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In support of Nanaia Mahuta

Written By: - Date published: 8:11 am, November 6th, 2020 - 70 comments
Categories: International, labour, Nanaia Mahuta, the praiseworthy and the pitiful - Tags:

Some elements of the right as well as Comrade Chris Trotter have decided to attack Nanaia Mahuta’s appointment as Foreign Affairs minister.

I can understand the attacks from the right.  They are motivated by distaste because not only is she not a man but she is not one of them, her skin colour is not quite right as far as they are concerned and they still harbour views that were last century and which are well and truly past their use by date .  But the attack by Comrade Trotter is to be frank well misplaced.

At the Daily Blog he said this:

No amount of fluffing-up the elevation of Nanaia Mahuta to Minister of Foreign Affairs – “the first woman in our nation’s history appointed to hold the portfolio” – can disguise the sheer awfulness and irresponsibility of Ardern’s decision.

The job should have gone to David Parker: not only because he has earned it many times over, but also because, in the years between now and the next election, New Zealand is going to need a truly outstanding Foreign Minister. Regardless of who wins the 3 November presidential election, the conflict between the USA and China is going to ramp-up into something with the potential to inflict huge damage on this country and its economy. New Zealand needs a Foreign Minister of vision, courage, verbal felicity and real, on-the-ground, experience. Mahuta, sadly, has not distinguished herself as a person over-endowed with any of these qualities.

I would beg to differ with Comrade Chris.  Mahuta has displayed heaps of courage, for instance when she opposed the Foreshore and Seabed legislation, has an outstanding ability to present and critique ideas and her ability to ride the complexity of Maori politics leaves her well placed to do the same with International politics.

Mahuta has a proud history in the Labour Party.  She has been an MP since 1996.  I got to know her in 2011 during the Labour leadership contest that year when she stood for the deputy leadership in partnership with David Cunliffe.  The two of them toured the country and wowed the membership.  The caucus decided to support David Shearer but I can say confidently that large parts of the membership did not see it that way.

Nanaia was a star.  I saw her speak at a couple of meetings and her speech was straight from the heart, presented a complex view of the world, and made me think about things.  Her world view was expansive and complex.  She provided a distinct and welcome alternative to the other speeches being given.  And the David Nanaia partnership was perfect.  Male female, Pakeha Maori.

She was first elected to Parliament in 1996.  She survived the foreshore and seabed difficulties that the party faced.  She sought and received permission to vote against the bill.  In 2005 which was a good year for Labour but a bad year for Labour’s Maori MPs she was returned to Parliament.  Since then she has won the seat very comfortably.  Maori have a very sophisticated and complex understanding of the political process.  Mahuta’s continued success shows that she is tuned into what it happening within her community.

The increasing strength of the Maori and Pacifica caucuses in Labour are reasons for celebration.  Their sense of Manaakitanga is something that every leftie should endorse.  If you are looking for the left faction in Labour’s caucus this is it.

Shane Te Pou, who is going from strength to strength as a political commentator also considers that Nanaia’s appointment is a worthy one.  In this morning’s Herald he says this:

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.

His conclusion is outstanding:

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.

Maori woman with a moko representing us to world leaders?  Hell yeah.

70 comments on “In support of Nanaia Mahuta ”

  1. Antonina 1

    well said Micky and thank you for writing this.

  2. Robert Guyton 2

    "I can understand the attacks from the right. They are motivated by distaste …"

    Poor lambs!

    I applaud the appointment.

  3. Tiger Mountain 3

    Nice piece. Do some of the critics even know what the Kingitanga is one wonders? This woman is definitely someone of status.

    Nanaia and Peeni replacing the reactionaries from NZ First are an opportunity for new approaches. Solidarity networks for the likes of Palestinians and West Papua need to move fast though, because 5 Eyes, internal security agencies and Israeli supporters, will already be trying to capture these two.

