NZ foreign policy to take indigenous focus

Ben McKay
·2-min read

In her first major speech as New Zealand's foreign minister, Nanaia Mahuta says her tenure will be underpinned by four Maori values, and focused foremost towards Australia and the Pacific.

Ms Mahuta is the first Labour foreign minister of Jacinda Ardern's prime ministership, taking over from the pragmatically minded traditionalist Winston Peters, who had the job from 2017-2020.

Speaking to the diplomatic corps including Patricia Forsythe, Australia's High Commissioner in Wellington, the 50-year-old's address was strikingly different to those of her predecessor.

"As the first indigenous woman to lead this portfolio, I believe we have a prime opportunity to call on the bi-cultural values that have characterised who we are," she said.

"Values such as 'manaaki', kindness or the reciprocity of goodwill. 'Whanaunga', our connectedness or shared sense of humanity.

"'Mahi tahi and kotahitanga', collective benefits and shared aspiration, and 'kaitiaki', protectors and stewards of our intergenerational wellbeing."

Turning to individual relationships, Ms Mahuta first discussed Australia - a recognition that the relationship with Canberra remains Wellington's most significant.

"The trans-Tasman relationship is critical for New Zealand's prosperity and security," she said.

"Australia is our only formal ally and an indispensable partner across the breadth of our international interests."

The trans-Tasman relationship has had a rocky week.

NZ Trade Minister Damien O'Connor caused friction by suggesting Australian diplomats could learn from their Kiwi cousins when handling China.

Ms Ardern shrugged off any concerns of long-lasting damage by jokingly referring to the recent 40-year anniversary of the infamous underarm bowling incident in the 1981 World Series of cricket.

In her address, Ms Mahuta discussed only a handful of countries and regions by name.

They were, in order, Australia, the Pacific, the Indo-Pacific, ASEAN, the US, China, Canada, Europe, and the United Kingdom.

Ms Mahuta has assumed the role during the COVID-19 pandemic, and says her first major challenge will be "ensuring a robust delivery pipeline for a vaccination roll-out" in the Pacific.

New Zealand has promised to provide COVID-19 vaccines to Pacific neighbours, including Realm countries of Tokelau, Niue and Cook Islands, as well as Tonga, Samoa and Tuvalu should they accept the offer.

Ms Mahuta's speech was focused on indigenous issues in a way that previous foreign ministers have not been.

"I believe the time has come to ensure a more inclusive approach to indigenous issues being a feature of foreign policy," she said.

"This will see economic, social, environmental and cultural benefits.

"We must be deliberate on this front otherwise civil unrest, poverty and social deprivation are likely to emerge. It does not have to be this way."

Ms Mahuta also promised to "develop an indigenous trade co-operation instrument with willing APEC partners".