Nanaia Mahuta and Kelvin Davis speak to media following the cabinet announcement. (Photo by Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)

A momentous day for Māori – at the cabinet table as never before

Jacinda Ardern today announced an executive line-up without Kelvin Davis as deputy prime minister, but with five Māori in cabinet and another three Māori MPs in the wider executive. Shane Te Pou on what it means – and what must come next.

Labour’s new cabinet gives more power to more Māori ministers across a whole range of areas than we have ever seen before. No longer are Māori only given Māori-specific roles. Māori are at the table, in numbers, in every major policy area including education, health, and housing.

We have the first wahine minister of foreign affairs, recognising Nanaia Mahuta’s achievements as a consensus-builder. That is an immense honour and a display of belief in her from Jacinda Ardern.

Kelvin Davis has turned down the deputy prime ministership to concentrate on his passion – fixing the corrections system – and taking on minister for children role, too. That reflects the qualities of the man – he’s not in politics for the flash titles. He wants to get on with the mahi.

Willie Jackson and Peeni Henare have been promoted to cabinet, recognising the leadership they have shown. Willie Jackson has performed a crucial role as a leader of the Labour Māori caucus, feeding back to the prime minister and securing budget funding for Māori projects. Add up-and-comer Kiri Allan, and a quarter of Labour’s top 20 are Māori.

This is the most diverse line up of ministers ever – with only half of them Pākehā. It’s a Labour line-up that looks like modern Aotearoa. That’s important. If you don’t have a voice at the table, you don’t get decisions that reflect your views and needs.

It’s a different story in the National Party: two Māori and one Korean in an otherwise totally Pakeha caucus. How are they going to represent New Zealand’s future when they look like a throwback to the 1950s?

Being at the table is only the first step. Delivering is what counts.

We saw some good progress for Māori in Labour’s first term – like fees free apprenticeships and training, higher wages and benefits, Best Start and Winter Energy Payments, Healthy Homes Guarantee and more state housing, as well as the creation of the minister for Māori-Crown relations. But there’s lots more to do. Peeni Henare will have a big job as associate health minister making sure the health restructure works for Māori. This is a once in a generation chance to fix underlying problems in health. We need to get it right.

This is a good day for the place of Māori in politics and the government of Aotearoa. It creates the opportunity for Māori values and worldview to be reflected in a wider range of government policies. Now, let’s see our Māori ministers make the most of it.

Kaua mā te waha engari mā te waewae tutuki!

Talk is cheap – now the hard work begins.

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