    It will be interesting when Nanaia meets some US State Dept. types and drops into the conversation–“so where is it all at with Standing Rock?”

  4. JanM 4

    Chris Trotter has some trouble understanding that white men no longer rule as of right. I feel as though I have hurtled back to the history department of the 60s when I read him sometimes. I personally am proud and happy that Nanaia Mahuta gets to represent us on the international stage. Kia kotahi!

    [Removed spurious text from e-mail address]

    • greywarshark 4.1

      JanM I think you have trouble understanding discussion and critiquing in general, wanting a rose-strewn path with feminine/feminist bias all the time. Women need to be watched and checked and evaluated as with all candidates for anything, to ensure they are trustworthy and capable. Women and Maori as two groups who have been backgrounded for a long time, can not be indulged with have-a-go, or rah rah, it's your time. It should be a case of equal opportunity, with a recognition of whom is ready and capable to do the job. There should also be a willingness, a desire to have a greater representation of society among those ready to carry out the task. To ensure this all should have an opportunity to learn skills and shine especially those who have not been considered in the past. They must have opportunities to build the skills and abilities, and have places set aside at training institutions, whether in university or practical social work courses. Then equality must be evident in choosing personnel, and thinking widely, we might then see more NZs in positions with aurthoritu instead of the present influx of overseas high flyers.

      It seems that Ms Mahuta's talents can stand any amount of critiquing and comparison with David Parker. It is not unreasonable of Chris Trotter to discuss and test the case.

      • JanM 4.1.1

        Are your comments about what I said wilful ignorance or just an excuse to hang your hat on a convenient peg?

        • greywarshark

          Jibes at anyone who doesn't follow your line of thinking which has superior authority is your style it appears.

      • CrimsonGhost 4.1.2

        Yeah nah, Chris is just becoming reactionary in his old age & bummed that his tidbit feeder Parker didn't get the role and be able to provide him with more tidbits LOL.

    • tc 4.2

      "…I have hurtled back to the history department of the 60s when I read him.." +100

      Trotter's a tame lefty media rent a quote goto they turn to as he doesn't scare the 'horses' like pagani etc. They have to pay the piper eventually.

  5. Patricia Bremner 5

    Nanaia will represent us with dignity and knowledge. She is a believer in the rule of law and a great communicator and listener. She is able to network, and has confidence in her role and is a team player. The World Trade people she met through her Associate Minister of Trade role, congratulated her on her new role and gave a glimpse of the warm relationships and respect in which she is held. I am pleased for her, but more pleased for us. Jacinda Ardern is a very astute leader, and shows that once again.

  6. swordfish 6

    I can understand the attacks from the right. They are motivated by distaste because not only is she not a man but she is not one of them, her skin colour is not quite right as far as they are concerned

    Ohhh, Poor Little Rich Girl.

    Mission of the Political Right: Maintaining power for the Christ College / Whanganui Collegiate Old Boys Network

    Mission of the Woke "Cultural Left": Empowering & ostentatiously celebrating the spoiled, privileged elites of ID demographics deemed "marginalised" … from Old Money Pakeha Woodford House Girls to Blue Blood Indigenous Aristocracy …

    All very emotionally moving for the sort of Upper-Middle Professionals (imbued with a kind of Romantic Paternalism) now firmly in control of supposedly "Left"-leaning Parties.

    Elitist to its very core.

    • RedLogix 6.1

      Blue Blood Indigenous Aristocracy

      Indeed, most pakeha are quite blind to how very elitist and precisely calibrated are the class distinctions in Maori society.

      Nonetheless, if she is as competent as the OP paints her to be, then this is all that really matters to me.

      • left_forward 6.1.1

        … very elitist and precisely calibrated…

        If you are pakeha, then the irony of your view is how dangerously close to intellectual elitism and racist it is.

        If you are maori, then I recommend that you look for the deeper nuances within your whanaunga.

