Labour Party MP Priyanca Radhakrishnan on Monday became the first person of Indian origin to be appointed as a minister in New Zealand after Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern inducted five new ministers into her executive, PTI reported.
Radhakrishnan has been made the minister for diversity, inclusion and ethnic communities as well as the minister for the community and voluntary sector and associate minister for social development and employment.
She was elected first as a Labour Party MP in September 2017. In 2019, Radhakrishnan was appointed as the parliamentary private secretary to the Minister for Ethnic Communities. The 41-year-old was born in India, moved to Singapore for schooling and then to New Zealand to pursue higher education.
Apart from Radhakrishnan, Ardern appointed Grant Robertson as the deputy prime minister, making him the first homosexual person in the country to hold the post, AFP reported. The prime minister also appointed Nanaia Mahuta, who has a tattoo on her chin, as the foreign minister. Mahuta has a moko kauae, a traditional female tattoo inked by women from the Maori community.
Mahuta, who is also the first woman to become the foreign minister in the country, got the traditional tattoo in 2016 at the urging of her daughter. She was elected to Parliament in 1996. She had said the tattoo was a way to honour her ancestors as well as address the stigma surrounding the aspect of Maori culture that many residents of the country associate with crime and gangs.
While the Maori community and pacific islanders make up for a quarter of the population, they have a large representation in statistics on crime, prisons and poverty, according to AFP.
Ardern added it was only a coincidence that her ministers for justice, domestic violence, courts, corrections and the police were from these communities. “My focus was just (choosing the) best person for the job,” she said.
Women and the Maori community have a strong representation in the 20-member Cabinet of the New Zealand government. “I am excited to be bringing in some new talent, with first-hand experience in the areas that they will be working in, and reflecting the New Zealand that elected us on the 17th of October,” Ardern said.
“This is a Cabinet and an executive that is based on merit but also happens to be incredibly diverse,” she added. When asked about the importance of appointing a gay man as the deputy, Ardern said that Robertson was chosen because of his merit and not his sexual identity.
“One of the amazing things about New Zealand is that we are often in a space where these questions become secondary,” she said.
Ardern had won the elections on October 17 by a landslide. Her globally lauded responses to a mass shooting last year by a white supremacist in Christchurch and the coronavirus pandemic have been well received in the country. Her Cabinet now includes a minister for Covid-19 response. Former Health Minister Chris Hipkins has been appointed to the post. Ardern said that this would allow Hipkins to focus on matters such as managed isolation and border without getting distracted from the wider health portfolio.
Two Green Party of Aotearoa New Zealand leaders will also be a part of the Cabinet. James Shaw will take over as the climate change minister and Marama Davidson will have a portfolio focusing on preventing family and sexual violence. The government will be sworn in on Friday.