How Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade has evolved

By Stefan Dimitrof

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade has traditionally been run by pākehā men so how does it cope with its cabinet minister, Nanaia Mahuta, both female and Māori?

Historian Dr Ian McGibbon, the editor of ‘New Zealand’s Foreign Service, is a historian who specialises on New Zealand’s diplomatic and military history and he explained to Te Ao Tapatahi how the ministry, which has the job of  responding to the world's ever-evolving political climate, military allegiances, trade deals, economic threats natural disasters and military conflicts operates.

McGibbon said the Foreign Service was the government’s machinery for dealing with foreign states with two main services - a consular service and a diplomatic core. “The diplomats had the role of dealing with political and economic matters.”

He said that from its conception in 1943 the ministry was a male-dominated entity for the first 25 years but it had its first major change in the 1970s when the UN was tackling problems like women’s and racial discrimination.

“Finally the ministry started living up to the things that it  had agreed to overseas, with a number of Māori diplomats coming into the ministry in the 1970s.”

“Frank Corner was the secretary (head of department) at the time and the ministry began to introduce bi-culturalism, and women in the 1970s also began to get equality.”

The job of the ministry and its diplomats was to try to further good relations between New Zealand and other countries by collecting information and understanding where the power was in the country they were assigned to.

“They try to get behind the scenes, behind the public record, to find out what is actually happening, reporting back to the government and doing what the government decides.”

“Really the ministry is the tool of the government. It doesn’t make any decisions of its own, it’s the cabinet that is the final arbiter."

"The ministry provides parameters and the diplomats try to carry out the government's instructions, and that is what they will be doing now”.