New Zealand’s new deputy leader first gay man to hold role

WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — New Zealand’s new Deputy Prime Minister Grant Robertson will be the country’s first openly gay man to hold the role and is among a team of top lawmakers announced Monday that is remarkable for its diversity.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced her new Cabinet lineup after her liberal Labour Party won reelection in a landslide victory last month. Ardern has assigned a number of indigenous Maori lawmakers to top positions, including Nanaia Mahuta, who will take on the role of foreign minister, and Kelvin Davis, who will be minister for children.

Robertson, who will also continue his previous job as finance minister, has long been a close friend and political ally of Ardern. He said he has tried to be a minister for all New Zealanders, but also thinks it’s important for younger members of the LGBT community to see people they identify with take on top roles.

“I still get a lot of emails and messages from young gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people who look towards us to provide that kind of role-modeling,” Robertson said. “So, I’ll keep doing my job the way that I’ve been doing it, but I’m very proud to have the role.”

Robertson replaces Winston Peters as deputy prime minister after Peters and his New Zealand First party failed to get reelected. Kelvin Davis was expected to take on the role but said he turned it down to focus on his other responsibilities.

Ardern said all the positions were assigned on merit.

“I think one of the amazing things about New Zealand is that we are often in a space now where all of these questions (about diversity) often become secondary,” she said. “The representation is there. And that is not the first consideration.”

In the Oct. 17 election, the Labour Party won an outright majority in Parliament, the first time any party has achieved that since New Zealand implemented a proportional voting system 24 years ago.

The Labour Party nevertheless signed a “cooperation agreement” with the Green Party on Sunday, which says the two parties will work together on climate, environment and child-wellbeing issues. Two Green Party lawmakers have been given ministerial roles outside of the Cabinet.

Ardern demoted some ministers considered to have underperformed during her first term, including Phil Twyford, who lost his transport portfolio. He will remain a lower-ranked minister outside of Cabinet.