No guarantee Māori-stacked cabinet will continue - Ardern

By Will Trafford

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern won’t commit to maintaining her record number of Māori MPs in her cabinet during her impending reshuffle but says she is committed to representational diversity.

Ardern told teaomaori.news it was crucial Parliament is "representative of our communities".

“Half our Parliament are female; we've got increased Māori representation, Pasifika and ethnic communities because Parliament needs to look like New Zealand,” Ardern said.

Asked about the record one in five Māori MPs at the cabinet decision-making table, Ardern declined to say she was setting targets.

“We haven't got a set number but we’ve increased representation because we needed to. We've made sure that we've been trying to do that across the board.”

Ardern is set to make a reshuffle announcement later this month, ahead of her party's run for a third term at this year's election.

'Combative' Jackson

Speculation swirled around the future of some MPs including Māori Development and Broadcasting Minister Willie Jackson, after an interview with Q+A’s Jack Tame, in which Jackson argued the state broadcaster needed to modernise or die.

Some critics perceived the tone of the interview as combative but the PM reiterated confidence in the minister.

“Think about the work of Minister Jackson on issues like Māori economic development. We've got significant increases for our Māori exporters. We've got record low levels of Māori unemployment.”

The prime minister doubled down on the former TV and radio host’s experience within the broadcasting portfolio, and his argument RNZ and TVNZ needed to pivot from analogue broadcasters to become digital content producers.

“He is an experienced broadcaster who knows the sector well and knows the challenges it's facing,” Ardern said.

“He has a wealth of experience.”

Retirement season

In December a number of Labour MPs announced they would be retiring before the next election, including former police minister and current Conservation and Disability Minister Poto Williams.

Given the party had started to select candidates for the next election, the resignations were part of the political cycle, Ardern said.

“We're just in that time of the cycle because MPs have to signal whether they will be running in their local seats.” 

“We're going through selections at the moment and so we do have a few retirements.”

Ardern announced her record one in five Māori MPs at the cabinet decision-making table during a post-2020 general election cabinet reshuffle.

Deputy party leader and Children’s, Māori - Crown relations and Corrections Minister Kelvin Davis called it a milestone for Māori, at the time.

'Māoridom at its heart'

"Māoridom has been wanting representation for 160 years – this government has the interest of Māoridom at its heart," Davis said.

Fellow Ngāpuhi MP Defence minister Peeni Henare is among those affirming their commitment to standing at the next election, after speculation the minister might stand aside.

"Minister Henare is committed to standing in the 2023 elections and looks forward to going through the selection process to be Labour's Tamaki Makaurau candidate. In the meantime, he is focused on his portfolios," his office said last month.

Addressing her ambitions for Māori more broadly, Ardern says she’s done her best to live up to obligations under Te Tiriti o Waitangi.

“We haven't been perfect. But I am comfortable with what we've tried to do to make sure that we are fulfilling our obligations as the Crown, that we're fulfilling our Treaty obligations,” she said.

Still optimistic

Reflecting on her five years in office, and given instances of institutional racism within government departments, Ardern was asked if Māori could ever truly get a fair deal, within the Westminster political framework.

“Yes,” Ardern said emphatically.

“There have been long-term challenges that we are confronting head on. But what you're asking me is ‘Do I believe that there is room and scope for change and improvement?’ And I do, I'm an optimist… but I also am basing that on what I've seen. “

“We've gone through dramatic change and dramatic progress. It hasn't always been easy, particularly for our Māori communities, but we have made progress”

Public Interest Journalism, funded through NZ On Air