        • Redlogix

          Whakapapa. While it is usually explained as genealogy and connection to your past ancestors, there is also no doubt that it very precisely places each individual into a complex hierarchy in the present.

          And that hierarchy has both it's good and oppressive aspects. None of this is terribly controversial, all human societies do this to some degree.

    • left_forward 6.2

      Sorry – don't understand anything you have written here – too many codified phrases – what are you actually saying?

    • Matthew Whitehead 6.3

      Happy to discuss elitism within Labour or the Left generally, but what exactly are you citing as evidence here that either Minister Mahuta herself or her appointment is a result of elitism? So far you've just thrown the accusation without really backing it up.

    • mickysavage 6.4

      Interesting comment Swordfish. The broad left have discussed for a few decades now the competing arguments of class, race and gender.

      Some see things in class terms only, others in gender terms, others in race terms.

      For me I see class and race as being closely linked. Gender perhaps less so.

      It is a valid argument but one that tends to blow up every time the left has it …

      • swordfish 6.4.1

        For me I see class and race as being closely linked.

        That's your problem right there.

  7. left_forward 7

    Yes I entirely agree – the critique is completely unwarranted and ignorant.

  8. Matthew Whitehead 8

    Most of the criticism I've seen of this falls into one of three categories:

    a) Obvious racism. I don't think we need to waste time discussing that nonsense, and it discredits anyone who tries it. I'm sure to some degree other critiques are motivated by unconscious racism, and that one's a bit more insidious to get at.

    b) Objecting to how "quiet" Mahuta is- I think you covered this well in the post. There is no reason a Minister has to be flashy, in fact from the PM's perspective there is some benefit to surprising the public or your opponents with everything they've done because they're plugging away in the background. Frankly, being able to sit back and say "this room already has all the questions I want to ask covered, I will observe and report later" or even just "this isn't my area yet, I will be quiet and learn for now" is an underrated political skill, and it is telling that political liches like Stephen Franks think it's disqualifying.

    c) Fetishizing experience- I think Trotter's objection that Parker is more qualified fits in here. There are other ways to be qualified than just the sorts of obvious things you'll have checked in a job interview, although the Minister has some of those as a previous Minister for Trade, too, and I'm willing to take Ardern at her word that she's impressed in that portfolio. (And you know me, I will be skeptical as all hell when there's evidence behind doing so!) Also, Parker may frankly not want MFAT, and is almost certainly the type who will be pleased for Mahuta's promotion. It is uncharitable to push him as an alternative to her given their presumably still close working relationship.

    Mahuta comes from a tradition that is deeply appropriate to this role, and even Pakeha like me can see she's built up an impressive amount of mana for Labour in general and herself in particular, that will be of great value in MFAT. Not only is it past time we gave roles this senior to women, a wahine Māori perspective will be extremely valuable in MFAT and hopefully build new and useful values into the future. And she was actually very impressive in the Labour leadership shuffle debates.

    I think on paper she's a particularly brilliant pick, but obviously as with all Cabinets, we do have to wait and see to a degree whether theory becomes reality. I'm frankly surprised that it's Mahuta that most of the ire has fallen upon, as she seems for less controversial to me than re-appointing Clark, or promoting Jackson.

    • Drowsy M. Kram 8.1

      Great comment Matthew. Can't recall the last time the appointment of a NZ Foreign Affairs minister engendered such angst.

      Looking at a photo of Mahuta, it's easy to fully understand the origin of that angst in some, but why not give her a fair go – her decisions and actions in this portfolio will be scrutinised as never before; literally like no other.

  9. Darien Fenton 9

    I am so proud of this appointment. I agree what you are seeing is the traditional old boys bullshit that woman have no place in the "real" jobs of the government. It shows NZ is growing up at last.

  10. Brigid 10

    She withdrew from the Labour list after the seabed and foreshore legislation and stood only as an electorate candidate in Hauraki-Waikato at the next election to truly test the feeling of the electorate. Hows that for courage and strength? How many other politicians have similarly risked their job?


