The new deputy leader of the National party has misidentified one of her frontbench MPs as Māori when defending the party’s lack of diversity.
The MP, Paul Goldsmith, was forced to clarify Nikki Kaye’s comments and state that he was not, in fact, Māori. “Let me make it quite clear, I am not Māori myself,” Goldsmith said. “I don’t claim to be Māori myself.”
Kaye and Todd Muller were elected to lead the National Party on Friday after a secret caucus vote following weeks of plummeting popularity for the party and former leader Simon Bridges.
With only three-and-a-half months until the general election, the pair have hit the media circuit hard this week. But Muller’s frontbench has come in for criticism due to its lack of diversity, with the 14-member front bench featuring only one Māori MP, Paula Bennett, in 13th place.
Under Bridges’ leadership, three of the top portfolios were in the hands of Māori MPs, and Bridges was also Māori.
Kaye, defending the party on Tuesday said: “Paul Goldsmith is of Ngāti Porou,” describing affiliation with a tribe on the North Island’s east cape. But Goldsmith corrected her, saying while he had “Māori connections” in his family, he himself was not Māori.
“My great-great grandfather had European wives and Māori wives, and so I’ve got lots of relatives across Ngāti Porou – I don’t claim to be Māori myself,’’ Goldsmith said.
Newshub’s political editor Tova O’Brien expressed her surprise at the incident on Twitter.
New National Party leadership just used Paul Goldsmith as an example of a Māori MP on its predominantly white front bench. A surprised Paul Goldsmith then cleared things by saying no, I’m not Māori. You can’t make this shit up.— Tova O'Brien (@TovaOBrien) May 25, 2020
Much of the criticism of National’s shadow front-bench has come from Labour’s Māori MPs. Kiri Allen said it appeared National’s caucus “certainly lacked diversity”.
Both Kaye and Muller defended their appointments, with Kaye pointing out that the shadow front-bench included three women in the top four jobs.
“I believe we have an incredibly diverse capable team that are focused on building an economic recovery team,” Muller said.
The Labour party has the largest number of Māori MPs in history but has also come in for criticism from political commentators who note the majority of their Māori talent are not on the front-bench, and the government has made limited headway on entrenched Māori issues, including poverty and longstanding land disputes such as Ihumātao.
Māori political commentator Mogan Godfery noted that Māori MPs hold a number of top Labour portfolios, including foreign affairs and corrections.
“Their representation is definitely better, or at least more numerous,” Godfery said.