Jacinda Ardern 'utterly rejects' idea NZ's most diverse Cabinet is 'virtue signalling' - 'They're there on skill'

Source: 1News

Jacinda Ardern says her diverse Cabinet, announced yesterday, is not tokenism and that everyone is there on merit.

The Prime Minister yesterday revealed the Government's new line-up, which sees the country's first woman appointed as Foreign Affairs Minister and New Zealand's first openly gay Deputy Prime Minister

Grant Robertson was named as Ardern's deputy, and is also keeping his finance portfolio. Robertson is also Minister for Infrastructure, Minister for Racing and Minister for Sport and Recreation.

Meanwhile, Nanaia Mahuta's work as Associate Trade Minister last term saw her move into the foreign affairs position. She's also Minister for Local Government and Associate Minister for Māori Development.

"It's fair to say that it was something that she welcomed, certainly, and had an area of interest in," Ardern told TVNZ1's Breakfast today of why she made Mahuta Foreign Affairs Minister.

"In the last term she was an Associate Trade Minister so she had been doing work overseas for us already. My last visit to Australia she was actually already there as well doing work with her counterpart and is really well-respected in the areas that she's been working in.

"It was a natural fit for me. She has huge skills in diplomacy, in relationship building and will represent New Zealand very well."

Ardern "utterly rejected" her diverse team was "virtue signalling", though.

"The team that have been selected are there on merit, they're there on skill and I would defy anyone to give me a name where I cannot name exactly the reason that that person is there," she said.

"Ultimately, they happen to also reflect the diversity of New Zealand and that's actually as it should be, you know. If our Parliament reflects New Zealand as it increasingly is, then it will be reflected in our leadership and in our ministers as well, and that's something that I think we should celebrate.

"But we should be under no question, you only make it into these positions if you've earned it and if you have merit."

Ardern said was proud of balancing both merit and reflecting New Zealand people.

But she said selecting her Cabinet was also about balancing new and experienced politicians' workloads and expertise.

"It's both a mixture of utilising the skills and experience that people have form their past careers, from potentially their work while in politics, also making use of the new talent we've got coming through, and so really balancing that because you want some of those old hands but you also want to make sure that you're bringing through that new energy as well.

"At the same time, I've had a particular focus on our Covid work. This will be a term where we'll be doing a lot on our economic recovery and our health response."

Ardern said that's why she brought Labour newbie Dr Ayesha Verrall straight into Cabinet. She is taking on the roles of Minister for Seniors, Minister for Food Safety, Associate Minister of Health and Associate Minister of Research, Science and Innovation.

As well, Ardern has split health and Covid-19, with Chris Hipkins handed a newly created Covid-19 portfolio and keeping his Education Minister hat, while former Justice Minister Andrew Little is moving to Health Minister. She said she didn't want the pandemic to take away from health as a whole.

In deciding on the reshuffle, Ardern said she talked to her team about what they were interested in, with many having long lists, but "the firm interest from everyone is, 'I'll do what you need me to do' - and that's really what I expect from our team".

However, Kelvin Davis, who was second on Labour's list and deputy leader of the Labour Party, yesterday announced he didn't want to be Deputy Prime Minister ahead of the Cabinet announcement. He is now third on the list, dropping toursim to become Minister for Māori Crown Relations: Te Arawhiti, Minister for Children, Minister of Corrections and Associate Minister of Education (Māori Education).

Ardern this morning told Breakfast "that's the humble person he is".

She praised him as "hugely competent, hugely valued", adding that he just didn't think the Deputy Prime Minister role was the path for him to make the best contribution.