    Chris Trotter, this time, is so wrong. And why does he think Parker is more fit for the role anyway?

    • tc 10.1

      manufacturing dissent as he is a media poodle. No doubt he’s got a snoozefest of an article to back up his thoughts.

  11. Brendan 11

    Nat voter here.

    NZ's Foreign policy is basically the same under Team Blue or Team Red with a different flavour. I.e sell more stuff and don't have a war. I don't see a major change in foreign affairs – other than trying to do as much as possible with possibly smaller budgets due to COVID cuts.

    She has been around for a while in Parliment so she will know how things work. And she will have had lots of practice doing buisness with us whities, which will help with the job. Foreign Affairs will be there to handle the finer protocol details that otherwise might be missed.

    And overseas Ministries of Foreign affairs are be proffessional organizations who just want to get on with buisness (And they know that foreigners like Nanaia are different anyway so they expect them not to act like them).

    All the best for the next 3 years – although she might get sick of airports and air travel once COVID ends.

    • left_forward 11.1

      Is that all that foreign policy is to a Nat voter? Money and war?

      • Wensleydale 11.1.1

        That's all foreign policy is to the entire human race, generally speaking. Money, power, resources, and war. The latter is simply one means of acquiring the former.

        • left_forward

          Doesn’t humanitarianism hold any value across the 'entire' human race?

          • Wensleydale

            Sure it does. But self-interest is a huge aspect of what goes on. Human nature is funny like that.

          • Gabby

            That would be the presence of money and the absence of war.

            • greywarshark

              No I don't think so. It has been found that war is a great wealth creator for some. The spending of nations on armaments and just grenades is tremendous. Diana, Princess of Wales was onto that.

              War is a problem to those who get caught up in it as attackers or the attacked, but isn't so terrible for the organisers and those at home who may be just inconvenienced. Ir has proved to be something terrible, that someone is always prepared to countenance; the mind skips over it and Anzac Day has lost the depth of meaning.

              And the fancy equipment and gear development and then the building costs a fortune, and gives a fortune to the businesses involved. So war and money go well together. Wensleydale is right on the button.

  12. Rosemary McDonald 12

    If you all remember…in 2017 Nanaia Mahuta made a staunch stand in Hauraki / Waikato against the Maori Party candidate endorsed by King Tuheitea.

    She held her seat, despite having to go up against the Kingitanga's Chosen One.

    "I never take an election for granted. I've been clear in this election about the issues that Labour would seek to implement to improve the lives of whānau that I represent. And they've heard that message, and they've spoken, and they've returned me back to Parliament for three years,"


    I've always admired Nanaia Mahuta, and given the space she'll represent Aotearoa on the world stage with intelligence and grace.

  13. Reality 13

    Great to see a quiet and respected achiever is being recognised and that men in suits are having to learn these roles can be held by women.

    Jacinda's diverse caucus is in stark contrast to Judith's, as we saw with post election photos of the two caucuses.

  14. Stuart Munro 14

    I haven't followed her particularly closely, and I am not a fan of facial tats.

    But her rep is very strong. The last Maori we had doing foreign affairs did a great job. And it's a wakeup call to countries that have put less effort into supporting their indigenous peoples.

    I imagine she'll shine, and good on her.

  15. Anne 15

    Around 2012 Nanaia came to my electorate to put the local active membership through a special exercise. She divided us into teams of 5-10 people and gave each team a political circumstance to solve. It could have ended up a bit of a battle ground but it didn't. Nanaia handled the occasion brilliantly and I was very impressed with the way she was able to engage with each of us regardless of our backgrounds and level of importance in the party.

    I think that ability will stand her in very good stead no matter who she is negotiating with. She also comes across to me as a woman of infinite patience too, which could be sorely needed in the times ahead.

