a show-off. Getting things done is more important than producing a lot of sound and fury, signifying nothing.

As Minister of Local Government last term, Mahuta had huge success with the so-called “three waters” issue (drinking water, stormwater and wastewater), which meant bringing together dozens of local councils and creating a shared vision.

This was an issue that had potential to blow up in the Government’s face. But you barely heard anything about it and real progress has been made, including the creation of the new water services regulator, Taumata Arowai. That’s a result Ardern rightly values.

Mahuta will bring all that experience and skill to Foreign Affairs. And how great is it that we have our first Māori woman Foreign Affairs Minister proudly displaying the moko kauae?

Our Prime Minister is already known worldwide, and the rest of the world is already taking notice of our new Foreign Minister.

The best bit is the old grumps and racists moaning about it. It just shows how out of touch and irrelevant they are. It’s the 21st century — the days when grey men in suits were in charge are long gone. It’s time for the people of Aotearoa to be proud of who we are and display what makes us unique. A skilful, consensus-building wāhine with a moko kauae is the perfect voice for NZ’s place in the world.

He rākau taumatua he huinga manu — it’s not a wāhine leadership of one but it’s about the tree in the forest where all the birds turn up for a sing and a kōrero. A trusted and important tree in Te Wao nui a Tane, just as she is now a trusted and important politician in the current Government.

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