NZ's Mahuta praises Joe Biden's election

Ben McKay
·3-min read

Newly-appointed New Zealand Foreign Minister Nanaia Mahuta's first flashpoint in the job arrived two days after her announcement and two days before she was sworn into the role.

The outcome of the US election was always likely to define her time as New Zealand's top diplomat.

Would the US return to the Paris Agreement, the landmark global accord to cut greenhouse gas emissions?

Would the US genuinely engage in the multilateral forums it helped build after the World War II or undermine them?

Now Ms Mahuta knows the answer to those questions, with the election of Democratic candidate Joe Biden, she can begin to plan New Zealand's engagement with its great ally.

"The US election felt like a very long election cycle ... I was watching with eagerness to see what the outcome would be," she said on Monday.

"President-elect Biden's election will be received warmly across the world.

"Those countries who value their relationship with the United States as does New Zealand, will have responded warmly and quickly to his signal around respecting a multilateral rules based system, re-engaging on the issues of climate change and also taking a science-based approach around COVID-19.

"For all those reasons, and I'm sure many others, countries like New Zealand will be looking very early to resuming the conversations that are of mutual benefit."

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo's was the first official call Ms Mahuta received in the job, followed swiftly by that of Australian counterpart Marise Payne.

She said the biggest issue between the two countries - Australia's continued deportation of criminals with Kiwi passports - wasn't raised.

"Not on the first call," she said.

The 50-year-old suggested that issue would be one for Ms Ardern to progress.

"That has been a an area where our prime minister has had conversations and reflected views ... these conversations have really remained at this point with our prime ministers."

Internationally, Ms Mahuta's appointment has been greeted with curiosity.

Partly as she's not well known outside Aotearoa and partly due to the groundbreaking nature of her post.

Ms Mahuta is the first woman to hold the job in New Zealand and wears her indigenous pride on her face in the form of a Maori tattoo, a moko kauae.

Locally, her reception has been overwhelmingly positive.

Opposition foreign affairs spokesman, Simon Bridges, known for his full-bodied adversarial approach as opposition leader, gave a strong endorsement, saying "it's an important time internationally and you'll be great".

Ms Mahuta also scored a call from outgoing foreign minister, Winston Peters, something which has eluded all but his inner circle in the past month.

Mr Peters was knocked out of parliament in the October 17 poll and hasn't spoken publicly since.

"Yes I have spoken to Winston and I want to acknowledge the 40 years of contribution that he's made to New Zealand politics," she said.

"He's got very strong relationships in foreign affairs. His insight and the strength of his relationships won't actually transfer to me but the reputation he has promoted on New Zealand's behalf I think has put us in good stead."