  16. Siobhan 16

    "Maori have a very sophisticated and complex understanding of the political process."…qudos for noticing that Maori, like all humans, are inherently political I guess, but what on earth does that mean? and as opposed to whom exactly?..you perchance? or Pakeha (all of them..seeing as were going for broad racial stereotypes today).
    It would be good to read a bit more about Nanaia’s actions as an individual political force rather than so heavily pigeonholing her…and her critics..

    • greywarshark 16.1

      You're looking for a stern but fair assessment. Fair enough. What Anne says above may be heartening and answer some of your queries?

      • Siobhan 16.1.1

        Yes..thank you. Annes comment is more what i'm interested in. And more. I'm all for the 'stern but fair assessment' of Labour and its members even though some people interpret such things as being one step away from some sort of Communist style show trial.

        • greywarshark

          You set up the questions well Siobhan, and we throw the balls at the figures in the sideshow. And everyone gets to participate, and who knows who is winning but the idea is to have a try, and the show rolls on with good attendance. Which is what we want I think.

    • weka 16.2

      Not all cultures are the same. Māori have a particular cultural way of approaching politics. Why does this have to be understood in opposition to something, instead of looking at it in its own right?

      • Siobhan 16.2.1

        Not all cultures are the same. Then again not all people within each culture are the same….Not all people of any particular gender are the same. Not all people of any generation are the same…yet do we feel the need to point this out on every comment about every individual and their approach to politics?

        …any way..my point was that this piece seemed to lack any real information as to Nanaias particular skills and suitability for the job.,which at the end of the day would the best argument as to her suitability..rather than a tit for tat about 'grumpy old white men' vs 'Maori', let alone the implication that Maori and Pasifika people are somehow inherently the Leftist faction in Labour.

        • weka

          I felt the need to point it out because you seemed confused about Māori politics.

          We must have read different posts. The one I read is full of Mahuta's skills and suitability for the job.

  17. bwaghorn 17

    So we have a woman pm ,a maori woman foreign affairs minister, the nats had a Maori leader and a Maori woman DP in bennet ( correct me if I'm wrong on that)

    Sounds like maybe we need to stop with the nz is a racist sexist country palaver.

  18. AB 18

    I think Chris gives the game away by accusing Mahuta of lacking "verbal felicity". This is the thing that really bothers him, the other stuff about 'courage' etc. he can't possibly know. For a certain type of educated Pakeha (I'd plead guilty here too), this skill of "verbal felicity" is a marker of intelligence. And Trotter illustrates what he perceives as Mahuta's lack of it, by showing off his own through the very use of this phrase. I wouldn't call it racist, but it's very bound up with one particular cultural perspective.

  19. Heather Grimwood 19

    Nanaia most certainly has courage Micky ! and not only over Seabed and Seashore. She has dealt with attitudes to capable women prevailing in her early years of activism, with sadness, with producing and raising children while an M.P., characteristically without fanfare and undoubted racial slights with seeming equanimity.
    I first recognised her earnestness at LP conferences….always on tasks at sessions and in between, always friendly and capable, and through the years always answering emails. I remember at a LP conference in Dunedin, The little family sitting quietly at dinner when Nanaia must have been exhausted.
    I wish her well
    Yes, Pat Bremner, Nanaia “has dignity and knowledge.”
    Yes, Tiger Mountain, Nanaia “is definitely a woman of status.”
    Yes, Matthew Whitehead ( at 8 par 3 ), David Parker is most “certainly the type who will be pleased for Nanaia’s promotion. “

  20. Ad 20

    I would evaluate her on her work.

    The policy work she has done on freshwater governance over the last two years could have been an explosion of poop all over the place. Instead she has subtly tilted the field of discourse towards "of course" and "totally necessary".

    Fresh water governance reform is of course driving policy deep in to rural local government heartland, which is code word for National. All those tiresome fifedoms of farmers electing each other up. But what's coming their way is a shift towards amalgamation of water entities that will require greater common accountability from larger regions for water reliability and water quality. That's Mahuta's work.

