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.