    She's formed a very firm bed for policy change that will enable Ardern to have a bit more courage when it comes to water price reform. Which runs of course straight into mana whenua kaitiaki and Treaty claim issues. It would be bonkers not to replace her with a Maori Labour leader in this area. Note again near silence from Maori on water at the moment. That's Mahuta's work.

    The field of policy work that is most strongly open to her in Foreign Affairs is the Pacific Islands Forum, COVID-19 economic development recovery response, and pacific islands regional development. New Zealand frankly needs a te reo speaker there because putting up a Pakeha – no matter how skilled – inevitably has a parochial tint to it. It certainly is an advantage that she comes from the prestigious Mahuta line, and with very strong Kingitanga understanding.

    We have never done a convincing job on this forum, and the testosterone levels within the Melanseian Spearhead Group are quite something. Frankly it needs a female Maori leader to engage on this well. None other have her standing.

    Many Pacific Islands have been proven over COVID19 lockdown to be totally dependent upon tourism trade from ourselves and Australia. She will be an excellent asset landing the new health protocols that will enable flights to re-start, and in dong so re-start the devastated economies of our Realm countries and further afield.

    Often Foreign Affairs is the position you give to the Minister most likely to form a coup against you.

    Instead she has sent one of her most competent, most Pacifika-smart, most relationship-nuanced Cabinet Ministers.

    It's a strong choice.

    • RedLogix 20.1

      Thanks for filling out some details. She is a bold choice that was always going to attract some comment. No question she will be under considerable scrutiny to deliver in what is going to be a critical Ministry role in the next few years.

      Like most others here I wish her the best.

    • Patricia Bremner 20.2

      Thanks Ad, a good summary.
      I was impressed with her dignified inclusive manner, and this action shows we colonials have begun to cringe less, and have developed pride in our own.

    • mickysavage 20.3

      Thanks Ad.

      Agreed entirely about water. This is the big, really big issue for the country. This summer parts of Tamaki Makaurau are going to face severe pressures, worse than last year.

      The Waikato river and Tainui (kia ora) are helping but this is not sustainable.

      And te wai must be clearly in the centre of article two of the Treaty of Waitangi.

      This is a bit of a downer for some but once the Crown makes an agreement it should stick to it.

  21. mary_a 21

    Well done Labour and Jacinda for appointing Nanaia Mahuta as our Minister of Foreign Affairs.

    I could not be prouder than to have Nanaia represent NZ's interests overseas. Nanaia is a woman with mana and dignity, possessing the necessary ability to calmly draw people together. She will serve our country well.

  22. Heather Grimwood 22

    [Hopefully fixed. There was some stray text in your name field – MS]

  23. Dot 23

    Mary -a, you have expressed my thinking well.
    I feel very proud to have Nanaia Mahuta as Aotearoa’s Foreign Minister .

  24. Jae 24

    Thanks for writing this, couldn't agree more.

  25. PsyclingLeft.Always 25

    Nanaia seems to have a quiet, measured dignity. Is gravitas the appropriate word? Best Wishes Nanaia !.

    (and I did look this up)….

    Kia kaha, kia maia, kia manawanui

  26. Grafton Gully 26

    "There are approximately 476 million Indigenous Peoples worldwide, in over 90 countries."


    We now have an Indigenous Person as Foreign Minister, who will become known to the 476 million as a woman of Aotearoa/New Zealand. 90 countries is potentially a lot of influence.

    • RedLogix 26.1

      We now have an Indigenous Person as Foreign Minister

      What was the ethnicity of the previous FM again?

  27. peterlepaysan 27

    Interesting I cannot find a reference to Nanaia on on either trotters or bradbury's sites.

    • weka 27.1

      If you make even a minor change to your username or email address the system treats you as a new person and you get caught in the spam filter. I've adjusted your username back to what its been historically onsite. Mods *strongly prefer people to use the same name (choose one name and stick to it).

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